December 17, 2008

The Best Solution to Embargo Angst? Write Something Else.

As blogging approaches the traditional role of journalism, traditional elements of journalism, including public relations firms, embargoes, briefings, and bias are going to surface, as they have with traditional marketing, media and business for centuries. Today's flare-up, kicked off by one of the best discussion starters on the Web, TechCrunch's Michael Arrington, isn't the first time embargoes have been slammed, and it certainly won't be the last time. Back in August, I discussed why I believed the embargo process was both broken, but necessary, and Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb followed on with a great take of his own.

I think the bigger issue is not that embargoes are being broken - which they are by blogs both big and small - but instead, that there are a large number of sites who act like they are the only game in town, and that they must cover every single story.

To those guys, please stop. Seriously.

In the tech blogging sphere, there is a serious echo chamber. While I look forward to banging through my Google Reader feeds every day, I can pretty much bank on seeing the same story, spun a different way, a good dozen or two dozen times by every single tech blog - even if it's clear that they are just reporting that someone else reported the news. If you see a story has been covered already and you have nothing to add - leave it alone.

Given the ease of news distribution, let's now write with the assumption that everybody reading your site is reading a few others as well. If you see a story broken by TechCrunch, or ReadWriteWeb or Mashable or VentureBeat or CenterNetworks, there's no need to pile on and become story number 18 on the topic. Let it go and write about something else - unless you have unique insight, unique quotes or access.

In my day job, I work with press releases and embargoes and reporters on a frequent basis. There is a need to be sure announcements go out when the products and partners are ready, or the customer is ready to take press calls. But Arrington is no doubt right that, as king of the hill, which TechCrunch is, some companies and PR teams are making coverage on the site practically mandatory, and near harassment of him and his team is no doubt occurring.

When trying to get coverage elsewhere, memorably one time in 2006 in Computerworld, I know I aggressively called the feature reporter every few hours until they finally picked up. After berating them for covering a competitor, and not our story, I got hung up on (no doubt deservedly so). I can only imagine being a TechCrunch reporter getting hit over and over by desperate firms, begging for coverage and honoring of their embargo.

A suggestion to those PR teams, please stop. Seriously.

Take your story somewhere else, to one of the many other tech blogs who write well, and will give your company or service its due. There are many new writers who have posts to file, and they want your story - and they will honor your requested embargo.

On this site, when I was running the whole thing myself, and now, with the great team of writers we have here, no embargo has ever been broken. On one occasion, I prematurely posted the Seesmic/Disqus integration news, having forgotten the day it was due, but I promptly deleted and reposted the next day. But one of the major reasons I haven't broken an embargo is because I strive, and ask my cohorts the same, to write things that are new. Cover new stories and new angles and be unique. If it has been covered somewhere else, let it go. We're not TechCrunch, and we're not trying to be.

TechCrunch doesn't have time for stories like, which we covered last night. They probably aren't interested in stories like the one today on Resume Donkey, or Monday's announcement of Twit Or Fit. TechCrunch also doesn't have the leisure anymore of introducing great new blogs, as we do every month, or highlighting how to better use FriendFeed and Twitter, as we can. That's because they have taken on a new role, as a very real media company, and with their focus on Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo! and other big companies, there's room down at the bottom for us small fry to find the stories that are in the cracks.

It takes a different mentality to find new companies and new angles that nobody else has written before, that doesn't require a PR firm's input or embargo. And it takes strength from the PR firms to turn away from their top target and take the story somewhere else. While I don't think today's missive from Arrington will do just that, it might make some think different about the way they blog and distribute stories.