Thursday, March 11, 2004

AP for the classroom - finally?
Had a chance to chat briefly with the AP's new head honcho, Tom Curley, recently. Good news, perhaps, for cash-strapped college journalism programs. Curley says the AP has finally decided to provide a low-cost wire service feed for educational use. He didn't provide details on cost, etc., but the marginal cost to AP of providing a selected feed is so low that if the wire service is being honest about it, the cost to provide the feed to schools for educational use should be relatively marginal as well.

I take a little personal satisfaction in this -- for the better part of my last decade with the AP, I suggested at one time or another that the company needed to get its wire into classrooms as a marketing tool. AP has long suffered from declining commitment by its members to contributing the stories that the wire service's business model requires (you don't think it can afford to hire all the people that would be needed were those contributions to dry up, do you?).

Contributions might be up; I don't know. But I do know the man and woman hours put into pestering and otherwise trying to get those contributions was up significantly.

The AP suffers from two problems. First, the near extinction of radio news departments with deregulation and the closing of most afternoon newspapers. AP used to be able to rely on those PM papers for coverage of late-morning events, and those radio stations in every county seat, podunk as they might be, usually had a newsman or newswoman who could find the way around the courthouse, knew everyone, and could keep AP abreast of big developments, especially with ongoing trials. Without those two things, AP has to devote more resources just to getting the basic news. Some of that might be changing with more live filing by news outlets to the Internet (where AP can pick off stories earlier in the cycle, assuming they are filed before presstime), but the jury's still out on that.

Second, with the disappearance of the big black teletype machines, with their clatter and bells, "the wire" has become just another silent computer input to more than a generation of young journos. Every time the bell clattered on one of those old teletype boxes, it was the best marketing tool AP had as newroom folk rushed to see what was up.
At the same time, the basic wire was so expensive -- thousands of dollars a year -- that many schools dropped it. Bad move for AP, which needs more than ever to socialize young journos to the value of the news cooperative idea so that when they get out on desks, they think of the AP and possibly contribute.

So finally AP seems to understand. Good news, it seems, for schools (though we'll wait for the pricing and other details) and good news, I hope, for AP.


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