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How Microsoft Controls the News; Forcing Newspaper Reporters to Sign Legal Agreements in Order to Do Their Work as Journalists

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

How Microsoft Controls the News; Forcing Newspaper Reporters to Sign Legal Agreements in Order to Do Their Work as Journalists

Article excerpt

Forcing Newspaper Reporters to Sign Legal Agreements in Order to do Their Work as Journalists

Microsoft, whose "Sidewalk" online city guide directly competes with newspapers, is successfully forcing newspaper reporters to sign agreements that give Microsoft control over what news is published about Sidewalk.

Reports from the field indicate that Microsoft is trying to exert control over reporters by having them sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), which prohibit a journalist from writing about information given out during Sidewalk pre-launch interviews. To be fair, this is a common ploy among software and technology companies to try and control the timing of independent media coverage of their wares.

Predictably, the Microsoft NDAs are unpopular among reporters, although some who cover the industry sign them anyway--feeling forced to do so in order to get information out of the company about technologies or services still under development and stay on top of their beats. Some reporters steadfastly refuse to sign any NDA.

No NDA, No Interviews

The NDA issue popped up recently for Jim Romenesko, a technology writer for the St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press, who set up a trip to Seattle to interview executives of Sidewalk. He planned to write articles about Sidewalk's launch in the Twin Cities, and expected to have a piece ready to run in the newspaper one or two days prior to the Twin Cities Sidewalk launch. He says he told Microsoft representatives in advance that his plan was to write prior to the actual launch date.

A day before his scheduled flight to Seattle, however, a representative of Sidewalk PR agency. Shandwick USA called to say that Romenesko would have to sign an NDA that would prohibit the reporter from publishing any information that Sidewalk executives told him prior to Sidewalk's "embargo" date. Romenesko said he would not sign it, and he offered to do the interviews "off the record," but the prearranged interviews were canceled.

Requires Disclosure of Non-Microsoft Sources

What Romenesko objected to most about the NDA presented by Microsoft was a clause that said that he could report on information learned during an official Microsoft interview only if he got the same information from another independent source--but he would have to prove to Microsoft that he got the information from a non-Microsoft source, or presumably be liable for breaching the terms of the NDA if the information was published before the official Microsoft launch.

Microsoft, says Romenesko, is actively- discouraging independent reporting by journalists, preferring to orchestrate press coverage. …

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