Was Jack Of Kent right to break an embargo on Conservative Party plans for human rights legislation?
The internet’s very own learned legal friend Jack Of Kent has caused a stir today by publishing detail about Conservative party strategy on human rights legislation that was embargoed.
The Mail’s Political Editor – James Chapman – was particularly vexed, calling it “pretty cheap” and “attention-seeking”
Jack Of Kent’s argument is that he wants the proposals to be widely scrutinised. He didn’t receive the information in the capacity of being an employee of a media organisation – so why should he abide by the concept of an “embargo” he never agreed to uphold?
As I am an employee of a news organisation, our policy would be to sit on the story and document until the requested time.
But my personal opinion is that embargoes are an antiquated relic of print and broadcast media, and they have no place in a 24/7 digital news cycle.
I actually find the concept of embargoes anti-competitive.
If an interesting set of figures comes out at 3pm, then my lean, mean, digital Ampp3d team can have an analysis out very quickly. If the data is embargoed until 8am the next morning though, everyone gets 17 hours to work on it – negating our advantage of being quick.
Embargoes actually prevent news organisations really being able to measure if their digital production process is much faster or slower than their competitors.
And, ultimately, you are handling the scheduling of your news over to somebody else’s PR and Comms team.
Rather like Jack Of Kent, during periods when I’ve not been employed directly by a news organisation, I’ve often been sent press releases, data and documents on the hope that I’m going to blog about them. It always makes me laugh when I’m told they are “embargoed”.
I’ve never personally had anything that I felt strongly enough about to break the embargo – but I can totally understand why Jack Of Kent has today.
Updated – Jack Of Kent argues that the headline of this post is inaccurate. As he was not subject to an embargo, he cannot have broken it.
@MartinBelam Thanks Martin, not quite accurate. I was not subject to an embargo so did not break one.
— Jack of Kent (@JackofKent) October 2, 2014
Just on one point – the document was provided to me not under any embargo.
Any journalist who agrees to withhold information from the public at request of government is failing as a journalist. A real journalist should tell government to stick their “embargos” up their rectums. The fact that, often, embargos are observed dutifully demonstrates how rancid much of modern British journalism is.
I agree with John Traynor above. Embargos are a thing of the past and the continued use of them simply serves to illustrate the ongoing collusion of the MSM with the politicians.
I’ve said many times before that the Lobby Journos are now nothing more than stenographers. They no longer seek stories, they hover around their contacts waiting for crumbs.
Rubbish. Embargoes allow news organisations to plan and prioritise their output in advance and to arrange informed comment and analysis to go with it. Without embargoes, news generators would brief only their preferred outlets in advance, giving them a huge advantage in lining up good comment, a gigantic net loss for journalism as a profession.
Jack of Kent is a attention seeking unprofessional.
If data is released at 3pm with an embargo of 8am next day, as suggested here, it would be a very odd embargo time.
Let’s say that it is a more realistic 3pm/12.01am and someone breaks the embargo at 4pm. The next release will be issued at 12.01am for immediate release.
I don’t see embargoes as handing scheduling to someone else’s PR team. I see it as a realistic courtesy to journalists to let them do their job properly, perhaps calling in a topic specialist who is off that day.
The rush to be first can mean obediently cutting and pasting the press release rather than using it as one source among many.
Embargoes tend to be associated with official data and official reports that have often been a long time in the making and need a bit of work in the various newsrooms, serving their different sections of the population.
Embargoes may also be set to coincide with the official launch at which the provider of the data/report is present to answer questions.
Anyone cheekily slapping an embargo on what is really snap news is likely to be outflanked by stories giving the meat dressed up as rumour and expectation.
” If the data is embargoed until 8am the next morning though, everyone gets 17 hours to work on it – negating our advantage of being quick.”
I think it would be of great benefit to everyone if journalists spent more time on their stories instead of the brain-dulling race for clicks and speed we see today. Embargoes allow media the opportunity to do this and actually think about a unique angle that might be specifically interesting to their readers instead of just churning out content as fast as possible, and SHOCK HORROR even canvas different points of view and thoroughly research their stories and views, instead of just ripping the most eye-grabbing headline they can think of in five minutes, pasted in a few quotes of canned comment and posting the story before anyone else (aka the ‘digital production process’).
In my opinion the articles that most deserve my attention are rarely the first to be published. Sometimes they come days after the news, and actually provide you with something to think about instead of paraphrasing a press release.
I honestly don’t believe you can provide much that is thought provoking, challenging, or original if your primary aim in publishing a story is to publish it before anyone else.
As a journalist, I may be biased on this, I do think that there is a role for the embargo.
But I believe they should be used so sparingly that they almost never occur.
Certain PR firms, organisations, even public bodies use them as a norm rather than an exception, and this is what should be railed against.
Nevertheless I do think that if an organisation is putting out information in good faith that it will be held from publication until an agreed time, then all publishers – whether news organisations, bloggers, or just any old bloke with a Twitter account – should do the decent thing adhere to it.
Where someone or an organisation accepts information subject to an embargo, that embargo should be observed. But it is no use sending information to someone who has not indicated his acceptance and then trying to impose an embargo on him.
Has Jack of Kent agreed generally to observe embargoes in the past? Has he conducted himself in such a way as to induce information providers to believe that he observes general embargoes? If not, someone was rather silly sending the stuff to him.
Government departments themselves have weakened the moral case behind embargoes by applying them to the most ridiculous and banal announcements and stories. There is a case for embargoes to be in place on the Budget and other market-moving information, but non-economic legislation isn’t such a situation in my opinion.
While it’s a valid argument that a embargo gives time for deeper analysis and, so often ignored, fact checking, I think in this particular case the information released was both clear and of considerable public interest. I believe that it is the duty of any journalist with integrity to decide each case on merit. If the information is from a official source, the intention is to release it publicly and there is a clear public interest, it is a legitimate action to release it prior to any agreed time.
News Generators ?!
Its about a political party managing messaging and feeling it can control the media and media outlets. If you don’t comply with their “request” you simply don’t get “briefed” in future.
The CCHQ “grid” will have Bill of Rights written on Friday and ready to roll out faces briefed with all the right catchphrases and spin.
Scrutiny is the *last* thing they need.
I’ve been on both sides of embargoes. 20 years as a journalist and 10 years in PR. It’s really very simple. An embargo gives a journalist time to do research/interviews around the ’embargoed’ story. Break an embargo and the logical result will be that this opportunity to add value to a story will simply be removed and reports, data, stories will be released later.
However, if this particular set of proposals reached Jack of Kent without an embargo or were someone how ‘leaked’ to him…well that happens so fair play.
Embargoes can serve a purpose when it involves data that can have an effect on the market. For instance, government figures on economic matters can be worth billions on the stock market so, a 9.30 am release of data is the right thing to do.
However, when its not important, like in this case – we all know its a policy that can’t be enforced, planned for a time when the Tories might or might not be in power – then the embargo is just a pointless way to carry favour of the big boys and is a relic of a time gone by!
Comments are closed.