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R.I.P. ASAP

Submitted by yelvington on July 29, 2007 - 11:47am

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.

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Comments

This is too bad. We were one of the few newspapers who were willing to pay for asap this year. We used a ton of the stories in print and ran with everything online.

I would have to say the print content was much stronger than the online stuff (which didn't live up to the PR material we received). From my experience speaking with other newspapers that didn't pick up the service, the price was extremely prohibitive in a culture that is looking to cut expenses.

Nonetheless, it was a worthy effort, and I will miss the service.

Juan Antonio Giner: "in our Young Readers Global Report for the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), one of our main recommendations was not to develop “ghetto-sections” for young readers."

Online News Squared: "asap got tons of favorable trade buzz when it launched but from Squared's standpoint inside one of AP's biggest members, it just didn't make sense. A high cost structure to fund a new organization that probably, in a true startup, would have been multiple times smaller, didn't help."

Doug Fisher: "AP continued to distribute "asap" through its members' Web sites. But the 18-to-34 set isn't going to "newspaper.com" to start or end the day -- or much in the middle, for that matter. Those readers tend to go to more socially oriented sites that let them share stories, photos, experiences, etc. Most newspaper sites are still far from that."