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Not for Publication - a few words about embargoes

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In the past few days, some unofficial Disney websites have taken flack for publishing stories about Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, the crown jewels of the 12-acre expansion and 5-year refurbishment of Disney California Adventure. These sites have posted reports, photos and even video taken during last weekend's previews for Disney employees and their guests, despite strict "no photography, no social media" rules that could only have been made more clear had they been tattooed on each person as they passed behind the construction walls.

The writers are blasted for breaking an embargo and violating Disney policy, accused of spoiling the magic or stealing Disney's thunder. The attacks have become extremely hostile, and in some cases, downright abusive.

With three days of previews for Disneyland Resort employees starting today, it is certain that additional photos will leak out over the next 72 hours. And once the Annual Passholder previews begin Saturday, the flood of Cars Land photos posted may test the limits of Instagram, Facebook and Picassa to handle them all.

So in this relative calm before the storm, I wanted to share some thoughts on embargoes and non-disclosure policies, and explain how MousePlanet plans to navigate these waters as we prepare our own coverage of Cars Land.

First, some background. Companies use embargoes to provide information to media outlets so they can have a story ready to run as soon as the announcement is official. If you've been impressed with how quickly your favorite news source can digest an announcement - say perhaps, that Orange is releasing a new yPhone - the odds are good that they really knew about it hours or even days ago. By giving writers advance notice, companies give us time to write articles so they are ready to publish as soon as the announcement is made.

Disney is no different in their use of embargoes, frequently sending press releases in advance of announcements, or allowing media to see new attractions before they are open to the public.

Sometimes just the information is embargoed. For example, I am currently allowed to say that I visited Cars Land Tuesday, but that's all I can say right now.

Sometimes the whole thing is embargoed. For the Give a Day, Get a Day announcement, not only was coverage of the live announcement embargoed, but the fact that there WOULD BE a live announcement was also embargoed.

Sometimes even the existence of an embargo is embargoed. I'd give an example, but, well, you see the problem...

There is a lot of debate about the role of embargoes in new and social media, especially among sites that cover technology. Several major tech blogs have famously flaunted major embargoes and lived to write about it, with only Apple really having the muscle to make sites tow the line.

There is also debate about whether an embargo applies if a journalist doesn't agree to it. I am frequently sent unsolicited embargoed press releases, without anybody asking first me if I will agree to hold it. It's telling me a secret BEFORE making me swear I won't tell anyone else - I'm flattered by your trust, but you might want to be more careful who else you tell your secrets to.

What happens when one media outlet learns about embargoed information before the announcement because someone else broke an embargo. Does that outlet have an obligation to honor an embargo they never agreed to? Are they precluded from running the story to protect another reporter's integrity? If I accept an embargo but another site breaks it, can I then follow suit?

To further complicate the situation, there are many sites out there who are not recognized as media by Disney, and who don't receive embargoed press releases or attend embargoed events. As far as I am concerned, those sites do not have an obligation to honor Disney's embargo. They aren't using information obtained from Disney, and, since they never agreed to an embargo, can't be accused of breaking it.

There has also been heated discussion about non-disclosure policies, especially when dealing with information from cast member sources. Let's all be honest, people come to sites like MousePlanet because we often have information you want before Disney is ready to release it, or information that Disney will never release. Much of that information comes from cast members, who, by knowingly providing that information to MousePlanet, are by definition breaking Disney's non-disclosure policy.

If all cast members followed their company policy to the letter, there would be a lot less news on MousePlanet, or any Disney-oriented site.

As a reporter, I do not feel an obligation to make someone else honor their employment agreement. If a CM wants to send me, say, the as-yet-unannounced schedule for the 2012 Halloween parties, I'd run that information without hesitation (provided I trusted the source). If a contractor wants to send me information about a project they're developing for Disney, I'm all ears. I do draw the line at knowingly publishing information that can be traced to a specific source or threaten someone's job; that personal policy has cost me some "scoops," but lets me sleep at night.

By the way, this also goes for our MousePad discussion forum. If you are a cast member and want to break your non-disclosure agreement by posting some company secret, you're welcome to do so. Just don't blame us if your manager figures out that you're "disneycm2345" and calls you in for a little chat. Yes, it's happened.

Bringing this back to Cars Land:

As I said before, I had the opportunity to visit Cars Land this week, but details of where I went, what I saw, what I did, who I interviewed or what they said is officially on embargo until June 13. I agreed to that embargo when I accepted the invitation to that event, and I will honor that agreement.

However, before receiving the invitation to this week's media event, I had already purchased tickets to the annual passholder previews this weekend. I bought these tickets specifically so I could photograph Cars Land for MousePlanet.

Regardless of what Disney may have intended or wished (I've heard so many conflicting versions that I don't think we'll ever know the real story), there WAS no prohibition on photography communicated when those tickets went on sale, and Disney has since confirmed that the normal rules for guest photography will be in place this weekend. I'll be there with my personal camera, and I expect to be in good company - I know of at least five other credentialed outlets, including a local newspaper, who also bought tickets for their reporters.

So that puts me on a delicate tightrope, and, after consulting with my Disney publicist, here's how I intend to walk it:

I won't be posting a ton of photos during the Cars Land / Buena Vista Street preview on Saturday. Frankly, I relish the opportunity to spend the day in the new lands without the obligation to tweet my every impression.

On Monday and Tuesday of next week, MousePlanet will publish photo teasers of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, using only photos taken during the AP previews. If you want yet another play-by-play description of Radiator Springs Racers, I'm sure you know where to find it.

We'll begin our comprehensive coverage of cars Land on June 13th, once the embargo is lifted and we can share all of the content from the media events. Thanks to the effort of a really great team, we'll have live coverage on both the 14th and 15th on MousePlanet.com. We also have a really great schedule of articles planned all the way through June 22 and even beyond, with something new every day. We hope you'll check back daily for new content.

I hope this gives some context for the Cars Land situation, explains my personal feelings on the various related matters, and lets our readers know what to expect next week. We really can't wait to share every inch of these new lands with you - but we agreed to. We think it's worth the wait.

Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix
CEO
MousePlanet, Inc.

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Updated 06-10-2012 at 02:28 PM by AVP (Fixed typo; corrected date)

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Comments

  1. olegc's Avatar
    great post and commentary. BTW - for the DisneyParks blog meet we never had any kind of embargo other than no photography and no video or audio taping of any kind. There was nothing in any announcement or agreement to limit what I said or wrote afterwards. So - in a sense - I am sure Disney wants folks to say "how great this is because...." and then have others get more excitied to visit when it opens. Of course, they'd never admit to that publicly, but the WOM process by lesser individuals has always been the carrot for them with new attractions.

    thanks again for the commentary.