Is It Time To Bin The Embargo?
It was invented a century ago, primarily for practical reasons. Embargoes provide journalists with news that should not be published until a certain date and time. Standard.
But if someone gets something exclusively without having the embargoed release and by doing some journalism instead they’re within their right to put the story out – see: political & news journalism.
So where did it all go wrong? More often than not these days, in the arts especially, the only reason for the ‘embargo’ is to protect whoever is given the “exclusive”.
As a consequence, a select group of information providers (Baz Bamigboye for Deadline or WhatsOnStage) become the only means through which the theatre loving public receive information, and are thereby situated at the centre of things. It is by design. There are no such things as coincidences.
Similar publications and online personalities yearn for privileged access. And they are often prepared to pay a price to get it. Usually their dignity.
Naturally, currency and status involves becoming a subsidiary part of the machine. It often means turning their readers and viewers into dupes.
In other words, embargoes are more or less predicated on lack of access. How do publications make the most of the scraps they are fed?
Such questions sit heavily on the shoulders of those who work in and around theatreland. “Oh God,” is the initial response from one London arts marketing agency managing director, who wisely asks not to be identified. “We’ve been burned in the past by miscommunication and we’re really aware how much chaos someone potentially breaking news has become. I think embargoes’ days are numbered. There have been several occasions where we’re like: This makes all of us look bad.”
Ironically, the decline of print journalism has brought with it an array of diverse coverage and reviews such as podcasts, YouTubers and bloggers. The possibility to put out news right away via Twitter, the urge to comment online can be difficult to bear, and the speeded up news cycle has put pressure on the relevance of embargoes. News is news.
Previously, I’ve experienced derision when I have broken so-called embargoes but all that information was, in any case, completely available for anyone to find, if they knew where to look. And therein lies the illogicality of the position. Since I am not *always* issued said news items with embargoes, how can I have been guilty of breaking an embargo? Would you apologise for breaking a promise you never agreed to keep?
In the case of Bonnie & Clyde, I received a general ‘On Sale Tomorrow’ email earlier in the day containing generic marketing copy; there was no embargo information on it; It had gone to 1,000 other people.
The agency has since conceded that the information was available due to a “technical error”. Alas, I’m not apologising for not abiding by an embargo that a ‘technical error’ rendered irrelevant.
You can’t arrest a man for receiving mail. Hand on heart, if i receive a release with an embargo, i honour it. In fact, I was sent 3 this week.
And so, after Tweeting myself, a bunch of people I’d never met told me how dreadful I was. Twitter is not a kind place, even if it is full of pointless people who think they are.
As usual, the complainers have entirely missed the point
Among the nasty commentary: “Di*khead” “Scum bag” “As*hole”, “Trash” and more rage. Yes, I received a death threat. Bizarrely, meanwhile, the composer broke the embargo, too, publishing the news himself on Instagram. I’m serious.
Credit where it is due, the PR telephoned me to discuss and I suppose you could say took a duty of care to see if I was OK. Which was nice.
Either way, we seem to be still no closer to working out a civil way to disagree about musicals on the internet. (Online forum theatreboard.com contains some of the worst anonymous trolls: avoid).
Thankfully, joining digital pile-ons, sending threatening emails are among the new criminal offences that could result in jail sentences. So, good luck out there.
As tech visionary Jaron Lanier excellently points out, “people get so caught up in just relationships with others that they lose track of reality, and so they do tend to spin out of control.”
But jeez, the sheer numbers of successful, creative and interesting theatre people who AREN’T on Twitter tell a much more powerful story.
Anyway, Elon Musk has now closed his $44bn deal to take Twitter private. “[T]he bird is freed,” Musk tweeted. So, is it time to bin the embargo? For creative teams and PRs, that’s the million dollar question.
To quote Stephen Sondheim: ’There are rights and wrongs, and in betweens.’
I have no dramatic conclusion. Just a small suggestion.
Raise a little hell.
Stay strong, readers.