I read Molly Wood's Inside tech journalism: the NDA game with great interest for two reasons. (Go read it, then come back here...)

  1. I've wondered when the tech journalists were going to get fed up enough to start complaining about the problem.
  2. I'm involved in discussions about who to NDA in advance of a product launch, worries about leaks, and related stuff. We had one (discussion, not leak) just yesterday, in fact.

While her article is mainly aimed at hardware/gadget companies, much of it also applies to the hosted application and media/content businesses. You probably don't know what the next product Yahoo is going to launch is, do you? To steal a line from Top Gun, I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you.

What about Google? They're not exactly standing on the street corners, waving signs that signal their next product. (But you can assume they'll whip out that 20% time thing.) MSN? Same thing.

It's clear that the way PR, Marketing, NDAs, and Embargos work is changing. I routinely get solicitations from PR firms asking me to look at a pre-announcement or listen to a pre-briefing. Some do this because I'm on their media list via my Linux Magazine affiliation. But an increasing number of this specifically mention my blog.

As Molly says:

We media types need to quit kowtowing to manufacturers who are trying in vain to hold on to the last shred of control they think they have. Those manufacturers need to wake up and smell the RSS feeds--the information's already out there. Quit acting like you're doling out spoonfuls of sugar to the deserving few. Your audience is getting its sugar elsewhere.

I've noticed that in industries where the competition isn't quite as insane as ours, the players are far more concerned about getting coverage than worrying about who they told first. Sometimes you can almost read their desperation between the lines.

What some journalists have figured out is that we almost always post something on the Yahoo! Search blog when we launch a new Search related service. When do we post? Usually at the same time the embargos on traditional journalists are lifted. If there's a press release, it usually hits the wire the next morning. None of this s secret--it's a pattern that we've followed many times.

What I'm hoping for is the day that we can be bit less uptight about who knows when, who gets the early call, pre-briefings, and all that stuff. Sure, for a really big launch we should do that. But I think for the incremental enhancements, launches, and so on it's overkill. We should just publish something when the feature or service is live, and let the world figure it out. They will.

But I suspect it'll take quite a while for that to happen, and it'll piss off a lot of PR folks and journalists along the way.

Posted by jzawodn at May 04, 2005 12:51 PM

Reader Comments
# Charles said:

This is one big reason I like The Register, they have an absolute No-NDA policy. If you talk to them, you talk on-the-record, no embargos.

on May 4, 2005 01:34 PM
# Joe Beaulaurier said:

It's nasty business on all sides. I have had the unfortunate opportunity to see it from all sides: writer/reviewer, manufacturer, reseller wanting to preview/presell product and a member of the buying public awaiting some inkling of information that can be trusted.

So now introduce RSS. A much faster product introduction occurs along with immediate feedback from everyone (experts and idiots alike). Does this change the game between traditional media and manufacturer? Only in that the manufacturer loses control of the info flow if they can't lock down the information and traditional media loses the opportunity to be first out the door.

Editors have really made too much out of "you heard it here first" as a measure of a pub's quality. But they really push the reporters hard to get in early and finagle a sneak peek. This has created reporters who have to be nuisance to the manufacturers and make threats of no coverage if they are not allowed the prerelease privileges.

Ironically, I think most of us would be happier with an useful review and explanation resulting from adequate time spent (and that doesn't mean 30 minutes playing with the top layer of a product). But it's a rare thing to see a product review that is the result of hours or days spent really getting to know a product. The reporters are not allowed or willing to give it that much time.



on May 4, 2005 04:46 PM
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