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. 

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David Carr and Michael Arrango report in today’s New York Times  that   the  board of directors of the Tribune Company is about to ask for the resignation of Randy Michaels, the controversial chief executive of the company–a move, in my view, that is long LONG overdue. Here’s why:
I couldn’t decide whether to cry or puke when I read David Carr’s Oct. 6 article on the situation at the Times Mirror Corporation since real  estate magnate Sam Zell purchased it for $8.2 B in 2007. Not only has the company filed for bankruptcy, slashed resources at the Tribune newspapers and television stations and let go more than 4200 employees–but it has fostered a culture hostile to women–and to journalism’s truth seeking role in the marketplace of ideas.

I interned Newsday (which was  a Times Mirror paper) in the mid-1970s where my first story, on the first women to enter the US Merchant Marine Corps, was changed to lead with the fact that the women succumbed to tears after being teased. I myself fielded a fair amount of sexist “humor” because, on the lifestyles beat, I covered women’s lib.

At Columbia Journalism School, a professor told me that women should not go into radio–because he didn’t “like the sound of their voices.”
Later, in another prestigious news outlet, I experienced sexual harrassment and pay discrimination.
Just as I was completing a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard,  a bigwig at a  TV network said not to bother applying for a job– referencing a need for “blondes with big bazooms” and a PBS producer wanted, for some reason, to discuss women drivers and menstruation.  At this point, I left TV news  to write and teach, hoping to help the next generation of women stand strong in/change the profession. 

 

That was almost 30 years ago. 

 

Today,  that TV program has a female executive producer and the network has hired some brunettes to cover wars, disasters, the White House–all sorts of major beats.   Women hold high office, serve on the Supreme Court, and  run  huge corporations.
Now a communications consultant, in my client work, I see male CEO’s struggling to share  childcare with  working wives and chastising 20-somethings for “unprofessional behavior” for making inappropriate jokes.  (True, I also see men “borrow” women’s scientific  findings without crediting them, refuse to promote female colleagues who refuse their advances,  and denigrate/sabotage women’s successes—but at least today men know that is wrong).

In his piece, Carr reports that Randy Michaels, a former radio executive and disc jockey, was ” handpicked”  by Sam Zell, the Times Mirror’s new controlling shareholder,  to run much of the media company’s vast collection of properties, including The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, WGN America and The Chicago Cubs”.
After Mr. Michaels arrived, Carr writes, according to two people at the bar one night, “he sat down and said, ‘watch this,’” and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. “ Carr learned from interviews with more than 20  past and current Chicago Tribune employees, that “Mr. Michaels’ and his executives’ use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective shocked and offended people throughout the company. Tribune Tower, [once]the architectural symbol of the staid company, came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk.”

 

 

What is more, Carr points out, the company’s employee manual encourages such an atmosphere.  “’Working at Tribune means accepting that you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use…,'” it reads. “You might experience an attitude you don’t share. You might hear a joke that you don’t consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process.’ It then added, ‘This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment.’”

As I wrote in a letter to the New York Times,

 

OPINION | October 13, 2010
Letter:  The Troubled Tribune
I’m appalled and saddened by the irresponsible attitudes and actions of those now in command of a once respected, trustworthy pillar of the fourth estate.  Even if (especially if?) those in charge care more about making money than fulfilling their privileged societal watchdog role they must be subject to the same laws prohibiting sexual discrimination and harassment as are all other businesses across the land.

Anita M. Harris, Cambridge, MA
Anita Harris, president of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA,  is the author of Broken Patterns: Professional Women and the Quest for a New Feminine Identity (Wayne State University Press, 1995).  A former journalist, she has reported for Newsday and the MacNeil-Lehrer Report (now the Newshour), and has taught journalism at Harvard, Yale and Tufts Universities, and at Simmons College.

 


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 Wednesday, July 15, 2009, media consultant Doug Bailey wrote in an  op ed column entitled  “Got a comment? Keep it to yourself” that space for comments at the end of online newspaper articles should be eliminated because they downgrade the quality of news. 

Bailey,  who does not disclose that he’s a  former Globe editor, suggests that rather than enhance communication, newspapers online forums are “insidiously contributing to the devaluation of journalism, blurring the truth, confusing the issues, and diminishing serious discourse beyond even talk radio’s worst examples.”

He  points out (without naming names) that  the comment sections allow  “anonymous”, “unverified,”  “agenda-driven”  “boneheads” to post inaccurate information that  can be picked up by bloggers and then by legitimate traditional reporters who publish “missives” –unaware that the bloggers’ information came from their newspapers’ own Web sites.

Yes, this is a problem–and  it is, as Bailey puts it, a bit  “insane”. But rather than ban readers’ comments, wouldn’t it make more sense for reporters to verify all sources?  Certainly, real reporting takes time–and traditional journalists are increasingly harried in these days of cost-cutting and layoffs.

But it is verfication and objectivity that separate  independent journalism from  disinformation. And, it is truth, and allowing readers a stake in it–that, in the end, will give us a reason to  pay for news.

Bailey ends his column saying, “By the way, don’t bother posting any comments directly to me when this article appears on the Web. I won’t see them. Instead, go start your own website or blog or buy a legitimate newspaper or write a letter to the editor, or an op -ed (and sign your own name to it). If  you really have something interesting to say, I’ll find you.”

(I was  amused–and glad–to see 168 comments after the online posting.

  • “Kachunk” says he’s posting for “the irony”
  • “Oldpink “says it’s ” nice for ordinary citizens to be given an opportunity to add something that should have been in the original column, while allowing others to rebut.Messy? Often a bit mean? Commonly inaccurate? Absolutely. Isn’t democracy grand?”
  •  “Sensibleman,”  writes that he’s using  the first amendment to tell Bailey “to stop submitting articles so if intelligent life ever scans our internet to determine how critical it is to stop at Earth they don’t pass over us due to stupidity.”)

I read Bailey’s column in the print edition–which is delivered  to my door (late, but that’s another story)  every day.   But the Globe allows almost no print space for letters to the editor which, in days past, might have helped keep reporters and columnists on their toes.  Hence, this posting–and comment #169 after Bailey’s piece, online.

But if  I did write in, I’d  include my name and  prior affiliations– and make  clear that like Bailey’s,  my not-so hidden agenda is to attract customers to  my consulting business.  

 Hint, hint:  Anita Harris, a former national journalist,  is president of the Harris Communications Group, of Cambridge, MA.

PS  Comments welcome!

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