How social media killed the embargo

I was offered an exclusive story a couple of months ago by a tourism company. It was quite a coup to be given the first scoop and would definitely be something of interest to my readers.

But what happened next could easily have cost me that scoop and cost the tourism company home page coverage on the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age online news sites. An occassional blogger who writes under a pseudonym and has no news network affiliations blogged the news a day before my story was scheduled to run.

It turned out that the tourism company had alerted their partners to the news about to break and asked them to keep silent until the official media announcement in two days.  Though asking for a public embargo in the world of social media is like taking Kate Middleton into a room full of photographers and saying ‘don’t shoot’.

Either way the news was now ‘published’ on the net, albeit not in a mass market domain, just some bloke writing about what ‘stuff’ happening in his region. Though if the blogger was one of the tourism company’s partners or an employee then he should have known better.

I chose to run the story anyway. I  had assessed the damage, saw it as minimal as the blogger wasn’t in the public eye, and had a handful of readers plus it hadn’t been mass tweeted, shared on Facebook or picked up by any news services.

I also saw the media embargo as no longer enforced so rather than waiting till the official date, I ran it a day earlier.  So, no real harm done though under other circumstances it could have damaged an established relationship between the tourism’s PR company and a journalist.  Lucky for them we were not announcing the resignation of Obama or the cure for cancer.

But it did get me thinking. How do you embargo ‘news’ in a world of social media?  By not telling anyone until it’s a done deal? Getting every employee to sign a non disclosure document?  If you’re serious then the answer now is yes.

The days of embargoed press releases or verbal communication ‘in confidence’ are officially over. With twitter, facebook and YouTube the whole world is a reporter and fame is but a click away.

I received a press release a few weeks after this event from an association announcing their award winners for the past year. Trouble is the email was sent at 6pm, the official announcement of the winners was at a dinner that evening and from what I would later gather, the winners didn’t even know they had won yet.

In an effort to be first off the mark in a highly competitive social and traditional media world, I tweeted the announcement, it was in my inbox in an official press release after all. But something didn’t sit right so I double checked the release again, only to see in Arial 8 point font that the press release was embargoed until 9pm.

Eight point font, are you serious? Who can read 8 point font? If you didn’t want it announced then put it in BIG BOLD LETTERS or in the subject heading or send it the moment the winners names are called from the podium.

When Osama bin Laden was assasinated it was tweeted before it hit the news, when the plane landed on the Hudson river a tweet from a person on the ferry that went to their rescue was published fifteen minutes before any official television, radio or news site had reported it.

When the Qantas A380 Rolls Royce engine blew a gasket (my term, not theirs) near Singapore last year photos were on social media from the plane while the plane was still circling and dumping fuel before landing.

That’s how fast news gets out. If you have a smart phone, a blog, a twitter or facebook account then you’re a reporter and every Joe Public is now Clark Kent.

Relationships with media are more important than ever.  Keep your journalists close, and your social media folk closer.

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One Comment

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  1. GREAT Article and yes I completely agree. Have good relationships and ask for respect of the embargo, but still be aware that the news may get out, often inadvertently. A friend of mine recently sent me a DM on twitter to say they were closing their restaurant. I wanted to tweet my sadness to the world but at the last minute thought to ask if it was public news – it wasn’t and they hadn’t even told their staff. Lucky I checked.

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