I recently read this interesting article, which rails against the use of embargos by PR agencies, providing a friendly reminder that journalists reserve the right to publish information honestly, and won’t put their names to articles that are tantamount to advertising. It is in this context that the author goes on to explain what an embargo actually is. (For those not in the know, an embargo is “a request by a source that the information or news provided by that source not be published until a certain date or certain conditions have been met”.)
Generally, PR agencies use embargos with caution to inform key journalists about an upcoming announcement and offer them an interview with a spokesperson in order for them to gain additional information. The offer of an interview (or at least extra details that aren’t included in the press release) is absolutely key, because you’re essentially giving the journalist an opportunity to publish a more in-depth article on the day the actual news breaks. By comparison, simply sending out a press release under embargo with no offer of additional input is just asking for trouble.
A radio journalist friend of mine told me that she won’t honour embargos when they relate to important information of public interest, e.g. the number of swine flu infections. However, when the news isn’t quite so major, she’ll comply if it means she gets the chance of a more relevant and interesting interview than rival stations.
Nevertheless, according the French Press Agency AFP "embargos breakers" are becoming more and more numerous. Maybe this is because, in an age when information circulates so quickly through the internet and social media, some journalists don’t like to wait.
What about you? Do you think journalists should comply with embargoes, or should they have total control over when their news stories drop?