Wall Street Journal policy shift heralds the slow death of the embargo

Media relations PR professionals concerned by growing trend for media to snub press embargoes.

No to embargoes: WSJ in policy shift?
No to embargoes: WSJ in policy shift?

The time-honoured tradition of the press embargo is believed to be under threat following reports that The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is the latest media outlet to snub the tactic.

The WSJ is reported to have introduced a new policy for its editorial staff, stipulating that they will not accept embargoes for stories unless they are exclusives.

The blog paidcontent.org reported: 'We have confirmed the (WSJ) policy from various sources.'

However, the WSJ said: 'There is no change with our embargo policy. We honour deals when we make them.'

The claims follow an announcement by influential tech blog TechCrunch in December that it would break every embargo it encountered.

The embargo policy at the WSJ is believed to have originated from a need to break stories earlier because of increased competition from other media outlets online.

Adrian Johnson, a former director at Lucre, said: 'The WSJ's problem is that in the online news world ... there's added pressure to be first to publish online.'

Johnson, who recently set up his own agency Umpf, added: 'Bloggers compete with the likes of the WSJ and historically they've been more likely to break news embargoes, and thus get more traffic.'

Threepipe co-founder Eddie May concurred. He said: 'Genuine news now gets distributed immediately through so many channels that it's very hard to guarantee an embargo will be kept, even if it has been given exclusively to one paper. The days of the traditional embargo are numbered.'

But PR practitioners have expressed concern that embargo-breaking would jeopardise the good relationships and trust they have built up with journalists.

Phil Taylor, senior consultant at PHA Media and former associate editor of News of the World, said: 'Embargoes are based on trust. If a newspaper starts breaking embargoes, then they will stop receiving the information. It's a crazy thing to do.'

PR professionals contacted by PRWeek said there were no signs that embargo-breaking on a large scale was happening in the UK. But Threepipe's May predicted it was only a matter of time. He said: 'Although we haven't encountered this yet in the UK papers, I can see it happening simply because the nature of media has changed completely in the past few years.'


How I see it

FRANCIS INGHAM, Director-general, PRCA

A PR professional should never assume that 'embargoed until ...' protects information from being published. The WSJ is gambling this will increase its importance as a carrier of breaking news. The risk is that PROs hold back the releases until the last minute and the quality of articles suffers.

LAURA WOOD, Co-founder, Golden Goose PR

An embargo is based on trust. There's an unwritten rule that you don't break it. But it is a request, not a stipulation. With the increasing volume of social networking sites, embargoes may need a bit of clarification that they also cover these outlets.

2.9m Readers of The Wall Street Journal
1.7m Paid circulation of The Wall Street Journal
5.5m Unique visitors to TechCrunch
15m Page views per month on TechCrunch
2008 Year TechCrunch introduced policy on embargoes

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