AP, Daily News beat embargo on new J.K. Rowling book, ‘The Casual Vacancy’

The Washington Post | Poynter
Both the Associated Press and the New York Daily News published reviews of J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy” Wednesday, ahead of an embargo set by the book’s publisher. “Because they alone had reviews, those two organizations set the tone for readers’ perception of the book,” Neely Tucker writes in The Washington Post.

The Post and the New York Times refrained from publishing their staff-written reviews online Wednesday, though The Post put AP’s review on its Web site. The Post’s executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, said he thinks the publishing industry is ultimately “fighting a losing battle.”

Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward’s books, Tucker notes, are “subject to strict embargoes,” which has caused his employer headaches in the past. In 2010, The New York Times published nuggets from Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars” ahead of The Post, which was excerpting the book on a schedule agreed upon with its publisher. “It’s just not correct to say that the Post was ‘scooped,” The Post’s Steve Luxenberg told Keach Hagey at the time. “We have an agreement that we honor. That’s not the same thing as being beat.”

The Daily Beast obtained an early copy of Woodward’s most recent book and published excerpts this month; The Post quickly followed with a Luxenberg-bylined piece that revealed some of the book’s contents and teased the full excerpt the paper would run that weekend.

After The New Yorker broke an embargo and reviewed a film early, Peter Kafka wrote last December that embargoes, and discussions thereof, “can matter a lot (sometimes) to us, but that’s really only because we decide to agree that it matters. Readers don’t care at all.”

But this is a nice reminder that every time I do deal with one of these, it almost always means I’m not spending time on something [genuinely] interesting.

In 2003, Jen Bluestein explained the practice of embargoes in Slate and wrote “publishing is a game in which rules are meant to be bent; everyone involved knows that some leaks are good, some are bad.”

In extreme cases, reporters may choose to abide by the terms of an embargo in part because they need to maintain good relations with the publisher or source of the embargo.

Book critic Mark Athitakis tweeted Thursday morning that such thinking was weak justification for honoring Rowling’s publisher’s strictures.

Related: The New Yorker, USA Today deny J.K. Rowling quote approval | Poynter polled readers about how often they honored embargoes

Correction: The AP did not break the embargo, as we originally wrote, because it never agreed to the embargo or to the publisher’s other terms.

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