A fork in the wire-service road

Jeff Jarvis is back, and observes that the Newark Star-Ledger put out an edition without any AP content. Tim McGuire writes that Politico's move to syndicate not only content, but also advertising, "could create a marketplace for ad hoc solutions to the newspaper’s need for supplemental material."

It's clear that we're coming to a major fork in the road, one that could profoundly reshape the way nonlocal journalism is created and distributed in America. What's not so clear is what's down that road, or even how many forks we're going to face.

Doing without AP isn't as radical as it sounds. I did it in the early 1980s in St. Louis, when the Globe-Democrat went ex-AP to cut costs and survive a little longer. The Globe was a 220,000 circulation metropolitan newspaper, but it was overwhelmingly focused on local news. "Making do" with UPI, Reuters and a couple of inexpensive supps wasn't all that much of a hardship.

The issue isn't so much whether paper X or paper Y can get by without the AP. It's really a matter of whether the AP can continue to be a positive force in a world in which it's moved beyond its old newspaper base.

And what kind of journalism will it -- and the various "ad hoc solutions" -- support? Hard news? Breaking news? Analysis? Long form? Short form? AP traditionally has been the primary provider of news that's as dull as oatmeal, middle of the road, not particularly deep, and offensive to as few as possible.

What I've seen coming from the AP Washington bureau recently has been painful to watch as the AP lurches around trying to figure out how to do meaningful analysis and instead churning out amateurish opinion.

And what's right for newspapers to run? There's not enough conversation about the question of whether printed newspapers ought to focus on long-form "sink into this warm tub and soak for awhile" journalism or chase the bright-short-timely model. My own preference is for the former -- but if I were in the UK, I'd be reading a national broadsheet and not a "red top" tabloid. Where do the numbers lead us? Is it just a business question?