23 July 2013


I briefly featured in a local paper recently. In the long-standing political editor's weekly, hilarious, 'Off The Record' column. Because, he said, I had broken my council's own embargo.

(Now, aside from the obvious question as to whether - given I manage the team - that means I broke "my own" embargo and whether in some philosophical way I might be wholly entitled to do so as that would be a matter for me... I probably had. Kinda.)

Here's what happened. My team were responsible for a press release (I know, I know) announcing that Hull's Ferens Art Gallery had saved a very important painting for the nation. The story is here: 

The National Gallery had apparently asked for an embargo, (and the team tell me they resisted that to no avail) because for whatever reason, it seemed they wanted the Guardian to have it first. 

The Guardian duly obliged, and published well before the (corny, I'd say) 00.01 embargo, with the first readers' tweets pointing at the story not long after 5.30 in the afternoon; some six and a half hours before the embargo expired. 

I saw the link in a tweet from a Hull-based photography firm owner and tweeted it myself at 22.06, leading to the story in the #deadtreepress. Oh silly me.

But, but, but....
For me it raises some questions.

First, in what world is it proper for a local authority media team to seek (or more accurately in this particular case, to be asked to seek) to hand a commercial advantage to any particular media brand? I'm not sure it is, and I think we might need to ask ourselves some tough questions about that.

Second, in what world is it appropriate for a local authority comms team, with tools now available which allow us to publish directly to customers, to keep back publicly-held information when it is ready to be released, and put it into the hands of the news media first? 

Third, once the embargo was breached, isn't it just all over in terms of maintaining it in the modern 'twitterverse'?

Fourth, and if it is all over once (as in this case) an embargo has been broken, or has served its purpose, or both, in what world should the very team that issued the release be the only people in the world who cannot then share it on social media? Some three hours before I tweeted, the Guardian story was tweeted by an arts organisation in Shanghai.

And fifth, doesn't the ability of the news media to publish almost instantly online render the whole embargo idea just a wee bit redundant? I guess it may have had a purpose in the days when newsprint hit London pavements at some shallow hour of the morning, and the breakfast table at about the same time you put the radio news on, but what purpose does it really serve now? And at 00.01? Really?

It perhaps seems to me that there are too many who still think slapping an embargo on is actually somehow a fundamental part of drafting a press release.

But why? 

I don't know. I only have questions at the moment. But it does feel to me that, if the story's ready for your customers to know, shouldn't you just tell them, and tell them first?

19 July 2013

I've had this bobbins in my head for months. Better out than in...

John Torode, bake me scones
With a paste of abalone,
dressed in ginger.
Mount in marmite.
Bake me scones, John Torode..