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Under Strict Embargo

Every so often, journalistic expressions get a more public airing. I remember about ten years ago when there was a sudden rash of interviewees demanding that their conversations were “off the record”. It was really weird, as though they’d all got the same memo telling them that this was the way to be taken seriously among journalists.

Except, of course, it wasn’t.

MPs dripping indiscretions, fair enough, but when it was a middle manager telling you that “off the record” the new formula for Kool Kola was a game changer, it just made them look a bit stupid. As if we’d really be desperate to quote that.

Now, it seems, the PR world has been similarly afflicted, this time by a severe case of embargo-itis. Everything is under embargo these days, or even under Strict Embargo. Unheard of street traders introducing new flavours of bao buns, Starbucks launching a new cold coffee range, a grill manufacturer conducting a survey on barbecuing habits?

All of them as un-newsworthy as each other, but embargoed, embargoed, embargoed.

To what end? To stop us “breaking” the news early? You’d be so lucky. Slapping the word embargo on a dull business announcement is like putting lipstick on a pig. It doesn’t make it any more desirable.

The purpose of an embargo is to stop us ruining someone else’s exclusive (eg, when another paper has paid for first rights to a recipe book or when we are told the name of the Bake Off or Masterchef winner ahead of that evening’s broadcast). It is not a way of attempting to control the news agenda and turn journalists into cogs in the marketing machine.

ESPECIALLY when it’s not news in the first place.

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