There are numerous different ways media companies generate news. Some focus to cover the bigger picture of events. A good example of this is The Economist. They dig deep into the story backgrounds and go beyond the obvious. Another more common way to cover stories online is the one of breaking news.
Breaking news type of stories are hard to catch and usually require the media organisation to be on alert at all times. Another way to go about it is talking to lots of startups and simply getting news first. Third way to go about breaking news is to try and get an exclusive story from the startup. The startup can then decide if they want to give exclusivity to only one company. In our experience, most startups try to get the news out to as many companies out there that would want to cover them. After all – it doesn’t make sense to artificially limit coverage.
Why am I writing about exclusive stories then? Well, we’ve heard a rather disturbing way Techcrunch handles some exclusives these days and feel its in the interest of the startups in our readers to know more about the practice.
Techcrunch has made their impact in the world of technology and startup news with mostly breaking news. They’ve been so good at it that they’ve actually stayed on top of the Techmeme leaderboard since its inception, I believe.
The tail that wags the dog
However, I feel as if their reputation as a company breaking news has forced them to go an extra step, too far, in how they treat startups.
We’ve heard that Techcrunch now, in some cases, require new startups to give them the right to determine when the startup can go talk to other journalists (and naturally if you don’t want to abide – don’t expect coverage anytime soon). In other words, they set an embargo towards the startup itself.
To us, this sounds like very bad business practice and borderline blackmail for future coverage.
In a recent case, a startup (accidentally) revealed to us that they’d have some interesting news and they could talk after the Techcrunch embargo ended. I had to double check with the entrepreneur that I had understood correctly. Unfortunately I had.
In their case, Techcrunch had taken almost couple of weeks longer before covering the story from the originally agreed date.
For many startups, this is hugely harmful. We don’t suggest any startup go this far in agreeing to get coverage, but naturally – everyone’s able to enter into the agreements they want to.
To be honest, I’m not that surprised by all this. When Jyri Engeström was launching Ditto, Techcrunch was one of the recipients on the e-mail about the final details regarding the launch of the service. We were also one of them. All the recipients agreed to publish the story, Engeström had given everyone the chance to write up in advance, at the same time. About 30 minutes before the embargo ended – Techcrunch broke it and published it before everyone else. There’s even a blog post about all this.
Why am I writing about this?
Simple. I find the practice extremely harmful for startups for two reasons. First, you’re giving control of your product/company launch to outsiders and secondly, you’re basically telling all other news sites off with treating them differently. And no, I don’t have anything against Techcrunch personally – they do what they do, but I want startups to have better chances of success by working wisely with regards to their PR.
You’ll keep many more journalists happy by treating everyone the same and in doing so, you’ll also have better chances at getting more visibility.
And since it’s in our interest to get more startups further from the Northern European region, we’d like to announce our fight against bad business practices by stating that we’ll be breaking any embargo set forth by Techcrunch themselves. I’m sure this rings a bell or two.
ps. We still agree to embargoes at large.
Update: Techcrunch has responded to our statements.