Media Embargo: UH And Rice Get What They Want From The Chronicle

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They probably played this on KTRU
If you're going to kill off the last station in town that epitomizes "college radio" (for better or worse), you have to work hard not to come off looking like a villain.

The University of Houston and Rice sure did, using a media embargo in cooperation with the Houston Chronicle that was supposed to ensure the first news of UH buying and shutting down Rice's legendary KTRU-FM would be delivered in a glowing, positive, puffy style.

How do you headline a piece about the killing of a locally famous, highly idiosyncratic radio station that has been in equal parts exciting and exasperating audiences for three decades? A transaction that would turn a station that plays things like ultra-obscure nu-metal, World Music from countries you've never heard of, and just about defines "eclectic" into one that will play the same tired NPR-ish classical-music repertoire all day?

This way: "UH Signals Boost to Public Radio".

Yay public radio!!

Chronicle reporter Jeannie Kever, who covers higher education for the paper, apparently heard rumors of UH's plan to buy KTRU. Negotiations were not finished, so administrators at both schools cooked up a deal: They would give her all the info she needed, including an official statement from UH president Renu Khator, if she would hold the story until Tuesday, when the UH Board of Regents would approve it.

Such agreements, called embargoes, are more typically used when a study or some other type of detailed information is about to be released: The entity gives the info to reporters to digest, with the promise that nothing will be published before a certain specified time and date. (In the internet age, these agreements are getting a bit outdated.)

Unfortunately for the Chron and the schools, our Chris Gray heard rumors of the pending sale Monday afternoon, and we posted an item detailing what we heard. A UH spokesman would only confirm the purchase of some radio station was on the next day's board agenda, but he would not name the station. A Rice spokesman said merely he would have to run Gray's question by some people.

A couple of hours after our item went up, the Chron posted Kever's love letter to the deal. It's no longer available online, even in cached version, but the headline pretty much gives an accurate feel for it -- UH was buying KTRU in order to make its KUHF station into news and talk 24/7; KTRU would become KUHC and take over all the classical-music programming, and everyone was happy. UH would be one of the few universities with two radio stations -- big time!! -- and the official statement from Khator blathered on about keeping UH at the forefront of something or other.

There was a quick sentence noting KTRU's programming would still be available online. We seem to remember, buried deep, deep in the original article, some criticism of the deal, but even our print version from that day has been updated from that first post.

In other words, the article could not have been better, from the point of view of UH and Rice. From the point of view of music lovers in Houston, though -- even music lovers who thought KTRU was ridiculously precious or full of itself -- the article was a little lacking.

Then again, embargoed stories are rarely critical of the entity you've made the embargo agreement with.


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