Whither the AP

What has me most upset about the AP Affair is that I fear we are seeing the beginnings of its death throes. I value the AP and don’t want it to die. I want it to morph to a new model and a new future. But I am afraid that in its fights, we are seeing its inability to adapt (not all its own fault; I’ll bet blame goes to its board and member/owners). And in its current combatants, we see the preview of a day when the AP has no friends left: not its members, not us readers/writers. If it does die, it could be that these parties would shrug and not mourn. And that would be the tragedy.

As I blogged here, the AP’s members are beginning to revolt. They are sharing their stories directly and see value in no longer going through the AP mill. That is a shot across the service’s bow.

So let’s say that local newspapers enter into networks — with other papers and with local bloggers and perhaps even with local TV stations. Will they need the AP state wire anymore? Doesn’t look like it.

And let’s say that local newspapers become what I’ve predicted and urged: very local. They cover their areas on their own and with these new networks. They no longer try to cover the rest of the world. That could be where the AP comes in. But the AP is still expensive and papers are shrinking and complaining — that’s what the revolt is really about. So this could also be where link platforms such as Daylife (disclosure: I’m a partner there) or even a general-interest Digg arrive to provide links directly to coverage on any topic wherever it is covered. I’ve suggested that papers will be left with a links editor who handles anything beyond the local limits.

Now add the fact that the AP has fired a shot across the bow of bloggers, not realizing that their links are valuable (and their ire dangerous); see the post below. At its core, this is about the AP’s conflict with its clients in becoming a consumer brand. If the AP tried to become that consumer brand — able to monetize links from bloggers and fans — it would value links from bloggers; instead, it is desperate to monetize its ownership of content and can’t face the prospect that this model is dying. But the AP can’t become a consumer brand because that would put it in competition and conflict with its members/owners. As Brian Cubbison says in the comment here, the AP is a wholesaler trapped in a retail world. Reuters is dealing with that conflict because it’s not owned by its clients. The AP can’t.

So what does the world look like without the AP? It pains me to ask but it’s a possible universe. Local papers can get local content from their own networks and national, international, sports, business and other content via links. They can also enter into cooperatives — which is where the AP started — to cover other events, such as the Olympics (now that every paper can’t afford the ego trip of sending huge staffs to overcovered news). The AP’s other clients — TV stations and such — have sources of national and international coverage from Reuters and Agence France Presse. Readers get links directly to original journalism at its source. The sources of that journalism get more audience and more opportunity to monetize it and support their work. The world keeps going.

How could the AP survive? I think it needs to become a curator and distributor of original content — likely not in a syndication model but in a shared sponsorship network. It could continue to be a cooperative for bespoke coverage, but only on demand. It would be much smaller. Or it could be freed to build a consumer brand able to monetize audience like Reuters (though its board of members/owners would likely never go for that). In any case, it can’t stay stuck in the limbo it’s in now, getting in trouble with every side. That, I believe, is why it is acting like a trapped animal.

And that, you see, is why I am so concerned by the AP Affair. It’s about more than a few bloggers and links and lawyer letters. It’s about the future of the news business.

: LATER: Moments after I posted this, I see that Dorian Benkloil, writing at Silicon Alley Insider, agrees that the members are the problem.

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  • Simultaneously this could begin a compelling discussion of content and tone of coverage if news outlets begin to shop around for alternatives. That will be an interesting conversation.

  • Without AP journalism will continue. It’s the beginning of journalism without the media. I’m actually not scarred by it. But I have no idea what it will look like. That’s exciting to me. Of course – in a purely self-serving mode, I think it creates room for spot.us to act as a local AP. But who knows.

  • I worked for UPI (United Press International) – the for-profit wire service that never made a profit;-) – for 14 years, lasting through one of its two bankruptcies.

    Yes, wire services are an old model that must adopt to a new world. But the idea that semi-pro bloggers will ever cover the depth or breadth of news that the AP picks up from its members is naive at best.

    It’s the old “information wants to be free, but I want a raise” conundrum, and it’s going to be painful to see if folks are willing to pay for the news they receive in a world of free alternatives. Without that, the quantity AND quality of the information we receive is precariously close to the slippery slope.

    I like the blogs and Newsvines of the world, as an addendum. But as the main news diet? I shudder to think.

  • Steve Strasser

    First of all, it’s a question of property. If AP news is so outmoded, why does the blogging world constantly riff on it and, in many cases, rip it off. Boiled down to essentials, Wikipedia news is nothing but AP copy regurgitated by amateurs. (At its worst, it’s AP copy twisted to suit personal agendas and corporate interests.)

    Second, it’s a question of quality information. There are good AP reporters and bad AP reporters. There are good bloggers and bad bloggers. But God forbid we should ever have to rely fundamentally on amateurs rather than on professionals.

    Third, it’s a question of journalistic values. Good bloggers – like the woman who broke the Obama news – find themselves drawn toward the practices of fairness and transparency. If they’re really good, they might be lucky enough to get hired by the AP.

  • janice

    It’s a different workd than 15 years ago- in those days if you wanted online “news”, you had to pony up significant dollars and significant resources to publish via a wire. Or drill a hole into a newspaper system if you had one at your disposal (remember Jeff?) and co-opt the data flow into amodem.

    Today every single person on the internet has access to news. Newswire? Try Bloglines. I get news straight from the NYT every day. No holes to drill. I can read AP news straight from a member site.

    They’ve always had this slightly weighty behind the times feel, but I think the fact that they’ve actally floated a charge to quote 5 words and actually harrassed their free advertising system (blogs) spells the day we count down from to see the end of AP as an actually useful organization.

    12 bucks for 5 words? How silly and how un-fair use of them.

  • Ironically, one of the things AP could do to restore some value add is to author links that knit its members’ MSM stories into the Web as a whole. A wire service story coughed up today by Google News or Yahoo sticks out like a sore thumb in a bloggy world: No links, only as much background or back story as suits the author or editor, no way to check on its sourcing without hitting a search engine, and so on. A lot of this is likely considered drudge work by the reporters, and doesn’t fit the physical constraints of the dead tree media. The backgrounding parts are also potentially shared across stories on similar topics over time, and in different publications, so they could make sense as a cooperative asset. Turning stories suited for paper into something actually adapted for the Web might create some value.

    This could be part of what Jeff’s suggesting as a ‘curatorial’ role for the AP. But I think the vested interests there are too strong, and I doubt we’ll see an ‘APedia’ or anything like it. Just another MSM entity in its death spiral.

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  • It sounds like this is the beginning of the end of the AP…………AP was once the premier news agency and now we are seeing them chasing after bloggers.

  • So Hansell writes that anger in the blogosphere is giving blogs a bad name, but it’s journalism when Michael Powell and Jodi Kantor grab what they need to say what they want.

  • Walter Abbott

    Sooner or later all you journalist types will figure out you are not and never were producers of a product. “News” isn’t a product – it is simply information sharing. And information sharing is something human animals have done ever since cavemen learned to communicate with one another.

    What you all had were distribution systems. The printing press, the telegraph and radio/television broadcast – are all distribution systems. And you had monopolistic cartels because of the high capital costs to build those systems.

    The world wide web has made them all obsolete. The AP was merely a crude “internet” of teleprinters hooked together that shared information.

    I say “was” because the Associated Press is out of business. They’ve just not figured it out yet. Information sharing among human animals will continue long after the AP is just a faded memory.

  • Overstated, Walter. News is more than distribution method – it’s the time-consuming, staff-intensive production that we’re in danger of losing to those who, in essence, write on the back of a digital envelope, on their way to something else.

    I think you’ve gone a bit overboard in the black-or-white element. News is changed profoundly, due to the universal, free/cheap distribution system. But it doesn’t mean anyone can do it, at any time, and pass the quality test. It’s a discussion I’ve had with Jeff off and on over the years, and a discussion worth continuing;-)

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  • Walter Abbott

    @ Barney,

    Overstated? Not really.

    Information sharing – anyplace, anytime – has already replaced “official” news. Note the literal explosion in demand for mobile communications devices.

    Here’s more grist for the debate.

    The AP’s Real Problem Isn’t Bloggers: It’s Its Own Newspapers

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  • @ Walter Well said. It’s rich for all the established Media companies to take we are more than a distribution method, especially when so many of them are courting consumer/Social media reporting. They have created huge value companies based on the fact they tell the truth, the news, they don’t. In fact Bloggers who link and quote their sources are much more honest than so many publications/reporters who continually report stories with the line a close source, or a freind says.

    The isn’t some passing fad, yes professional honest partisan journalists/publications/media outlets would be preferable but they are few and far between, so get used to it. No one believes your stories anymore.

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  • We’ve just moved forward with The Blogger AP/Tea Party. This all is so very, very absurd:

    The Rationale

    The Campaign


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  • The AP has just released a story which quotes 22 words from Michael Arrington’s blog at TechCrunch.com Thus, they have thus just violated their own “rules”… Arrington claims that he’s directed his lawyers to send a DMCA take-down notice to the AP…

    bob wyman

  • Jeff, a comment in this thread at Making Light on the AP situation links to this archived membership list which claims you as a founding member of the Media Bloggers Association (the group currently working with the AP). Are you still a member of that group, and can you shed any light on the situation?

  • Adam,

    I disclosed that in an earlier post in the AP series. I also wrote about it a fair bit when it started, objecting to the idea of codes of behavior (which didn’t happen). I threw in wtih the group but have had no involvement; not sure there has been much involvement to be had.

    Here’s one thing I haven’t yet said: I think an association representing a blogger at that blogger’s request is good. But, of course, it’s impossible for any association to represent all bloggers.

  • Barney Lerten claims that professional news organisations have access to facts and resources that amateurs do not. This may well be true.

    However, those organisations, from AP to the New York Times, have disgraced themselves repeatedly by publishing deceptive and misleading stories to fit the political agenda of their reporters. Their superior resources are worthless if they simply refuse to tell the truth.

    When the old media die, we won’t be missing anything. In fact, the public will be better informed, as a major source of misinformation is removed.

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  • Jeff, thanks — I’d missed that earlier post.

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  • I don’t believe the AP will survive………they are out of touch with the main media

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  • I am upset about the AP Affair