Somebody comes up to you and asks you, do you want an embargo? whaddya tell 'em?

18 October 2007

For Rogers Cadenhead, bloggers such as Michael Arrington have "sold their souls" to PR and become beholden to the hype machine in the same way as magazines.

Cadenhead points to a piece from Robert Scoble that claims some of the more popular tech bloggers are being offered, and taking, embargoed briefings so they can break the news about some new product the minute the company says it's OK: "According to Scoble, A-list techbloggers have become just as desperate for inside access, even to the point of honouring an embargo intended to benefit another blog."

What's that noise? In the background, Pete Townshend is stabbing at an organ hypnotically, trying to channel Terry Riley on an all-nighter. A couple of quick windmilling power chords and a scream from Roger Daltry and the blog revolution comes flying off the wheels. All together now: "Meet the new boss..."

Cadenhead's argument is that the tech product magazines were effectively neutered by the need to keep in with PRs to ensure a steady stream of embargoed stories so that they need not be gazumped on news by the competition. The effects of embargoed news are more subtle than that - it's too blunt an instrument to be wielded in the way that Cadenhead describes.

The mechanism that Scoble describes is much closer to the experience of journalists and, when I read it, the surprise was tempered with the thought: "It took that long for this to happen?"

Some of the high-traffic blogs are even more vulnerable to the embargo drug than a lot of magazines are because they are so tightly focused. People ramble on about it being "all about the conversation". But when the site's whole reason for being is to be first with product news or who's launching what on the Interweb, you are asking for people to horse-trade stories with you. And the horse-trading will start with whatever medium is perceived to be top of the tree. For new Web 2.0 sites, that's likely to be TechCrunch, so no big surprise that PRs will make sure that outlet gets to hear nice and early and the others are expected to play by whatever rules TechCrunch has agreed to.

In principle, newspapers are far less dependent on embargoed information because they have a much wider remit - product launches come a long way down the pecking in terms of news value. Most of the time, when deciding to take an embargo, you are trading the discomfort of being silently co-opted into a sales programme against the problem of getting interviews quickly enough after the break date to be able to file before you have missed the initial spike of interest. You are also aware that you are shoring up the position of the perceived market-leader mag or paper. You really don't want to be doing that.

Having said that, there are reasons for accepting the embargo. In an online environment when you can file one version that has had a degree of research at the same time as everyone else and then roll in reactions, if the story warrants it, as time rolls on. For that reason alone, embargoes seem set to remain a part of media life, no matter how unwanted they are. The important thing for any media outlet is to be in the position where you don't need them.

Scoble cited as an example of how a company can get by without splash launches, driven by embargoes. But he also noted that the company got no coverage on TechCrunch or Techmeme. (This version of events doesn't quite check out, by the way, as TechCrunch has stories on Kyte and it has featured prominently on Techmeme.)

There are, however, other reasons for ignoring some of these sites. The world really does not need a site that crosses YouTube with Twitter, which was how launched. However, it seems to be moving more in the direction of MySpace, with the result that videos from the Residents are currently getting top billing. So it can't be all bad, even if some of the new stuff sounds as though they've rerecorded God in Three Persons with new lyrics.

1 Comment

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times-- a blog either sucks or doesn't suck, and that has nothing to do with selling your soul to PR flacks, PayPerPost, or anyone else. Big whoop, the other blogs get it 20 minutes later, and then I don't have to read all the hot air in a TC post.

In fact, TC could be like a day ahead, and I'd still read my news elsewhere, somewhere that didn't leave me just reaching for knitting needles to self-lobotomize with. The self-importance contained in that site could create an entire parallel universe of feces.

Good writing, good writing, good writing, and then short writing. Freshness of content? That's waaay down the list if I can avoid being pissed off all day.