Two-Way Street

Consumer Confidence Releases: A Journalism Hat Tip

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Probably one of the more gratifying moments for a journalist is when he or she can prompt some change for the good through their reporting.

We have an instance of that this week with Eamon Javers, one of our Washington correspondents.

Back on May 28, Javers raised a flag about unusual high-frequency trading ahead of the Conference Board's release of consumer confidence numbers.

That pre-release trading would seem to indicate some market players were getting a peek at the numbers ahead of everyone else. How could that be?

Well, the Conference Board historically gives media outlets a little lead time to look at the numbers, digest their meaning, and prepare reports to go right at the official release time.

Such embargoes are fairly common in the journalism business. They let media outfits, ourselves included, avoid the kind of sloppy mistakes that happen when you're in a rush. That's good for the reporting organization and the subject, when you think about it.

No More Release of Early Information

But in this case, it looks like the embargo, which is an honor system, may not have been holding up. Many media organizations are big sprawling things that channel info to a variety of clients in different ways. That makes it hard to tell anymore how embargoed information is being handled and exactly when it is disseminated.

At first, the Conference Board seemed disinclined to acknowledge there was a problem. "Frankly, we have not received any phone calls on this," a spokesman told Javers when he raised the issue back in May.

But now the Conference Board thinks otherwise. One media outfit apparently confessed that it had jumped the gun on the embargo. And so the board is ending the pre-release system.

OK, that will be a pain for us get-the-numbers-up-quick organizations, but probably good for the market as a whole. Everybody gets the data at the same time.

Take a bow, Eamon Javers.

—By Allen Wastler, managing editor. Follow him on Twitter: @Awastler