(Biggs posted this on our sister site, CrunchGear. In hopes of slowing the barrage of e-mails and IMs, I’m posting it here, too. -Greg)
I’ve been a full-time blogger for nigh on five years and a journalist for almost ten. In all those years I’ve signed NDAs and followed embargoes with reckless abandon, potentially John Hancock-ing my life away just so I could look at a new camera.
Why did I do this? Because I knew that the PR process was broken but I was happy following along. Most of the embargoes I agreed to were for products I wouldn’t have written about early – or at all – even if I didn’t have the full power of the People’s Court hanging over me. NDAs and embargoes are a gentleman’s agreement between the journalist and the PR professional designed for a time when it took four days to get from Scranton to Philadelphia by horse. By creating an embargo, you gave Joe Blow at the Flushing Daily Bee the same chance to write up a story as Jimmy Reporterpants at the New York Times. NDAs were designed to keep reporters from blabbing about what they saw and giving up their secrets to the competitors.
Both concepts are broken and here’s our current policy.
Embargoes – We will keep them, based on a handshake agreement (we won’t sign them unless we like you), and we will break them if we even have an inkling that the story might go live early or if we feel like. If that’s a problem, we’re happy to wait until the product launches officially and write about it five seconds after the Internet. We will do a bad job of it, not having been privy to the information beforehand, but that’s the price we have to pay for our principles.
NDAs – We won’t sign them. If your client is so worried their going to lose out to a competitor then let us suggest to your client that they close shop. Unless they’re Apple, most of their employees are disgruntled and would tell their innermost secrets for a Klondike bar. Don’t place your success in the hands of an unruly mob of overweight word diddlers.
What of my other writing gigs? The New York Times does not officially want me sign embargoes or NDAs. I cleared this up with an editor a month or so ago. Again, I want you to be happy so if you tell me not to write about something within a certain time-frame I’m happy to oblige. But I’m not going to worry if something comes out late or early. There’s a war on and we’re in a financial crisis. Your cellphone isn’t that important.
The same goes for MobileCrunch – ask us about an embargo. Heck, IM us about it. We’ll agree, but God help you if the information gets leaked early. We, as a rule, won’t be doing the leaking, but if we’re in a foul mood we might. We’ve been good boys and girls for years but we’re tired and cranky and our boss has sent down an edict from on high.