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My sad history with embargoes


TechCrunch announced today that they’re done with embargoes—those (sometimes) tantalizing news announcements that are not to be disclosed before a deadline. Others, like Andy Beal, pledge to keep honoring them.

I’ve been done with embargoes for a while. The reasons: A) I feel it’s a device to drum up interest in an often humdrum story; B) I feel I’m being played; C) I don’t consider it a scoop if I run with a story five minutes before everyone else; D) Twice I inadvertently broke an embargo, embarrassed myself both times, and vowed to avoid them the rest of my career.

The one I broke involved Yahoo. In autumn of 2005, a group of us met with Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo. He talked about blog search and an upcoming announcement. I must not have been paying attention when they detailed the embargo. I blogged a post preparing people for a Yahoo announcement on blog search. I could quickly see why people break embargoes. The story got great traffic and was picked up everywhere.

The Yahoo people were upset with me. I apologized. Turned out the “scoop” wasn’t even true.

The second one was earlier this year. A group of us sat down with Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web. He sketched out a plan for democratizing cyberspace. I thought I was doing him a favor by blogging about it. But it was embargoed. As far as his organization was concerned, it was as if I’d left a few centrifuges and a suitcase of weapons grade plutonium in an Middle Eastern airport. We had to scrape every vestige of the story from our servers. Fact was, no one had paid any attention to it in the first place.

Now that I write this, I realize a couple things. When I’m about to interview someone like Tim Berners-Lee, I often don’t pay attention to the press person’s prologue. It might as well be the airline attendant droning on about oxygen supplies and inflatable vessels. That means I’ll keep breaking embargoes (though not as brazenly as the TechCrunch crowd), because I often don’t hear about them. So, those of you with embargoed releases, please don’t even call.


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