An 'embargo' is when a journalist, and a car company the journalist is supposed to cover, agree to withhold news from you, the reader, for reasons that have almost everything to do with the company's best interests. Jalopnik's policy is to not agree with these, but not for reasons of ethics. It just gives us a huge advantage.
With the leak of the 2015 Ford Mustang, courtesy of an Autoweek issue that predictably was discovered before it was supposed to be discovered, there's been a lot of teeth gnashing about "broken embargoes." There's no honor amongst thieves, and even less honor amongst automotive journalists it seems.
A lot of people have photos of the 2015 Ford Mustang and the idea was that all of these people — not including us — would hold onto them until tonight at midnight so as to conform to Ford's marketing strategy.
It obviously didn't happen that way, but if you want to know how stupid this whole process is, Autoweek, whose entire story adorns a million websites, is forbidden from posting images to their own website because Ford won't let them. Even though everything is out there already.
Not like this is particularly bad for Autoweek. I'm a big fan of the people there and much of the recent copy is the best stuff they've put out in a generation, but the last time someone cared about an Autoweek cover a Motorola StarTAC was considered a smartphone. Who really gets screwed here, if you can call it that, are all the other people who got together at a studio and shot the exact same "exclusive" images of the new Mustang under conditions supervised by Ford.
There are numerous schools of thought on whether or not this is bad for the automaker, but since Ford decided to wait until December (when there's basically no car news) to launch it I'm guessing that they're going to be able to live with the extra days of coverage.
The benefit, journalists say, is that they can take the time to craft a more in-depth feature on a vehicle. That may be true, but the same can be done at any point and having an in-depth piece "first" is the exact same instinct that drives people who post the images of a car before they have any info. It's the same game, and it's all done at the behest and schedule of automakers.
So, in the face of all this nonsense, we stopped agreeing to embargoes earlier this year. While, ethically, the idea of obviating my instinct as a newsman to break news in the face of "access" has always bothered me, the idea of journalistic ethics also bothers me. To quote Deadspin editor Tommy Craggs:
Journalism ethics is nothing more than a measure of the scurrilousness your brand will bear. That's it. Ethics has nothing to do with the truth of things, only with the proper etiquette for obtaining it, so as to piss off the fewest number of people possible. That works fine for a lot of news outlets; we don't have to worry about niceties.
No, I'm not doing this at the behest of the ghost of Edward R. Murrow or so that Aaron Sorkin will write a show about me called The Blogroom. The biggest reason Jalopnik does this is because it gives us a great competitive advantage. We can run the cover of Autoweek and Autoweek can't. When the Corvette broke on the covers of Automobile and Road & Track earlier this year, we had them up for days while those two magazines had to wait until they had permission from GM to talk about what they knew.
Has this policy cost us this year? Barely. GM went out of their way to prevent us from getting the Corvette to drive until every other journalist did, but we got it eventually and we probably got more eyeballs out of the 2014 Corvette than any other outlet. Also, we already gave GM plenty of reasons to be mad at us.
Does this mean we break embargoes? Absolutely not. An embargo is an agreement between two individuals. If we never agree to the embargo in the first place, we can't break it and they can't really get mad at us. Automakers informed of this policy seem to understand it and, while they don't love what we're doing, most agree the system is flawed.
Would we ever agree to an embargo? Sure. Some embargoes do make sense, like when there's a clear and demonstrated risk to someone's safety (as with an active military strike) or when the outcome of something is in doubt. We sometimes agree to drive impression embargoes because that is kind of an agreement amongst journalists to wait for everyone to drive a car, but I hate those and avoid them when we can.
So far the biggest challenge with this policy are the people who send us emails, unsolicited, with embargoed information IN THE EMAIL and assume we agree ahead of time. It's an insulting belief and one that shows just how much our industry has acquiesced to the demands of carmakers.
One company, which I'll just say rhymes with Chrysler, has sent us at least five emails with embargoed information. Because this is a new policy I politely requested them to take us off these email lists but it kept happening.
I think the problem is finally solved, but in case anyone who works in PR for a company is reading this let me make it clear: If you send us embargoed information the first thing we're going to do is publish it. So, there, done. You've all been officially warned.