Xconomy  senior correspondent and  San Francisco editor Wade Roush says  he’s done with news embargoes.

In a column entitled, “The News Embargo Is Dead. Tech Crunch Killed It. Let’s Move On,”  he writes that he’ll no longer agree to being “pre-briefed” by tech companies or  PR firms with the understanding that he’ll wait to publish until the stories are  made public— because he’s been burned one too many times.

What happened?  TechCrunch went to press early with an embargoed story that he was also covering–making him look like an “also ran.”

In an email,  Roush explained:
TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington…[claims]  that TechCrunch has never broken an embargo. His implication was that in the cases where TechCrunch seemed to be publishing stories before the agreed embargo time, they’d been authorized to do so by companies or their PR firms who gave them an earlier embargo. Of course, an embargo where one party gets special treatment is no embargo at all, and if Arrington is to be believed, then the PR community (and not just Arrington himself, who long ago proclaimed “Death to the Embargo”) shares in the blame for the breakdown of the embargo as a reliable way to manage news. It’s a rotten system that I’m happy to walk away from.

Speaking as a former journalist who now works in PR,  I am of two minds (or more).
Certainly,  as a journalist, I didn’t liked being “scooped”  when I honored an embargo. And no reporter wants to feel that s/he is being used  to manage a company’s image. But, in covering health and science for national public television,  I much appreciated  having time to fully  understand a development before I wrote about it.
From the PR side– I use embargoes because they  allow me  to research individual story angles  rather than blast out the same pitch, to all reporters, all at the same time.   True, those  blasts can occasionally  lead to a rush of interview requests—but sometimes you get so many that busy scientists or execs can’t respond to them all–leaving some journalists empty-handed.  And, with today’s 24-hour news cycles, too many important stories are hastily written and errors  are made.
I might mention that  it’s not only journalists who get burned:   I once sent an embargoed announcement to a reporter who  did an end run–going to someone for information who was not in the know.  The reporter beat out the pack but got the story wrong,  pissed off his competitors,  my client, and me.  He no longer gets advance notice of my clients’ upcoming news.
I do think it’s great that Roush is NOT saying that he’ll knowingly break embargoes. Like  Wall Street Journal reporters,  he simply asks that sources not send him embargoed stories; he’ll wait to the info goes public,  then decide what to do.
Will he  still accept “exclusives”–in which a source promises that only he, Roush, will have the story, so that he can break it first?
Yes, I still love exclusives, as long as they turn out to be truly exclusive.  If I learned later that a PR firm had given the same story to someone else, then that would destroy my trust in that firm and I’d stop working with them.
I do think it’s about trust in the end. 

From all sides of my mind—I definitely agree.  Trust is key.
–Anita M. Harris
Anita M. Harris is president of the Harris Communications Group, a  public relations and marketing communications firm located in Cambridge, MA. 


The New York Times doesn’t need me to provide free advertising (I hope!) –but I found today’s business section fabulous for anyone interested in social media and media relations and thought I’d share some of the wealth.

First–David Carr, in The Zeal of a Convert to Twitter writes about  how long-form magazine journalist, Buzz Bissinger,  the author of “Friday Night Lights,” got hooked on twitter… 

Then, there are Noam Cohen’s piece on Wiki Leaks: A Renegade Site, Now Working With the News Media

and Claire Cain Miller and Ashlee Vance on   Bing and Google in a Race for Features .

 Robert Cyran opines on how the growing popularity of the Ipad could present problems for many tech industries in  iPad shift may wreak havoc on parts of tech sector

and Jenna Wortham describes “tumbler,” a blogging platform that sounds like a cross of Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress, and which, supposedly, many media companies are starting to use to promote themselves.  Media Companies Try Getting Social With Tumblr .

There are also articles on the UAR’s attempt to block blackberry messaging unless BB allows government monitoring, there, and  Clarie Miller’s piece,  New Site Aims to Connect Reporters and Publicists , which describes  NewsBasis,  a site on which journalists can get queries to potential sources, which  launched today.

Founded by Darryl Siry, a freelance writer for Wired and a marketing executive,  the new site sounds much like Peter Shankman’s  Help a Reporter Out, (AKA HARO) in that it allows journalists to post questions or search for sources–  asking questions anonymously to avoid tipping off competitors. 

Speaking as former journalist, I can’t imagine giving away ideas, even anonymously–tho fishing in public is certainly easier than digging for sources.

Evidently,  on NewsBasis, sources can also add a footnote to articles across the Web, so when reporters are doing research using their Web browser, a tab will appear indicating that a NewsBasis source has offered a different point of view or corrected a fact.

I hope this wasn’t too much information for one shot…but, hey, it’s the information age, we’re talking about here.  I’ll be interested in seeing how all of this works out.

Anita M. Harris

Anita M. Harris is president of the Harris Communications Group, a marketing communications, media relations and social media firm in Cambridge, MA.

Sorry to read in today’s Boston Globe that both Business Wire and PR Newswire -which are paid to send out press releases–were hornswaggled by a media relations imposter for whom each posted fake stories.

According to Globe reporter Todd Wallach, last week, PR Newswire   sent out a fake press release claiming President Obama had ordered a probe into General Mills.

And on Friday, Business Wire sent a release falsely claiming that Javelin Pharmaceuticals had won a 5-to-4 victory before the Supreme Court with the aid of Justice Clarence Thomas.

In both cases, the releases were rescinded  before they could affect the companies’ stock prices, Wallach reports.

Both  included a New Zealand phone number at the bottom. 

When Wallach called the number,  Matt Reed, a 30-year-old database designer in Auckland told him that he’d sent the General Mills release to discredit President Obama.  And that he’d sent the Javelin release to push Business Wire and other press release companies to step up their security to prevent future hoaxes.

Odd, to say the least–but definitely a cause for concern.  And, Wallach reports, an FBI investigation.

As a media relations professional, I’ve found both Business Wire and PR Newswire (as well as Marketwire) to be above-board and careful–but can see how hoaxes like these can easily be perpetrated by anyone who has a credit card.

 Not sure if paid wire services need to require background checks before posting releases or if I‘d be willing to undergo one…but do think there’s a need for greater scrutiny of press releases–not just by the paid wire services but by bonafide journalistic wire services, as well.

Again, under my media relations hat, I was delighted when, several years ago, the Associate Press ran a press release I sent on behalf of a client verbatim–except for one minor change in wording.  (Uncredited, of course).

I like to think it was such a great release that nothing needed to be done to it–or that perhaps my reputation for honesty was known. 

But, under my journalist’s hat, I was appalled that no one from AP called me or my client to confirm that we had actually sent the release–or checked the facts– before disseminating it to the world.

Today the situation is even more serious: anyone with a computer and an Internet  can post anything to the world. 

On the one hand, this great boon to free speech and the sharing of ideas and information.

But on the other, the burgeoning of Internet use has eroded the readership, financial position and  gatekeeping power of the traditional press. In financial distress,  news organizations are cutting corners–and staff. Reporters and editors are being asked to do more, faster.  

 Not only is there less coverage, but it is becoming more to difficult trust the accuracy of what is covered. The traditional press has long been our nation’s main bastion for protecting the marketplace of ideas from the spread of disinformation. 

I hope that media organizations, bloggers, anyone in a position to disseminate information will do so responsibly. And that my readers, business owners, the American public,  will subscribe, buy ads, do what you can–to prevent a potentially dangerous situation from getting worse.

Here’s a link to the Globe article:  http://www.boston.com/business/healthcare/articles/2010/06/23/cambridges_javelin_is_latest_target_of_hoax/

Anita M. Harris, president of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA, is a former national journalist who has taught journalism at Harvard, Yale and Tufts Universities and at Simmons College.

HarrisCom blog is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA. We also publish New Cambridge Observer and Ithaca Diaries.

A colleague asked me the other day if I think the field of media relations —in which public relations practitioners promote stories about their clients to the press—is  dead.  I don’t.  I believe it’s better now than it ever was.

It’s true that with the rise of Internet news, there are fewer traditional media outlets than in the past, and individual outlets are shrinking.There’s a smaller “news hole, “and, with social media responsibilities added to their reporting jobs, journalists are eeven busier now than  than they used to be.  

This means that  it’s increasingly difficult to get reporters’ attention–so that for media relations practitioners,  personal relationships and well-honed story ideas are key.

Still, just about every newspapers has an online presence, a 24-hour news cycle, bloggers, and links of its own—providing plenty of opportunity for companies and organizations to present news items that might, in pre-Internet days, have been overlooked.

Paid wire services—which I once avoided because reporters rarely picked up stories, there—now make press releases available online for  further dissemination by organizations, companies, trade media, bloggers, and twitterers—thus giving company news a presence all over the Web (and world).

Of course, media relations practice is  rapidly becoming “social media relations”: journalists are increasingly  reporting stories and finding ideas based on information from blogs, twitter, facebook and the like—and social media campaigns sometimes become traditional print stories in themselves.

 In March, USA Today covered a Chevrolet tactic in which people filmed and shared, via smartphones,  their experiences driving cross-country (in Chevrolets, of course)  to an auto show.  (http://content.usatoday.com/communities/technologylive/post/2010/03/ford-gm/1     That tactic obviously worked big time: here I am, publicizing the article, Chevrolet, the trade show and USA Today, on my blog.

Whatever tactics you choose, it’s important to know your audience, provide accurate, well-written information –and maximize potential– through blogs, articles, white papers, links and SEO (search engine optimization). And don’t forget the possibilities using audio, visual, and other exciting new means.

I’m biased, but as far as I’m concerned, media relations is not just changing: it’s alive and well–and thriving.

These days, it’s no problem if that newspaper you slaved to get your client into gets used to wrap someone’s fish.

While the fast-changing Internet allows access to developments as they happen,  it also heightens our ability to store, search and share.  This means that (for better or worse) the information you put out stays out:  there’s no longer such a thing as yesterday’s news.

–Anita M. Harris
Anita M. Harris is the president of the Harris Communications Group, an award-winning public relations firm specializing in media relations, Internet content and social media. HarrisCom is based in Cambridge, MA.

Much enjoyed hearing members of the Boston health care press  admit (boast?) that they have almost zero use for social media.

Speaking on a panel at last week’s meeting of the Publicity Club of the New England,   journalists from the  Boston Business Journal (BBJ), Dow Jones Newswires, the Boston Herald and WBZ-TV) said they don’t “get”  Twitter--don’t have time for it, and can’t  see why anyone would want to use  it.

Jon Kamp, who covers medical technology and energy for Dow Jones said, “I’m 35 going on 100. I don’t get it; I don’t know what to do with it. When I’m 100, I hope I’ll be saying the same thing.”

Brad Perriello, executive editor  the year-old MassDevice.com,  an online business journal covering the device industry,  said he mainly posts  news feeds to attract readers to the publication’s Web site.

Ryan McBride,  a correspondent for Xconomy, a national online publication with bureaus in Boston, Seattle and San Diego,  said he follows certain industry leaders on Twitter but rarely contributes, himself.

Several said they have linked-in accounts that they barely use and and none use Facebook professionally.

” Facebook is to show people pictures of my kid,” Kamp said.

McBride described Linked-in as “an online Rolodex that’s full of people I don’t talk to much. Facebook is friends and family and all the people in high school whom I didn’t know were my friends.”

Julie Donnelly of the BBJ can’t see the point of posting on Facebook.  “I’m not that interesting,” she said.

Debbie Kim of  WBZ-TV  said she doesn’t have time  and Christine McConville of the Herald, said that, as an investigative reporter, she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to make public the details of her life.  Plus,  “I can barely return my emails, get enough exercise, see my friends.   I certainly don’t have time for [Facebook].

She does, however, enjoy contributing to videos that appear online every three weeks or so.

The conversation was moderated by Michal Regunberg, vice president of Solomon McCown & Co,  a Boston public relations firm.  Regunberg’s questions focused on the ways in which cutbacks and other changes in the media are  affecting coverage.

All of the journalists agreed that the national debate over health reform has been the focus of their coverage in recent months (and that they’re tired of it).

All said they are working with less time, fewer resources and greater demands to produce more.  As a result, they have less time for research or feature writing.

McConville said she must write two stories  a day for the Herald. McBride covers two different beats for Xconomy. Donnelly writes for both the Boston Business Journal and Mass High Tech and is responsible for breaking stories on line as well as in print.   Debbie Kim, medical producer for WBZ-TV, must sometimes produce as many as four pieces in a single a day.

Kamp  mentioned that in the past, Dow Jones’ headquarters was relegated to offices in New Jersey but now shares the New York City newsroom of the Wall Street Journal–and that, in many newsrooms, there is tension over which stories should be posted online immediately and which should be  held for the print version of the paper.

All of the above means that anyone trying to get coverage faces huge competition for reporters attention and must provide information that is extremely clear and to the point, the journalists agreed.

The discussion  made me glad to be out of the pressure cooker journalism has increasingly become–but happy to see  a high level of competence, dedication and concern for truth in the Boston press corps.

——-Anita M. Harris

HarrisComBlog is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA. We also publish New Cambridge Observer and Ithaca Diaries Blog.

On behalf of the Public Relations Society of America, Steve Morella of  Tekgroup, today gave a very useful Webinar on how to integrate social media and online newsrooms.

I was impressed with Steve’s knowledgeability and pleased to learn of several new sites for monitoring social media outreach and campaigns.

Among other topics, Steve emphasized the importance of:

  • Online newsrooms as  central headquarters for all materials–including not just press releases and contact information but also white papers, bios, articles, blogs, rss (real simple syndication)  capabilitt and feeds to social media  such as facebook,  twitter and linked in.
  • Search engine optimization not just in the writing of press releases, but also in posting them in online newsroom postings
  • Categorizing feeds by topic  (sales, financials, industry) and type
    ( news, features, video, audio, blogs)
  • Co-ordinating feeds with social media outlets such as Facebook, linked-in, twitter, u-tube and blogs–as well as bookmarking/commenting/referral/sharing sites, like http://delicious.com, http://www. stumbleupon.com,  and http://digg.com.
  • Including video, audio and hyperlinks, as well as links to stories, studies and the like, in order to create social media press releases with  “legs”  (my term, not his!)
  • Setting goals and measuring success of  social media outreach using  sites like https://bit.ly/ shorten, shares, and tracks hits on your links; http://technorati.com, which allows you to search for blogs based on keywords;   http://www.blogpulse.com, which analyzes daily trends in the blogosphere.  http://trendistic.com/ measures twitter trends,  http://www.twitalizer.com  measures users tweets and retweets; and http://www.tweetstats.com allows you to see when and how often your tweets are read or retweeted, so that you can  post when you’re most likely to be read.

Obviously, Steve’s  social media tactic worked; here I am, a potential competitor–posting a blog about it! (He’s the director of Sales and Marketing for Tekgroup, a global firm offering online public relations services).  Here are urls to the presentation slides.



–Anita M. Harris

HarrisComBlog is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA. We also publish New Cambridge Observer.


October 2, 2009

I read with interest Motoko Rich’s September 30 2009 New York Times article on Vooks–a hybrid “literary” form  “mashing together text, Web and  video features. ” 

She describes publisher Simon and Schuster’s  release of fitness and diet and beauty books that include videos on how to perform exercises or make skin lotion. Also,  Anthony Zuicker’s novel “Level 26, Dark Origins, published on paper, as an e-book and in audio, with a Web component that allows readers to watch brief videos adding to the plot.   

The online comments–101  of them–range mainly from skeptical to negative.

 John in New York writes, “Should we still call them books?” 

Val in Baltimore suggests we’ll soon see “A nobel prize…in viterature!” 

Mary the Trainer from Texas writes that the best part of  “reading a novel is creating the scenes in one’s mind based upon what the author has written.” 

 According to  R Weber   in Park Slope,  “Publishers –– all corporate hacks these days, with quotas to meet, bearing little resemble to publishers of old who thrived some years, got by in lean years –– have so little imagination & entrepreneurial drive, that idiocies like this are the best they can come up with. The truism proves true once more, “Pay peanuts, get monkeys.”

And  from CJ Messinger in California:  “The New York Times may be comfortable introducing this kind of technology to readers since print media is in decline. I for one am not yet ready to kiss books goodbye.”

I scrolled through pages of comments  in hopes of weighing in–but found that the comment box had closed. 

What I would have said is that as an author, former radio and television producer, photographer, and musician,  I’m thrilled and energized by the prospect of being able to merge media in order to give readers/viewers a fuller experience than is available through any single medium on its own.

 In research Ithaca Diaries,  a book (or something) based on journals I kept in college in the late 1960s, I was delighted to be able to check my fading memories using video, photos and news accounts  I  readily found on line.  I’ve been struggling to pull my  journal entries, letters, photographs and drawings into a linear form–but now it will be possible to include video of the Doors from 1969, Bob Dylan’s 1969 concert on the Isle of Wight; old news footage of the Chicago and Democratic News Conventions, maybe even the shootings at Kent State.   Maybe I can even read from the diary entries, aloud–and share tapes of  my old professors and friends.

Now all I need to do is figure out how to do this and  how to find the time, what it will cost–and whether–and how–it will sell.

I’d welcome YOUR comments.

—Anita Harris

HarrisComblog is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA. We also publish New Cambridge Observer

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