United media embargo collapses amid controversy

NEW YORK: Six major media outlets - including hallowed news deities like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal - agreed to keep news about United Airlines’ dollars 4.3 billion purchase of US Airways quiet in return for an exclusive on the story.

NEW YORK: Six major media outlets - including hallowed news deities like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal - agreed to keep news about United Airlines’ dollars 4.3 billion purchase of US Airways quiet in return for an exclusive on the story.

NEW YORK: Six major media outlets - including hallowed news deities

like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal - agreed to keep

news about United Airlines’ dollars 4.3 billion purchase of US Airways

quiet in return for an exclusive on the story.



The media outlets contacted by Joele Frank’s nascent IR firm, which is

United’s IR agency of record, also agreed not to post the story on their

Web sites before midnight on Wednesday, May 24. However, the deal fell

apart when The Financial Times broke the story on its site the night

before.



The newspapers involved included the Journal, the Times and The

Washington Post. While USA Today also reportedly agreed to the deal,

Money section managing editor John Hillkirk said, ’We can’t comment on

what our sources are.’



The scale of the press embargo put together by Frank’s firm demonstrates

the increasing power of IR executives to dictate terms of news

placement.



However, its breakdown led the Times to expose the agreement with the

agency at the end of its page-one story: ’A representative of the

merging companies offered news of the merger yesterday, on condition

that reporters ... did not speak to outsiders about the pending

deal.’



Times business editor Glenn Kramon explained the paper’s reason for

tacking on the extra paragraph: ’The Times feels strongly it should let

readers know how news is distributed and the context of such an

arrangement.’ Kramon added that he was happy to make such an agreement

with Frank, rather than let the Journal continue its streak of breaking

the main business stories of the day.



The Times’ decision to reveal the machinations behind the news process

has led to a slew of articles critical of deal-making journalists. Among

those who weighed in on the controversy was Post media critic Howard

Kurtz, who quoted Jill Dutt, the paper’s assistant managing editor for

financial news, as saying, ’It does a better job for readers to have the

story on the first day than not to have the story. ... I don’t want to

get beat.’



Still, CBS Marketwatch editor-in-chief and VP of news Thom Calandra told

PRWeek that such rationalizations are inexcusable. ’Any journalist who

agrees to embargoes is doing so for short-term gain,’ he said.



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