Michael Arrington and the broken embargoes: welcome to journalism, Mikey boy

Michael Arrington, the businessman – think of him like a publisher from paper-magazine days – says he’s introducing a new policy for TechCrunch (not to be confused with TechCrunch UK). The policy: he won’t respect any embargoes – unless, that is, the story (whatever it is) that’s given under embargo is given as an exclusive.

Interesting. Stupid, but interesting. He claims all those PR people keep ringing him up (well boo-hoo, matey) and – falsely, according to someone else – that TechCrunch has never broken an embargo. (Well, he then accepts there was the once, by accident.)

The clear reason for this isn’t about PR people bothering him, or other people breaking embargoes, at all; it’s to get web traffic. It’s to be the site that gets the linkage when a story appears on the basis that it will appear on TC; to be the one the bloggers point to.

However, bloggers don’t do that, in my experience; they don’t necessarily point to original sources. They point to wherever they read it first. (Perhaps one key difference between amateur bloggers and pro journalists.) If TechCrunch doesn’t get more traffic, this won’t actually make a difference.

But it’s also a stupid idea: the idea that exclusives matter any more. As Allan Stern, writing at that Centernetworks writes,

I get offered exclusives every week and I turn down every single one of them. I turn them down because my belief is that it’s best that the startup (or big company) gets the most coverage they can. Some blogs like the embargo as it allows them to look like a news-breaking organization. The truth is, any exclusive that goes up on any blog, I can have a better post written about the story in 5 minutes. Exclusives are the real worthless item out of today’s conversation. But clearly for some blogs, they need to force the exclusive because it’s critical for their success.

And:

There’s a belief that if you don’t offer an exclusive, you won’t be covered. Let me clue you in on a secret, that’s not true. If your story is newsworthy, it will be covered without an exclusive. And if your story isn’t newsworthy, an exclusive probably won’t help anyway. Many outlets won’t cover a story if they know an exclusive was issued. My advice to startups is that exclusives aren’t a good vehicle to use – you want as much coverage as you can, not one outlet.

This is pretty much what I tell people and companies that ask for media advice: exclusives can act against you. Give the story only to The Times, or The Telegraph, or The Guardian (rather than them ferreting it out on their own) and any of those others will dislike you, the PR company or startup company, for showing favour. And while we do try to be extremely professional about all that we do, there’s always a niggling thing with companies that try to play the exclusive game: why do you think we aren’t good enough for you?

Of course that means that you have to try to get the message out to all those different media at once. That, I’m sure, must be hellish for people in PR now. Folks, you’ve got my sympathies there. (Though even so, a little less of the “I’m just phoning to see if you got my email?” wouldn’t go amiss.)

Anyhow, I’ll be very interested to see whether this “exclusives-only embargoes” actually flies for any length of time. We’ll have to watch carefully to see whether the stories on TechCrunch US are embargoed plants, or stuff they get themselves.

My money’s on this policy being dead in six months. Perhaps nine.

1 Comment

  1. I’d say Mike Arrington has given up on the link economy, although I’m not sure he ever believed in it. He seems to be taking an approach that has more to do with a previous generation of journalism than what he espouses in public. I can think of a few trade newspapers that applied the same logic (except that they didn’t pretend to agree to embargoes, they just demanded exclusives or bust). The policy worked for a while in terms of getting material but had a disastrous effect on the culture in that they became utterly reliant on the PR firehose. The stuff was exclusive but not all that relevant to the readership.

    The first problem for Arrington now is that, by hitting PRs with a big stick, all he is doing is telling the sites that cluster around TechCrunch that there’s no room on the lifeboat for them – they want all the links to be incoming. In that environment, a lot of people aren’t going to feel like linking.

    The second one is that the people who are going to comply are going to be the C-list. He’s already admitted that he won’t do it to Google or Microsoft. There are probably a bunch of smart PRs who won’t take the chance. And then you’ve got the rest, who probably don’t even read TechCrunch. They arguably get what they deserve. But I can see Arrington taking a few irate calls in the meantime for stories that probably weren’t worth it in the first place.

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