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Summary:

The Wall Street Journal has a new policy for its editorial staff, we have learned: it will not accept embargoes for stories, but will take e…

WSJ
photo: Flickr/Enrico Fuente

The Wall Street Journal has a new policy for its editorial staff, we have learned: it will not accept embargoes for stories, but will take exclusives if handed to them. We have confirmed the policy from various sources, although a WSJ spokesman told us: “There is no change with our embargo policy. We honor deals when we make them.” Not all embargoes are identical — according to our sources, the WSJ will accept embargoes for exclusives but not when other media outlets are involved unless the story is considered big enough.

This comes after its earlier policy change in March for its journalists that they would be graded based on the stories they break for the Newswires. We do not know if these two policies are linked, but could speculate that the new policy of not accepting embargoes stemmed as a result of the latter. From the memo sent out by Robert Thomson in March: “Even a headstart of a few seconds is priceless for a commodities trader or a bond dealer — that same story can be repurposed for a range of different audiences, but its value diminishes with the passing of time…Given that revenue reality, henceforth all Journal reporters will be judged, in significant part, by whether they break news for the Newswires.”

After speaking to various PR people who pitch stories to WSJ, it seems there are some exceptions to the new no-embargoes policy if the story is big enough, but in general, WSJ reporters will no longer be part of a herd of journalist briefings, which results in a spate of stories from various outlets all at the same time. If PR professionals approach them on a story, then they can refuse and go around and hunt down the story if they want to. Some of the PR people tried going around this new policy by going to other journalists/”friends” in the publication, but after the editors got wind of this, the new rule is that only beat reporters will be writing beat stories, and no one else.

Because of this new policy, some awkward situations have come up recently in its tech/media coverage (the parts we monitor closely and where we sometimes compete with the Journal): the *Yahoo* homepage relaunch story, where its reporter Jessica Vascellaro “brokescooped” the embargo and did a half-baked story based on sources, when sister publication ATD’s Kara Swisher, under an embargo went live with her story at the same time when Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) PR told her the story was out (hers was based on an interview with the exec involved). The rest of us were holding to an embargo time for the next morning, but scrambled to do our own stories when WSJ went with it. Another situation cropped up today, when Sony’s new E-Reader story was supposed to be under embargo until late tonight (and other pubs were briefed on it), but WSJ jumped on it earlier this afternoon because of its new policy.

This is similar to a policy TechCrunch adopted last year, though there are some exceptions there as well.

  1. Marshall Kirkpatrick Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    Would love to see these bullies compete based on quality of coverage, instead of using their reputations like an ugly stick to push companies around with. Perhaps when publishing is democratized and attention dispersed, their old boy power and rep seems more important to wave around than ever.

  2. ashkan karbasfrooshan Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    now Marshall, I wish you weren't so diplomatic and told us what you actually thought on the matter

    just kidding mate, keep it up!

  3. passing through Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    That's a ridiculous assertion Marshall. All reporters use their brand to get access, even the larger blogs. After all the WSJ is ditching embargoes to compete with blogs who refuse to accept embargoes — like techcrunch.com.

  4. Staci D. Kramer Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    @passing through Remember, WSJ isn't ditching all embargoes. Exclusive embargoes are a different matter … as are some group embargoes when the paper might otherwise be shut out.

  5. Marshall Kirkpatrick Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    Passing, I wasn't excluding TechCrunch from that assertion. And this isn't a case of using brand to get access – this is a case of using brand to get exclusive access.

  6. Yet it does change strategy — and the advice you'd give your clients. For years we have told most clients about particular reporters/pubs that honor "off the record" conversations, that they could get the deeper story. Odd to consider taking the Journal off that list.

    Marshall, you know many companies shut out outlets from their news or launches based on a no-embargo policy. I'll be curious to see how it works for the Journal.

  7. I just don't see this being a I'll-alert-the-media moment.

    What's really changed?

    Major media properties strive to exert their will on companies. The big-brand companies reciprocate with "take the embargo or join the proletarian when the announcement goes out."

    And variations of the middle ground will continue to play out.

    I've offered my take in more detail on
    http://www.ishmaelscorner.com

  8. I've been on both sides of the desk and surely an embargo is done as a favour.

    If a journalist doesn't want to accept an embargo, he doesn't have to. There is no law written that a journalist is a PR's puppet and the only reasons he accepts the embargo in the first place is to:
    a) get a bit more time to write the story
    b) be kept on the list for potential future stories

    It doesn't hurt a company if an embargo is broken, especially as they're sure to get follow up coverage from the blogs etc. these days.

    If the story is good enough then it still will be written. What journalist in his right mind is going to turn down writing about something important, even if it's only online, just because it was written up a few hours before by the WSJ?

  9. Robert MacMillan Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    I'm pretty sure these changes happened in April. See (pr guy) Nick Ragone's blog:

    http://www.nickragone.com/home/2009/4/10/more-on-the-wsj-story.html (This is the second thing he wrote on it)

    Here's the first:
    http://www.nickragone.com/home/2009/4/7/wsj-no-longer-taking-embargoes.html

    The Atlantic:
    http://business.theatlantic.com/2009/04/media_notes_the_end_of_embargoes.php

    Rafat has some valuable new details, however.

  10. Robert MacMillan Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    To leave a comment for Rob, who asked what journalist would turn down a story to write something important just because the WSJ ran it a few hours earlier:

    I would, and I have done it and I would do it again. I want the same respect that the WSJ or NYT or other news outlets get, and unless it's ESSENTIAL news, I will throw it back when PR approaches me the next day to do the story.

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