YAWN: WSJ’s "New" Embargo Rules

The big PR news for today was that the Wall Street Journal is no longer going to be honoring or accepting embargoed news, according to Paid Content. They want exclusives, and not to be one of many publications and sites that is pre-briefed under embargo.

Um, so what? No, I mean I understand why some people are up in arms about this, but let’s be honest. In my experience, WSJ would agree to a verbal embargo, but if something happened, they would run the story. For the most part, that has been fine for PR people. It was and is a relationship, one built on trust and an understanding of the PR and journalism dance.

But let’s get back to reality here – it’s the Wall Street Journal. It’s the paper of record, the big kahuna. It’s the paper that is one of the few national publications – USA Today, NY Times and WSJ – and one of the few (if not the only) outlets that people pay for online. It’s a paper that wants – no, needs – exclusives, and it likely tired of being scooped by blogs that neither understand the embargo dance, nor care to partake in that dance.

Why would the WSJ continue to be one of 20+ outlets being briefed? That is the buckshot approach for some public relations executives and firms. But, well, that has never worked and that is not an embargo situation, but scattershot PR.

And in this new digital age, the embargo is dead. News moves too quickly nowadays to rely just on an embargo. Yes, you can call up a reporter prior to the announcement and say “dude, got some big news tomorrow, no I won’t tell you, but don’t be that guy and pass and then be pissed you missed the story.” Of course, too many PR people have no idea what is REAL embargoed news, and what’s just news that is not embargo worthy. I tend to get more of the former, a bit of the latter. Hint: a new social media newsroom is not embargo worthy.

The new reality is that print publications run news online (and have for the past 10 years). They will run a more in-depth article in the print version, or write up a bigger story if there is an exclusive or if they have more information that makes for a deeper, more analytical story. Just look at the Wall Street Journal today – two stories on Whole Foods: one on the blog, and an in-depth article in the paper. Interestingly enough, the article has more comments online than the blog post.

That’s all under the WSJ umbrella. As Ali pointed out on Paid Content, both AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher and WSJ’s Jessica Vascellaro (who writes for the paper and the Digits blog) both covered the new Yahoo! home page, but Kara had the fuller article. When you are in a race not only with other outlets, but a part of your own – and sorry for anyone that goes up against Kara “Woman of a Million Scoops” Swisher, as her Rolodex rocks and she’ll get the online video interview as well.

The problem is that most PR people don’t get this. They don’t understand the value of an embargo that you go to one or two trusted outlets/reporters, and then you go out big post-breaking news. They don’t understand that there have never been any real hard and fast rules on embargoes, but are by the seat of your pants. And, they don’t understand how media has really changed.

This isn’t a “media is dead” idea. This isn’t a “print is dead” perspective. This isn’t “social media” or “Web 2.0” thinking. Many of those ideas are just meme attractors, and have no real value, especially in public relations. The WSJ is still the WSJ and the NYT is still the NYT and they have the top writers and thinkers out there (as do many newspapers with national presence).

This is about how embargoes no longer work in a world where media consumption has changed, and where people are consuming media on a 24/7 platform, and the news cycle is now immediate. People find out things first online; the fast reporters and bloggers get news up immediately, and then people read print (or read print articles online) for the more in-depth analysis, the executive interview and some exclusivity for that one or two outlets. The embargo has outlived its usefulness, but relationships have not been replaced, and the pre-brief is still in existence. It is about the way you do PR in a 24/7 news cycle. And, how you can out-maneuver others in a 24/7 news cycle.

Because, at the end of the day, media is media, reporters will still talk on background and the story will get out there.

  1. Good post, Jeremy. Re: the embargo and everything else PR - relationships will rule out in the end. But, gee ... hasn't that always been true?

  2. To your point, there are legitimate reasons to hold news and then there are marketing-driven reasons which should really mean nothing to a reporter. I'm surprised by how rarely I get asked the obvious question, "Why are you asking me to sit on this until XX date?"

  3. Great points here Jeremy and I don't disagree with any of it.

    For those of us in the PR/media relations game that consider ourselves true professionals, the embargo has always been understood for what it is. It's always been about establishing relationships with journos. You do that through hard work and mutual discussions with the people covering you or your company/client.

    In today's competitive environment, news organizations or bloggers can't sit back as others break the story. The news that the WSJ would no longer honor an embargo is ho-hum. It's always been at the discretion of the writer anyway. I learned that the hard way early in my career.

    Thanks for the thoughts and discussion.

  4. Yes, the embargo has been dead for a long time. There's other ways of handling news distribution, as you've rightly pointed out...

  5. @Robert - Thanks. And, yes, it has always been true, but PR 2.0 makes it so much easier to say that it's all dead, and this is the new way ... and that's a bunch of bullshit.

    @Ann Marie - LOL, well, reporters sometimes just get lazy like PR people, huh? I've been burnt, all good PR people have been burnt, but it happens. But it has to be news, and so few people get that.

    @PRGully - thanks! Yes, we've all learned it the hard way, and a friend learned it REALLY the hard way recently with the WSJ. But, I also wasn't surprised beyond the journalist breaking a verbal embargo, and laughing about it. But news is news, and it IS a race. Give it to a few people early, but not TOO early, was always the advice I got. Or just let them run with it.

    @TomForemski - there ARE still exclusives, but all of this is relationship based and always has been.


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