The Trump administration plans to restrict the news media’s ability to prepare advance stories on market-moving economic data, according to people familiar with the matter, in a move that could create a logjam in accessing figures such as the monthly jobs report.
Currently, the Labor Department in Washington hosts “lockups” for major reports lasting 30 to 60 minutes, where journalists receive the data in a secure room, write stories on computers disconnected from the internet, and transmit them when connections are restored at the release time.
The department is looking at changes such as removal of computers from that room, and an announcement could come as soon as this week, said the people, who spoke on condition they not be identified. While the rationale was unclear, the government has cited security risks and unfair advantages for news media in prior changes to lockup procedures.
Lockups, which are permitted but not required by government regulations, have been a mainstay for U.S. media for almost four decades. They have been designed to give reporters time to digest figures on market-moving data and make sure they are accurate before distributed en masse to the public. Statistics agencies and central banks in the U.K. and Canada use similar lockup procedures.
The U.S. move would upend decades of practice, and media organizations including Bloomberg News and Reuters have challenged prior changes to procedures. The shift could also spur an arms race among high-speed traders to get the numbers first and profit off the data, raising questions about fairness in multitrillion-dollar financial markets.
Michael Trupo, a spokesman for the Labor Department, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. The Commerce Department — which provides advance access to its reports such as gross domestic product and retail sales at the Labor-hosted lockups — referred questions on the matter to Labor.
Without news services transmitting their reports at the release time and allowing additional access points, the government may have to prepare its websites to handle potentially heavier loads under the new system, which could mean adding security measures or increasing the traffic capacity.
“Obviously some firms are bigger than others, some have more resources than others, and some will make a choice in the environment that might ensue to dedicate more resources to this, so I do think the playing field at the margin would be less level,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities.
In 2012, the Labor Department under the Obama administration sought to alter lockups to require journalists to use government-owned computers to write their stories. Officials at the time framed the change as addressing security risks.
After protests from Bloomberg News and other news organizations, and a congressional hearing in which editors testified, the department agreed to allow the media to continue using their own equipment and data lines. Reporters are required to leave mobile phones and other electronic devices in lockers outside of the lockup room, along with personal effects such as umbrellas and purses.