On your marks … get set … and they’re off! Leeds heart surgery media fiasco, part 3

embargoLast weekend it was a contest of Chinese whispers, Tuesday night a game of dodgy leaks.

This morning the Leeds children’s heart surgery media scrum went head to head in a straight race (nice mixed sporting metaphor) to see who could break an embargo the quickest (and get the story wrong in the process).

I don’t know much about journalism, but I’m told that when you get news material that’s embargoed till a certain time, you wait till the deadline before you publish.

It’s a sort of gentlemen’s agreement that guarantees a level playing field for media outlets, gives them all an equal chance to get a cracking story written, and gives the source of the material some control over what gets said when.

Opaque, but hey

So, late last night a joint statement was sent out to the media by the people attending yesterday’s talks about children’s heart surgery at the Leeds General Infirmary. You can read it here.

Yes, it was opaque and raised as many questions as it answered, but it was the latest from the horse’s mouth – and it was (as you’ll have noted above) sent with an embargo on publication till 0800 this morning.

So, you can imagine them all in their newsrooms starting the morning shift today, like a line-up of prize athletes on their marks, news muscles twitching …

Get set …

And …


Notice the time? 6:03 – a full two hours (oh, alright, 117 minutes) before the embargo was due to be lifted.

Of course, we all know what happens when one of the runners goes early in a race: the competition thinks “shit! if he’s going, I’m going too” and off they sprint.


6:16 Nice try, BBC Look North (“bringing you the latest news from Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire”)

(Eagle-eyed readers will note that in their rush to keep up with the competition, they unfortunately tripped over the statement and got it wrong: 1) the statement didn’t say that surgery “is to resume” and 2) it didn’t say “with immediate effect”)


6:23 The boys and girls at ITV’s local news programme for Yorkshire, Calendar, must have felt in a fix. “Now that it’s on Daybreak, what are we going to look like if we don’t mention it when they come to us for the regional news?”

(Eagle-eyed readers will note … oh, go on, you find the mistake for yourself)

Any Radio 4 listeners out there among theleedscitizen readership? Thought not, but if there were they’d likely be tutting by now about how the above just shows the deplorable standards of ITV and regional broadcasters.

Tut ye not.

6:54 (Radio 4 Today programme)

Leeds General Infirmary says it will re-open its children’s heart surgery unit next week, it’s just been announced this morning. 

(Eagle-eyed readers … yep … them too)

By 7 o’clock it was a mad dash and the devil take the hindmost. BBC Radio Leeds broadcast the news in its bulletin on the hour. Then …


Breaking news? Guys, the story’s been running over an hour.

Did everybody jump the gun?

I haven’t been able to check the BBC Breakfast programme (it’s not available on iPlayer) or Look North, but at least the latter had noble intentions … at 6:37, that is.

looknorthWhat happens when an embargo gets broken? Well, it can be considered a serious breach of trust, I’m told, with the offending media outlet sometimes barred from getting news advances in the future.

Which could mean that there’ll be hardly anyone left to receive the final, final embargoed joint statement when it arrives at the end of the weekend.

As if.


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One Response to On your marks … get set … and they’re off! Leeds heart surgery media fiasco, part 3

  1. You should be a journalist because this is very interesting reading (and very funny too)!!

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