AP's youth-focused ASAP service is shutting down in October, E&P reports. As a tool for AP to discover how to tell stories in the 21st century, it made perfect sense. As a business proposition, I could never see a way for it to succeed.
ASAP has two parts. One is content intended for print, delivered to member newspapers. The other is an online hosted service with audio and video components.
In both components, the AP has been experimenting with new storytelling forms, shifting topical focus and seeking to inject voice and point of view into its writing. Those are not small shifts for a service that, in the Lou Boccardi era, evolved a strictly controlled, minimalist writing style that had all the zing of a bowl of cold oatmeal.
Working these changes into the mainstream report may help AP battle the very powerful social forces that are aligned against it.
But as a separate product, neither the print nor the online component stood a chance of success.
U.S. newspapers are saddled with powerful brands that say all the wrong things to a changing marketplace. Yesterday's news, weak writing, poor storytelling. And they're functioning in a marketplace where nonlocal news content is a commodity available everywhere, even on LCD screens in elevators. Mere tinkering with the print product isn't enough. The ASAP service was not a candidate to replace the entire AP feed. And as a supplementary service, it was selling into a weakened market that was looking to reduce, not increase, nonlocal content.
The online side of ASAP had a different problem. As I told AP executives before they launched the service, the Internet works completely differently from print. If I have a copy of the newspaper in my lap, I do not have a copy of every other newspaper, every niche magazine and every newsletter in the world also sitting in my lap, crying out for my time and attention, competing with the local paper. One at a time. But on the Internet, everything is everywhere. An Internet resource always has to compete with everything.