Should bloggers get embargoed World Bank reports?

By Felix Salmon
April 8, 2011
Aidwatch it does:

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Does the World Bank have a beef with bloggers? According to Aidwatch it does:

This morning we learned that the World Bank does not consider bloggers journalists. According to Bank policy, it won’t give press accreditation to bloggers, denying them access to the media briefing center where new reports are released under embargo before they are published for the public.

In this case, the report we won’t be allowed to see an advance copy of is this year’s World Development Report, on Conflict Security and Development.

The Bank’s David Theis responds in the comments that they offered to email the report to Aidwatch in advance, but the blog’s Laura Freschi is having none of it:

I applied for the user name and password required to enter the Online Media Briefing Center through the World Bank web page this morning.

After several phone calls with other press center staffers who told me the registration was pending, we spoke and you told me that as a matter of policy, the World Bank does not give early access to blogs.

Your offer to email Bill the report directly a few hours early is not the same as allowing us access to the protected areas of the site for “accredited media outlets.” I don’t know when the WDR report was put online, but presumably those journalists registered by the Bank have had access to that report for days, and did not have to send several emails and make phone calls to get it.

My sympathies are with Freschi on this one. “Bill”, here, is William Easterly, the proprietor of Aidwatch and a former senior Bank staffer. Offering to email an advance copy of the report to Easterly is absolutely not the same as letting Aidwatch bloggers onto the same playing field as other journalists. Reuters, for instance, was shown a summary of the report weeks ago, and was also offered an interview with Sarah Cliffe, one of its lead authors. The full report arrived yesterday, and then there was a conference call today where journalists were walked through its main points. Come Sunday evening, when the embargo is lifted, there will be an informed story up and ready to go.

At the same time, however, Reuters doesn’t have the same specialized interest in the World Development Report that Aidwatch has. The Bank puts out a lot of enormous reports in advance of its two big meetings, in the spring and the fall, and generalist reporters simply don’t have the time, in a world full of important breaking news stories, to give them all the attention they deserve. Dedicated bloggers, on the other hand, do. As Freschi says, you’d “think they would WANT bloggers to write about it”.

On the other hand, I’m not entirely clear why bloggers like Freschi want this kind of insidery pre-publication access to the Bank’s reports. The value of blogs is their status as outsiders — what’s wrong with just downloading the report on Sunday, when it’s made public, taking as much time as is necessary to read it, maybe even phoning up the authors to talk about it, and then writing about it on your blog? Do blogs like Aidwatch really want to play the Bank’s PR game — the one where they put an artificial embargo on reports so that everybody will write about them at the same time without really having digested their contents or having had the opportunity to get reactions from people who know what they’re talking about?

The more media outlets which ignore embargoes the better, as far as I’m concerned. When the World Development Report goes live, Aidwatch should link to it, download it, and start reading it. As and when they find interesting bits, they should blog them. A discussion, ideally, will ensue, around a document which is public. That’s the heart of blogging — not the privilege of being told in advance what to write by a bunch of Bank staffers. So while the Bank’s refusal to grant Aidwatch media-outlet status is silly, Aidwatch’s dudgeon is I think misplaced. Honestly, try being on the embargo list sometime. You’ll love your life once you’re off it.

Update: If Aidwatch adopted the policy of Universe Today, there wouldn’t be an issue here. (h/t Oransky.) Embargoes are a bit like the VIP room at Lot 61: the only reason you’d ever want access is just because you don’t have it.

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