If the company is one in which the media is very interested, the threat of withholding future information may be meaningful. This is especially true if the opposing media outlet is relatively small or lacking in influence.
On the other hand, top-tier publications, like The New York Times for example, often have less to lose by breaking an embargo. Since their coverage is so valuable, and their access to information is so broad, they may feel like they have the upper-hand in any embargo-breaking squabble.
You should always be aware of the power dynamics at play, and even individual journalists’ embargo track records, when using this technique.
Warning: Different journalists can interpret the following four terms in different ways. We have tried to define them here as they are most widely understood, but it would be wise to clarify a journalist’s understanding of the relevant terms before any related discussion.
And frankly, some journalists ignore them altogether. So be careful.
The information that you provide and the wording that you use can be published and attributed directly to you. Pretty straightforward.
The information that you provide cannot be used in print, in any form. In theory, the journalist never heard what you said.
Obviously, that theory is sort of ridiculous. Of course they heard what you said. And now, they can try to independently verify your off-record information from other sources.
If you are considering telling a journalist something off-record, it would be wise ask yourself: Why? Sources often do this to provide context to journalists, to help them better understand the actions and motivations of themselves or others without allowing them to publish the details of that context.
This is a very risky move. If the information you reveal is sensitive enough to merit the stamp of “off-record”, it’s worth rethinking its disclosure in any form.
Some mid-way point between off-record and on-record. This information can be published but can’t be attributed a specific source, or even conversation. It sort of pops up out of the ether when published in an article.