When I attended my first-ever journalist's law course, the trainer was a Fleet Street hack who mainly covered the Old Bailey, and had had his own fair share of run-ins with Messrs Psue, Grabbit and Run.
He fixed us newbie writers, most of us fresh from university, with a stern stare, and barked "What's the one question you never ask an interviewee?"
A long silence descended over the room, while we considered enquiries about marital status, sexual proclivities. fraudulent businesses and so on. Feet shuffled, virgin pages of brand-new notepads were studied in minute detail.
"Anyone? No-one? Let me put you out of your misery - the one question you never ask is 'Is that on or off the record?'
"You say nothing, they say nothing, and provided it's an accurate report and you have the notes to back it up, you're home scot free."
A modern development of all this is the embargo or (increasingly commonly) a Non-Disclosure Agreement, or NDA. We get the information, but the provider determines when and where it can be published.
I've covered stuff under embargo in the past, and on one memorable occasion signed an NDA with an open-ended date on it. That was for the launch of Bang & Olufsen flagship Beolab speakers, and it allowed me to get access to the whole design and testing process at a very early stage.
Mind you, I've also been involved in NDA fiascos, such as the pan-European launch in Japan where we had to sign on the dotted line before were allowed into the product presentations. All well and good except, unbeknown to the rest of us, the journalists from one country refused to sign, on the grounds that the release date on the NDA was just after their magazines came out, so they'd be a month behind the rest of Europe.
The company in question crumbled, allowed them in, then told us after showing all its new TVs for the next year, but not allowing photography, that the NDA no longer existed. Trouble is, they then wrongfooted themselves totally by not having any press material available - it was going to be sent to us just before the NDA expired - so all the TVs then had to be hauled back in so we could photograph them.
I don't mind NDAs, as long as there's a solid reason for them and the rules of engagement are clear. I'm reminded of the company that tried to put an NDA on some new products being launched in Europe, despite the fact we'd been to the worldwide event and already reported on them some time ago.
Anyway, on this LG launch things again went a bit pear-shaped on the when and where front. Nothing was said before the 2009 TV presentation on Tuesday, and so I frantically took notes ready to deliver you a blog on all the new stuff just as soon as I could get somewhere quiet and get the laptop hooked up to Korea's excellent 3G phone system.
But then one of my fellow trippers made the most screaming error. Just after we'd been told the really juicy stuff, he piped up with "Is all that covered by an embargo?"
Don't ask, they don't say anything, and you're home free. Not going to happen now - and I think my sharp intake of breath was possibly heard across the border in North Korea.
By Wednesday evening, having now seen much, photographed little and having nothing much to report in terms of hard news, we were handed an NDA, to be signed before we get a set of pictures of the new products delivered to us next week. Everyone else on the event had already signed, so what could I do? Refuse, and get the information later than everyone else?
And the embargo date? The moment the 2008 CES opens in Las Vegas, in the first week of January. We'll be bringing you all the news as soon as we're allowed to, but in the meantime here's a nice picture of some kimchi in the raw, outside a shop across the road from LG's R&D labs..
By the time the Seoul housewives buying the heads of cabbage from this outdoor mountain have finished making and maturing their kimchi, you should be reading about the new TVs...