By on January 16, 2013

Investigative reporter

We have a new car show season. With it come new car releases, and with them comes a contagion that is as tiring and headache-inducing as a Cobo Hall flu on top of an after party hangover. The disease goes by the name of embargo, and it comes with  the embargo breach as a secondary infection.

In case you have studied Pol.Sci. instead of HTML, you might be thinking that we are talking about real embargoes, such as those of Iran or Cuba. We don’t. In our biz, an embargo is when an OEM sends a blog a picture or a story, and then asks not to “print” it until later. If you think that the outcome is both predictable and inevitable, then you are absolutely correct. We could put the matter right to sleep without wasting (ha!) precious HTML column inches, would the new car season not also be marked by an excited chattering, twittering, OMG+1000ering over busted embargoes in what goes as the automotive media these days.

So let’s do what we rarely do, let’s talk about embargoes.

Our embargo

In the funky world of car blogs, embargoes are treated with the fascination otherwise reserved for an older sister’s first period, for our first pubic hair, or, OMG!, stained linen. Likewise, a broken embargo is treated with the enthrallment, or faux outrage caused by school buddies who purportedly went to “third base” without going blind.

Whenever an OEM tells me that “kids have lost their interest in car”, I say: “Wrong, look at Jalopnik.” Jalopnik is the epicenter of youthful eruptions caused by titillating embargoes.  Jalopnik even has a special section for “Embargo News, Videos, Reviews and Gossip.” Currently,  the section crucifies Cycle World (yes, Cycle World) for blowing an embargo.  I was unable to find out which one. I had to withstand attempts of the Jalopnik section to lure me into other Gawker assets that promise me “Orgasm-Free Casual Sex.”  No thanks. In my advanced age, one is grateful for any orgasm one can achieve during casual sex.  (Speaking of age, things got a little better at Jalopnik after Ray Wert was replaced by a more youthful looking, but far more mature Matt Hardigree. As mature men, they talk less, and do it more.)

However, I am looking forward to the promised reviews of embargoes. Car reviews: Tired. Embargo reviews: Wired. Can we hope for five star embargoes? Three thumbs down for halfhearted embargo breaches? A “Meh” for indignant reports of embargo breaches, illustrated with the embargoed picture?  +1000 for the intrepid reporter who can’t be cowed by the OEM machine, and who hits “Publish” a day before he is allowed to? Best upskirt picture during car reveals? Endless opportunities for a blogging biz that always should be on the look-out for distinction at the lowest cost.

Bad boys they are, Jalopnik is a bad influence on other adolescent automotive authors, who try to be a Jalop, even when writing for a site that makes its money by selling contact data of car buyers to car-dealing sharks. Oh, the excitement when they hold their first embargoed picture in their shaking hands! The temptation to jerk off to it usually overcomes the best of them. Kimberly-Clark, always on the lookout for new niches for its tissues, should look into the matter. EmbarGoezAwayz® perhaps?  I mean, I invented Sneezies® for them in the 80s, why not continue on the road to success? You know where to find me, I’m sure.

Their embargo

With that rant off my chest, here the Truth About Embargoes.

What is an embargo? In real life, an embargo is close to a blockade, and some say it’s an act of war. If we stop Iranian oil, it’s God’s work. If the Arabs stop Arabian oil, it’s an outrage. In the unreal life of the motor media, an embargo is a request not to publish something before a set date. Blogs know how to design, make, market and even recycle cars, why should they listen to silly pleas to delay their orgasms until a later date?

How binding is an embargo? It is not binding at all. Usually, an embargo is an appeal to professional courtesy. Lack of  which renders the matter void.

What happens after a breach? Nothing, except for the excited chattering and twittering that provides added media exposure. In most serious cases, the sanction may be that the reporter is not invited back.  This rarely happens, and only with the most stringent types of embargoes as listed below.

What is the sense of embargoes? Purportedly, it is to give journalists time to get their heads and printing machines around a topic. In reality, an embargo acts as a timer that sets off a cluster bomb strike of stories, timed just right for maximum impact for the OEM, while delivering useless crapitation on the part of the individual news outlet. An embargo usually contravenes the interest of the publication, and the stage is set for trouble.

Embargo consequences

Types of embargoes

The buff-book embargo: This is a throwback to the times when pictures of rare pre-production models were shot with large format cameras, on (OMG!) film, where color seps were made, and where cylinders needed etching. This took at least a month, and led to the strange custom, still observed on occasion, that reporters congregate in a room a month before the launch, where they are presented with a top-secret car, and a piece of paper on which they have to promise that they won’t say anything until the embargo lifts. Unless the paper is a hard and fast Non Disclosure Agreement, in which clear sanctions, such as loss of your firstborn, or $250,000 for each breach, are agreed upon, that paper only has symbolic value. The buff books stick to the embargo, because they want to be invited back, and they need the month anyway. They also do on-line, and a day after the meeting, renders appear that come close to the actual car. Those, wink-wink, do not count as a breach of embargo. I observe the buff-book embargo, even if it leads to a conversation like this one: “As you know, no photography allowed today, Mr. Schmitt.”  “I know.” “Where is your camera?” “At home, you told me not to bring one.” “Oh. You brought your phone, did you?” “Sure.” “Good. Keep it in your pocket.” “Sure thing.” Wink. Wink.

The individual embargo: Trusted reporters sometimes receive individual access to car, inside information, executives, production sites etc. before the launch, with the understanding that the story is held back until the launch. This usually is in form of a handshake agreement, sometimes on a piece of paper. This embargo is rarely breached, because it gives reporter and publication a better story, and a leg up on the riff-raff that has to quote from the press release. I observe the individual embargo. I am old-fashioned and I believe in handshakes.

Ignore it: Common (market) embargo of today

The common embargo: Sometimes, press releases, even those published on publicly accessible websites, or sent out via mass emails have “Embargoed until ….” on them. This is regarded as effective as appeals for chastity until marriage, and it is as commonly ignored. When I was young, pubescent kids used to get thrilled about chastity and we tried to get our hands and more as deep into other pants as possible. These days, kids excitedly twitter and chatter about (OMG!) breaches of embargo.  I ignore this kind of embargo, I would laugh at complaints and never receive any.

The come-on embargo: The industry, fascinated with the social media thing, has caught on to the stirring in loins and keyboards caused by a titillating embargo. As the slow reveal loses its efficacy, nothing punches better through the clutter of pre-car-show press releases than a big “EMBARGOED UNTIL …” on the email. In a world where real tits have given way to titillations, this assures attention, just like adolescent sex was exciting, because it was verboten. High fives in the PR departments of the OEMs are triggered by the secondary explosions in blogs that feign outrage over embargo breaches by colleagues who dared to go to third base first (“AutoWeek’s Phil Floraday Breaks Embargo On Buick Enclave!!!” OMG!)

Expect large-scale farming of these genetically modified forbidden fruit, and expect them to taste as bland as GM produce usually tastes. A blogger who gets excited, or worse, who observes the come-on embargo is a lost cause, and really should look for other employment.


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18 Comments on “Titillating Embargoes, And How Our Youth Is Led Astray By Manipulative Automakers...”

  • avatar

    (Speaking of age, things got a little better at Jalopnik after Ray Wert was replaced by a more youthful looking, but far more mature Matt Hardigree. As mature men, they talk less, and do it more.)

    Jalopnik got better after Ray Wert left and Opie took over???

    I don’t know Ray Wert the man, I knew Ray Wert the blogger/Managing Editor. Any further discussion is about the latter. Ray brought a lot of joy into my life and I’d take him over ANYONE currently writing on ANY blog. Ray has a special gift of humor that few possess and is enviably generous with “with the laugh”. If there was a laugh to be gotten in a piece of business, Ray didn’t care who got it. Hell, he’d set himself up as the butt of the joke if it would get a bigger laugh. Ray also knew his business and would demonstrate that knowledge if the need arose. He was secure enough not to lecture and babble in self-importance. Jalopnik had a personality when Ray was at the helm that can never be replaced. I feel sorry for the people who didn’t understand or appreciate it.

    The rest of this post? TL;DR.

  • avatar

    The meat of the article was informative as I was unaware of the different types of embargo’s and the penalties for breaking them (if any). I like this kind of inside the autoworld look.

  • avatar

    Great article, I think it should be mandatory reading for everyone who has information they want the media to carry. You would think everything here would be obvious, but it’s amazing how many times I have seen people new to the public affairs arena fail to understand these most basic of concepts.

    The new media (God, how I loathe the term) has changed the way the world works. Many bloggers don’t understand the professional courtesy being extended to them when they are invited to sneak peeks (or get told things “off the record”) and don’t feel compelled to show similar courtesy in return. Of course we don’t invite them back, but for everyone you decide not to include in your next event there are three equally clueless new bloggers there to take their place. It’s a never ending flood of newbie’s who either can’t or simply don’t want to learn and respect the “rules.”

    The best answer is to simply exclude all but the most professional e-media reporters from your press conferences but the higher-ups in every organization are enthralled with the possibilities that reaching out to through the internet are supposed to provide. They act like every blogger with a web site and three readers is an Edward R Murrow and insist you allow all these people to come to your events. And you know what happens? Someone prints an “off the record” comment and all hell breaks loose.

    Eventually you learn. If something isn’t supposed to be in the media you don’t say it. If people aren’t supposed to see something you don’t show it. If something isn’t for general release, you keep it in your file cabinet. But you also learn to play the game – nothing is louder than a whisper, nothing gets shown faster than something people aren’t supposed to show, nothing gets told more quickly than a whisper. “I probably shouldn’t say this but…” and it’s on the front page by the time you get home.

    Would that everyone could act with professional integrity and allow us do away with all these games. But on the other hand, if that ever happened what would you need me for?

    • 0 avatar

      “New media” is harmless and quite old.

      Social media” is the pits. A friend of mine who works for a major wire likes to rant:

      “Social media??? So what does that make us? The anti-social media???”

      • 0 avatar

        New media is only harmless because the initial wave has broken. The average person has learned that they can blog their ass off and still only get 5 page views. Eventually the amateurs gave up and left us with sites like this one with qualitative standards and a professional editorial staff.

        Don’t even get me started on “Social Media.” At one point my organization had a website, a facebook page, a blog, a twitter account and (true story) a virtual location in Second Life. One day in a meeting the head of the web development section stood up and said, “You have to decide what you want us to do. We don’t have the resources to generate unique content for all these things. You aren’t giving us more staff so you need to narrow our focus. Do you want a great, authoritative web site or a bunch of second-rate sites that build our brand but stay more or less empty?”

        So they kept the great website (albeit with less content than our masters had commanded at the time), farmed out the blog to “guest bloggers,” started making half hearted attempts at twitter posts from time to time and figured out that nobody plays Second Life. It took a lot of guts for that person to stand up and point out the emperor had no clothes and I respected them for it. I was also grateful, because for the first time in a long time it wasn’t me who had to do it.

    • 0 avatar

      “I probably shouldn’t say this but…” and it’s on the front page by the time you get home.

      I’ve always taken the tack that if you really want something to get printed, you say it using those words as a preface. Journalists are largely a predictable bunch :)

  • avatar

    “We could put the matter right to sleep without wasting (ha!) precious HTML column inches”

    Thanks ;)

    I appreciate your perspective on Jalopnik as well as embargoes. I used to frequent Jalopnik for years and not care for TTAC, but in a weird turn of events, I’ve flip flopped. Thanks in part to pieces like this.

  • avatar

    I have to say, as someone who works on embargoed sites for the media, it absolutely pisses me off that I work so dam hard keeping stuff secure, heck it makes my job almost impossible to do. But I churn through the hard work and sweat the security out of me. But atlas, all my hard work is for not, when some publisher wants the jump and breaks an embargo. I would love a journalist to sit and watch what I have to go through to get those embargoed sites up, its not easy by any means. I have a huge middle finger for those that break an embargo.

  • avatar

    Remember when the internet was all about breaking image embargoes? It totally made print magazines obsolescent, but scary sounding lawsuits seems to have reigned in the whole embargo breaking wild, wild west days of the internet pretty well.

  • avatar

    I appreciate you writing about this and I appreciate the perspective, but I have to say I understand the perspective of the car companies’ marketing teams on this.

    They want a nice coordinated release of information. That’s all. It’s not unreasonable to want information on a product to be available in simultaneous and seamless fashion. Per a recent TTAC article on frivolous teasers and fluffy tidbits promoted for blog hits, I would think you would appreciate a bit of coordination. If there are no embargoes, news could be an even more incessant leakage of informational tidbits.

    However, dispensing with embargoes will really just mean that the embargo is internal to the marketing team. They won’t release information until a specified time. Everyone will get it at once. And the print media will get absolutely clobbered. Does that really help the situation?

    The truth is, leaks aside, most embargoes largely appear serve their intended purpose. The leaks that do come out are often the equivalent of those teasers we all love so much. They do not include complete reviews or detailed information. So really, what’s the problem here?

    • 0 avatar

      If you read the article, you will see that I appreciate the need for real embargoes. I worked on the dark side for most of my life, I know, and understand its needs.

      This is not an article about getting rid of embargoes, or, for that matter, a trustful cooperation between the OEMs and the media. This is an article about the puerile fascination of some car blogs with the topic. One doesn’t turn into Woodward & Bernstein by ignoring an embargo.

      The story also tries to show how the blogs run into a trap which they built themselves.

      • 0 avatar

        Ah. Apologies; I did indeed misconstrue the explanation sections as a bit of criticism. That’s my pre-coffee reading comprehension failure.

        The sad fact that Jalopnik is now almost entirely composed of inane drivel is certainly true. I don’t even understand how that stuff attracts page views.

  • avatar

    You just HAD to get your GM-jab in there, didn’t you.

  • avatar

    First off, yes, not cricket to honor an agreement. But…

    It’s how the game is played. If nobody broke embargoes, launches would be boring clockwork events that all looked alike. One truism about spinning a story is that the audience shouldn’t see the mechanics of the plot. If everything ran perfectly, you would see the plot very clearly… well orchestrated marketing campaigns timed to cluster bomb you with information.

    The unwritten and ill defined rules of the internet is that an occasional embargo break keeps things ‘exciting’ on the reader end. The little bit of titillation of breaking the rules means that people take their eye off how the marketing sausage is made.

  • avatar

    Given the general tenor of this post, can I assume that, wherever used here, OMG means “Oh, My Gonads!”?

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