Archive for April, 2009

Where Did The Embargo Go?

Rather quietly (certainly without the fanfare of TechCrunch making the same decision several months back), the “old gray lady” of the business press, the Wall Street Journal, has made a radical decision relative to honoring news embargoes. They say they aren’t doing so anymore. I am pretty surprised that this development has flown under the radar with PR professionals and other media outlets. Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t seen much written or blogged about on this topic. Since my firm got caught in the middle of this one, I think I can offer a pretty interesting perspective.

A client was making a pretty substantial announcement last Monday. We’d reached out to the usual suspects in the business press and after getting some interest from several, we decided to give the Journal an exclusive and worked with a Dow Jones reporter, giving him the news on an embargo for a story to be posted at 12:01 a.m. (or later) on the WSJ.com web site and in the paper that Monday. We figured it was a good arrangement for all. What happened next was puzzling and not at all what we’d expected. The story actually ran on WSJ.com at about 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon, some nine and a half hours early. We were told nothing about the aforementioned policy that weekend, but once the story broke, got a convoluted answer about how the reporters have little or no control over when the site updates its content. Hmm, news to me and we’ve run this drill more than a few times over the years. While the story was very positive and it got prominent play, there was some ‘splainin to do.

When we discussed it on Monday with another WSJ reporter, he’d informed me of the new policy from the higher ups at Dow Jones. It was clear that this reporter was not too happy with the edict. “It is going to change how we work with PR people, how we evaluate and analyze news and how it gets disseminate.”  Why the change I wondered? “Dow Jones management wants its reporters to stop thinking about using the paper as the vehicle for breaking news. If fact, they want it done via the web site.”

Economics and the rapid demise of the once venerable and hugely profitable print newspapers could well be playing a big role here. Unlike TechCrunch, which many feel exists solely to make life miserable for PR people and its own “no more embargos” policy, the WSJ obviously has a different business model. It has a different set of crown jewels – a big old subscriber base – which reads the print version of the paper in the planes, trains, autos and subways of the world, not to mention in the lobbies and on the newsstands everywhere. More and more (no news flash here) readers are consuming their news online, on Blackberries, in elevators, etc.

Is the “no more embargoed” news a signal that WSJ (and others with print properties) will start to charge for online content?  In the case of the WSJ you already need to subscribe to get full text articles. But I counter; maybe those of us with even a slight case of ADD don’t need more than just the first three graphs and headline of a story before moving on.

Will this policy hold? Will all WSJ reporters abide by this policy or will they cut side deals? I have my theories that really important stuff will get special play, despite what is being “reported” on this policy. Should you offer WSJ your news exclusively? How will other news outlets respond? Will they represent a better choice for an embargoed story Will they provide more detailed reporting as a result?

Many questions, few answers. Let’s see how this plays out. What do you think?

— Posted by Tim Hurley

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