Michael Arrington is planning to lie to press relations folks: Over at TechCrunch, a site I read in sick fascination, founder Arrington says that he’s tired of the inconsistency that’s resulted from embargoes, and will no longer honor them. Embargoes, delays in the release of news, are used by firms that want to have go out simultaneously about some new product or service or company change.
Reporters typically are asked if they’ll agree to an embargo and not write about a given company topic until a specific date and time. In exchange, we are typically offered briefings (one or more) with product managers and executives, sometimes provided hardware or software to test in advance, and the opportunity to reflect and write something that isn’t produced in the heat of the moment after an announcement is made.
Some people break embargoes, usually unintentionally, where a story in a content-management system is timed to go live at a given time, but the system errs or the wrong date and time is entered. I have never knowingly broken an embargo, but I have made an error a couple times in posting a story prematurely.
Arrington points out, pretty accurately, that because some PR folks are becoming a bit desperate, and are often blasting out thousands of emails about embargoed items to reporters and bloggers they don’t know, that embargoes are being broken all the time.
He notes, “…when an embargo is broken[, it] means that a news site goes early with the news despite the fact that they’ve promised not to. The benefits are clear – sites like Google News and TechMeme prioritize them first as having broken the story. Traffic and links flow in to whoever breaks an embargo first.”
I often receive emails with news that says it’s under embargo before I’ve agreed to hold the news, which isn’t kosher. I also hear more from PR folks I don’t know at all, and thus don’t know whether to trust that they will work to make other reporters and sites hold the news, too.
Frankly, as someone who is more analytical than newsy here–it’s pretty hard for me to break news, and I try to take a 35,000-foot view–embargoes aren’t quite as critical to me as I might write about a story hours or days after the news comes out.
And if it is a story that I’ve written in advance and someone else goes live, I don’t hesitate to alert the PR person, and go live with my own story. If anyone breaks the embargo, we all get to, because there’s no reason for anything to be withheld.
The only problem with Arrington’s post is that he says he’ll simply lie to press folk. I don’t lie. I’ll tell someone that they can tell me details and I’ll honor the embargo, and I will; or that they can tell me, but I’m not going to agree to the embargo, and they can choose whether or not to tell me.
Honesty is the only policy here.