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paidContent - WSJ's New Policy: Won't Take Herd Embargoes

This story was written by Rafat Ali.

The Wall Street Journal has a new policy for its editorial staff, we have learned: it will not accept embargoes for stories, but will take exclusives if handed to them. We have confirmed the policy from various sources, although a WSJ spokesman told us: “There is no change with our embargo policy. We honor deals when we make them.” Not all embargoes are identical—according to our sources, the WSJ will accept embargoes for exclusives but not when other media outlets are involved unless the story is considered big enough.

This comes after its earlier policy change in March for its journalists that they would be graded based on the stories they break for the Newswires. We do not know if these two policies are linked, but could speculate that the new policy of not accepting embargoes stemmed as a result of the latter. From the memo sent out by Robert Thomson in March: “Even a headstart of a few seconds is priceless for a commodities trader or a bond dealer—that same story can be repurposed for a range of different audiences, but its value diminishes with the passing of time…Given that revenue reality, henceforth all Journal reporters will be judged, in significant part, by whether they break news for the Newswires.”

After speaking to various PR people who pitch stories to WSJ, it seems there are some exceptions to the new no-embargoes policy if the story is big enough, but in general, WSJ reporters will no longer be part of a herd of journalist briefings, which results in a spate of stories from various outlets all at the same time. If PR professionals approach them on a story, then they can refuse and go around and hunt down the story if they want to. Some of the PR people tried going around this new policy by going to other journalists/“friends” in the publication, but after the editors got wind of this, the new rule is that only beat reporters will be writing beat stories, and no one else.

Because of this new policy, some awkward situations have come up recently in its tech/media coverage (the parts we monitor closely and where we sometimes compete with the Journal): the Yahoo homepage relaunch story, where its reporter Jessica Vascellaro “broke” the embargo and did a half-baked story based on sources, when sister publication ATD’s Kara Swisher, also under an embargo went live with her story at the same time, based on an interview with the exec involved (while the rest of us were holding to an embargo time for the next morning, but scrambled to do our own stories when WSJ went with it). Another situation cropped up today, when Sony’s new E-Reader story was supposed to be under embargo until late tonight (and other pubs were briefed on it), but WSJ jumped on it earlier this afternoon because of its new policy.

This is similar to a policy TechCrunch adopted last year, though there are some exceptions there as well.

By Rafat Ali

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