By Leigh Andrews
Imagine if you have information scheduled to be released to the media on a certain date, for them to publish it in a certain time frame ... but something goes wrong and the information leaks early.
Consequences of this would be possibly giving your competitors an early advantage on your situation, and if you think back to the country’s outrage over City Press
publishing Brett Murray’s infamous ‘Spear’ painting, editor Ferial Haffajee’s quote in her article
announcing that the review about the painting would be removed will probably come to mind: “For any editor to respond to a threat to take down an article of journalism without putting up a fight is an unprincipled thing to do, so we’ve fought as much as we could.”
It reminds me of a phrase from an article
Samantha Perry of ITWeb
posted online in 2007 that spoke of this same issue from a public relations perspective. To paraphrase, she said: “ … the next time you have the urge to ask me if you can approve copy … think about what you are actually doing. You are asking me to compromise my ethics, credibility, reputation, integrity and – ultimately – my career and I will not do that – for you or anyone.” That’s the hard news sphere for you, where journalistic ethics and principles of what is in the public interest to publish are paramount. For the majority of media houses, if something newsworthy meets the content mandate, it will be published.
I’ve written before
that with online media in particular, there’s a need for better understanding from all parties involved when it comes to recalling press releases. Chirene Campbell, MD of Owlhurst Communications commented
in another article I wrote on that topic, “I can totally understand from the journalist’s point of view that once a release reaches their inbox, it is deemed to be approved, vetted and ready for publication.” The pace is generally fast – press release received, assess whether it meets content mandate. If not, discard. If it does, edit it to meet in-house style, cut out any flowery language
and unnecessary detail, load onto the content management system, check it shows up correctly online, promote it in the social media space ... and then move on to the next one. It’s all done in five minutes, which isn’t always ideal. Sometimes there’s an embargo on the information that is not paid attention to and the information leaks early – but then, as Gus Silber points out (on Twitter
, appropriately), “Press releases should come with an embargo of 60 seconds, maximum, for tweeting purposes. Otherwise, no embargo.” Campbell agrees
, stating “With the advent of social media, there is no guarantee that any release will ever be recalled,” and that when an embargo goes wrong, “it goes horribly wrong,” such as having the winners of an award ceremony that hasn’t yet taken place announced long ahead of time.
The repercussions? Campbell says that having information leaked is dubious at best, planned at worst. “To me, that could equate to accidentally-on-purpose letting your best friend know that you got engaged when it’s ‘top secret’. Also, leaked information can only come from so many sources – the publicist, the client, the journalist or staff members thereof, which brings up a whole new can of worms involving trust and confidentiality issues. But it boils down to a question of whether it was meant to be leaked or not. If yes, credibility goes down the drain. If not, confidentiality clauses are not tight enough and someone’s job is on the line!”
So, there you have it. What should you do if an embargo is broken and misinformation is shared? You can follow the tips offered in my previous articles
on the topic and share your thoughts on our blog