GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Every journalist is faced with embargoes so I read, out of curiosity, this NPR article about the nonsense that occurred around a health story because of an embargo, a story about mumps.
Embargoes used to be common because print journalists needed time to prepare stories that were longer and more serious than most we see today, but also because evening and morning newspapers could be put on an even footing that way: everyone had advance warning and the same deadline.
That world seems a century away, although it goes back less than 20 years, to pre-Internet days. Most embargoes today are nothing more than transparent and poor public relations ploys to grab the attention of over-worked journalists. They are still, thankfully, used by organizations that publish lengthy and complex material such as science journals and by international financial bodies such as the Financial Stability Board, whose lengthy and daunting subject matter can’t be condensed quickly to short news stories.
But mostly, embargoes are a sign that the world of public relations is still stuck with a working model that no longer works in these days of instant news, instantly rehashed news, and too few journalists who have time to delve into stories and get them right, embargo or no embargo.
The challenge is not so much about how dying newspapers will survive in a digital world (they won’t, and it’s time to start saying that), as about how people who believe they have news content can connect with those who can broadcast it, in a responsible and credible way. In other words, digesting and putting the news into perspective, not just repeating press releases.