Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

What's the value of respecting an embargo?

Just yesterday I was commenting to a post by Frank Shaw (recently moved from heading the Microsoft account at WaggEd to heading up PR at Microsoft) that I quite like embargoes (Frank's view is very 'the embargo is dead, long live the embargo'). After all, if it's something as complex as Windows 7, I'd like enough time to hear the details, think about the implications and try the product out before having to get my story written. I write news stories - like the Vodafone 360 piece on ZDNet yesterday - but I'd be the first to say I'm really more of a feature writer and reviewer. I'd much rather give you my opinion of a product than list the facts, ma'am. And I'd like to give you my considered opinion rather than my first, knee-jerk reaction. I'd like to get the same in-depth briefing as other journalists, even if timezones and the practicality of needing time for a spokesperson to actually speak mean that happens a few hours before or after the other briefings. And having been doing this for cracking on two decades, I'd like to do all that and have a life rather than feeling I have to drop everything and write as soon as I get the whiff of a story.

But I also pointed out that when I respect an embargo and get scooped by TechCrunch breaking it, I don't think that having an embargo is a bad thing; I think that briefing an outlet that says it doesn't respect embargoes under embargo in the first place is a foolish thing - and that continuing to brief them under future embargoes shows disrepect for everyone who does honour embargoes. And today I noticed that the next step is to reward them for breaking so many embargoes by giving them an interview with Steve Ballmer. Yes, that makes me feel that it doesn't matter if you break the rules as long as you're big enough not to have to follow them.

I've never broken an NDA. If an editor asked me to, I'd be uncomfortable because to me, an embargo is a contract I've made. But if the outlets that break embargoes are going to get the traffic for breaking the news and access to big-name interviews because they have the traffic, it makes me feel rather the dinosaur for having that kind of moral code. Yes, I'm sure we get access to spokespeople and stories we wouldn't get if we did break embargoes - but we were last offered an interview with Steve Ballmer the week he flew to Europe to negotiate with the EU (and as it happened, the day he flew to Europe, making it rather a shame that sbisson was in Las Vegas). I like embargoes. I like considered, well-researched journalism. But I like fairness and respect too.
Tags: articles, journalism, microsoft, rant, smartphone, technology, writing, zdnet

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