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Evolving the Herd Mentality: Wall Street Journal Bans Embargoes

Credit: Nick Brandt, Available for sale here

According to Rafat Ali, The Wall Street Journal today amended its editorial policy to no longer participate in embargoed news herds and will only consider exclusives from this point on. In March, The WSJ introduced a new plan to grade journalists based on the stories they break for the newswires.

For those who need a bit of clarification, embargoes are a form of PR where journalists and bloggers work on a story prior to official release with the understanding that the story can not publish until a fixed day and time. An exclusive is a story that is placed with only one publication or blog, with an implied or explicit promise that the story won’t go to anyone else until after it’s published.

While this is an ambitious move intended to establish dominance and competitive edge, other blogs and publications have instituted such policies due to the actions of over zealous PR pros who would employ a “quantity over quality” methodology. Essentially, these PR shepherds would herd a-listers into a corral of pre-briefings an hold them under embargo until a fixed point in time. In these cases, someone would always break the embargo as a way of scooping the others, thus leaving everyone else angered and embittered.

I fully expect this to be a public-facing trend for a short while, and not necessarily enforced in the back channel where reporters, bloggers and sources maintain proven, trusted relationships. Eventually, these publications will realize that their competition is willing to honor embargoes. This will draw a majority of major PR attention as it’s easier to appease the “more is more” publicity mentality of pitching and placing stories in bulk over a more strategic and effective “less is more” methodology.

Do you think this will lead to a reduction in the volume of embargoed stories it receives from PR or increase its leadership as the primary, exclusive source for breaking news?

Deirdre Breakenridge and I talk about embargoes and exclusives in the age of new media extensively in our new book. In the meantime, please feel free to download, “The Art and Science of Blogger Relations.”

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