Journalists: embargoes are dead



newspapers pic

Photo Credit via NS Newsflash on Flickr.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the purpose of a publisher in a niche community like craft beer, something that I made quite clear in an interview I did with Aleheads yesterday. Breweries now have their own communities to which they can disseminate news thanks to blogs, newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google+. All the social media sites have mechanisms for curating content from various breweries, too. So where do publishers in these niche communities fit in nowadays?

I wish I knew.

I never thought print publications would outsurvive online publications but now I’m not so sure. There is a larger barrier to entry to print and more companies remain comfortable with advertising on print. Print is still a more viable business and has a lot less competition. I’ve had many conversations with companies that are clueless about advertising online, thinking about it in the future or just starting now. And last time I checked… it is 2012!

With the ease of publishing online, everyone is a publisher now whether it be on their own website or on Twitter, etc. And the biggest competition that exists in the online sphere over the print sphere is the companies, themselves, that we write about…

Earlier this week, Brian Yaeger mentioned (humblebragged?) that he was the first to learn of the name of Larry Sidor’s new brewery, Crux Fermentation Project. I rarely tip off other publishers to my scoops unless I’m within 15 minutes of publishing the post. It didn’t matter too much though because Sidor & Co. recently shared on their website that they planned on revealing the name of the brewery this past week.

And so they did. The Bend Bulletin broke the news early Saturday morning (albeit behind a paywall). The Brew Site was next at exactly noon (the timing makes me think that Jon was given specific clearance for that time). Then Crux Fermentation Project, itself, reported the news on its Facebook page 45 minutes later. Later in the afternoon, I and others picked it up.

Everyone except Yaeger.

He explains why

The beauty thing about blogs is that it allows bloggers to break news instantaneously. Reflexively, the bad thing about writing for someone else’s print or online publication is that you have to wait for them to publish it. Hence, I’ve been scooped by my friends like Lisa Morrison, the Beer Goddess, and Jon Abernathy at The Brew Site, in regards to the official name of Larry Sidor’s new brewery, crux Fermentation Project. The kicker is that while I didn’t get the press release they evidently sent out, I was told I was the first to hear the new name and see the new logo by one of Sidor’s partners, Dave Wilson, while at the new brewery.

Reading Yaeger’s post brought me back to this tweet I sent two months ago.



What happened to Yaeger has happened to me a number of times in different ways over the years.

- I’ve stumbled onto scoops and been told to stay hush-hush with the promise of a full story later only to have someone else break it.

- I’ve been provided said story just minutes before the company published the info itself (usually before I even saw the email).

- I’ve sent an email to a company with questions with the intention of writing a story, only to have the company write a story on its own blog answering those very questions later in the day. Without any correspondence coming back my way.

- I’ve been told to embargo information with other bloggers only to have the company deliver the story to a local media outlet in front of all of us.

- I’ve been told to embargo information only to have the company flaunt it in a full-page color ad in a popular magazine (so instead of paying $0 to get the word out, they chose to pay hundreds or thousands).

Working with companies can be similar to dating in a way.

You think you know what the person on the other end is thinking but you really don’t. In reality, you don’t know how many other people may be courting that person. Ultimately, you may be a good person, a great person even, but they’re going to look after their own interests at the end of the day.

That and people talk. All the time. It is just what we human beings do.

The relationship between journalist and subject is a tricky one. The last thing you want to do is agree to embargo something (or fail to be clear that what the person is telling you is on the record) and then break your word. That will wreck your relationship.

To avoid that, be clear with expectations:

Is the information being traded on the record?
When do you want to break the story?
When do they want you to break the story?
Can you be reasonably sure that they won’t be sharing the information with others if you wait?
Can you compromise to release some information now and hold other information later?
If they allow you to break the story, when do they plan to follow it with their own?

Your job, as a journalist, is to disseminate information to your audience. It is perfectly acceptable to be a little selfish, look out for your own interests and do everything it takes to report information first (and accurately).

What you report and whether you are first matters. A lot.

What you know and whether you know first matters very little.