AP: Stick a fork in it

The new accord between Google and the wire services -- Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Press Association (UK) and Canadian Press -- has been met with a range of reaction from ho-hum to what-were-they-thinking.

My old boss Tim McGuire is in the latter camp: "The first question is how much money is at stake here? I’m guessing newspapers still provide a LOT more of APs revenues than do partners like Yahoo and Google. Which leads to the second question, where are the angry newspaper people with their fiery pitchforks and nooses? I’m more than a little surprised newspaper executives aren’t up in arms over this partnership."

It reminds me of something I heard McGuire say many years ago: "Tactically smart and strategically dumb." You could apply that label to a whole series of decisions made by the AP, and the newspaper-dominated AP board, over the years.

But I'm in the ho-hum camp, for a couple of reasons.

Reason #1 is that AP's goose has been in the oven for years. The association came into being in 1846 to fix a problem that no longer exists. Technology and the market have moved on.

Habits are changing. People who are interested in news have the whole world at their fingertips, and routinely consume news from multiple sources. People with less interest rely on word of mouth, which also has been amplified and accelerated by the Internet. As a result, the value of AP news to newspapers is dropping rapidly.

Only an aging minority still relies on print for global news. There is nothing AP can do to change that.

Reason #2 is that there is little or no impact on local media online revenues. Most local media websites get their revenues from local advertising, which is targeted and naturally sells at a premium relative to "junk inventory" network advertising. Random traffic referrals from Google News have no value in that model, so losing them is no big deal.

But beyond that, traffic to wire content on most local websites is not significant to begin with. Some local websites have already pulled the plug on wire news; many never had it in the first place.

Local news websites are under tremendous pressure to build audience. Having generic AP content isn't an effective way to do that, so they're turning to blogging, photo galleries, social networking tools and databases of local information.

At some point, wire copy is not merely of low value, it's of negative value. Local sites are drowing their users with too much stuff, too many links. As Jakob Nielsen has said, every added link subtracts from the prominence of every other link. A cleanup is in order.

I'm not celebrating any of this. It just is.


What's funny to me is that a local small newspaper is paying AP for video and a friend who runs a grassroots journalism site puts them up via TheNewsRoom and gets paid for running them. What was even funnier was that when he started running them, someone local complained to AP that he wasn't allowed to do that. Well, not only is he allowed, he's making (some) money from it instead of paying for it.

AP is irrelevant and doomed.


It will be interesting to see what becomes of the AP state reports. At a time when the federal government is pushing more down on the states, AP is the only, or only one of a diminished few, sustained capital coverage in many states.

Even here in Columbia, where McClatchy, with The State, has a natural presence for the rest of its Carolinas papers, AP still gets the beat more often than you'd expect, and the local paper runs a fair amount of AP state copy -- a hole I don't see being completely filled since the paper already is running a lot of copy from other McClatchy papers, some of it marginally relevant. It certainly is relying on AP for its briefs.

Arguments certainly can be made that on the state front it might be economically viable to create news cooperatives among non-AP operations. But given the history, I don't think it's likely in many places.

I think you're right, Doug, but I'd add a second danger: growing financial pressures on newspapers that are big enough to maintain state government bureaus and support serious journalism about regional and supermetro issues. I continue to be fairly optimistic about hyperlocal journalism, but our research has shown a fairly sharp dropoff in consumer interest in news as you leave the "neighborhood" and "local" zones and move out to "regional" and "state" settings.

Newspapers already don't do a very good job tracking Neil Peirce issues, and I think it's going to get worse, not better.

On the other hand, Dan Gillmor points today to a tale of a Massachusetts blogger who's shining some light on casino gambling in that state. I think we're going to see a lot more cases in which amateurs and activists fill voids left by the professionals. It won't be a perfect picture, but we never had a perfect picture in the first place.

I'm a confirmed AP basher, even though I rely on their services. Wire services are designed to feed the beast. You need stuff to spackle in between the ads, AP's got you covered. It's just that that's no longer good enough. Interest in civics, as you point out, Steve, has petered out, and so very much of what AP moves is wonky government stuff. Would that they were shining a light into dark places; instead, much of AP copy is turgid, unenlightening and trapped in the anonymous-senior-government-official suicide loop. I believe the addiction to it is hastening the demise of the American newspaper.

I'm not sure why they didn't just post it, but I received this in email from the AP:

Mr. Yelvington:

RE: “The new accord between Google and the wire services -- Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Press Association (UK) and Canadian Press -- has been met with a range of reaction from ho-hum to what-were-they-thinking.”

For your background, I would like to clarify that the Associated Press did not negotiate or sign a “new accord” with Google. (I know nothing about the other wire services’ arrangements.)

Google began to host AP content on Aug. 31 under the terms of an agreement that was reached last year and widely reported at that time.

The agreement allows Google to use AP content in ways that are consistent with its use by AP’s many other commercial customers.

Thank you,
Paul Colford
Director of Media Relations
The Associated Press
450 W. 33rd St.
New York, NY 10001