The embargo > a few thoughts

Embargo: a request by a source that the information or news provided by that source not be published until a certain date or certain conditions have been met News embargo – Wikipedia 

A lot of talk recently about embargoes, after a journalist for the New Yorker posted a review of the new David Fincher film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ahead of an agreed embargo date.

 

You can read the email exchanges between the reporter – David Denham and Sony here  but Denham’s points appear to be:

  • They were trying to spread reviews to avoid a “jam up” of articles featuring the large number of important movies released at the same time
  • His review was positive – he says he would not have broken an embargo with a “bad” review
  • “madness” of early publication dates in the run up to the Xmas period and a need for serious content for this particular edition.

Sony retaliated by accusing him of doing  “a deeply lousy and immoral thing“, that the glut of Xmas films is nothing new and that the needs of the magazine should not come ahead of an agreement.

Embargo’s are designed to structure the flow of information between a source and a journalist within an environment of trust and it is important that they are maintained. They not only offer an obvious benefit to the source (by controlling coverage) and the wider situation (e.g.protecting  police operations, court cases etc) there are also definite benefits to the journalist.

A journalist who is given access to embargoed information is working within a privileged position. The source considers their, or their outlet’s reputation to warrant this trust and in return the that journalist is given time to absorb and develop the story.

With the online information-explosion thanks social networks and blogging, it is important for traditional news outlets to play to their strengths. Whilst many are excelling in breaking news in innovative ways, they still have a definite advantage when it comes to their access to information. This head-start gives the perfect opportunity to prepare a well-researched, in-depth piece ahead of time.

A journalist who breaks an embargo is often punished in the future by missing out on information – it would be a shame if this becomes a habit and more journalists ignore this agreement that is there for the greater good. 

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