Monday, July 14, 2008

Fournier and AP

Ron Fournier had one of those catch-the-wave careers in the AP, rising from the Arkansas Statehouse on the Clinton wave into Washington and becoming one of AP's premier political reporters.

Now, Politico's Michael Calderone asks, Is Fournier saving -- or destroying -- the AP? (Fournier is the new acting Washington bureau chief after the unceremonial dumping of Sandy Johnson who, apparently, was suggesting not that the AP not change, but that it do so in a decidedly more measured way.

The article, I think, really gets to the heart (and soul) of AP's struggle. The commodity he said/she said stuff basically isn't going to cut it anymore, or at least isn't going to be enough to stay in business. But how do you put that slight edge on it without going too far? (Example. You make the call.) It's a delicate call. And not every story -- in fact, most, really -- has that "truth-calling" (as opposed to truth-telling) opportunity. In many cases the best journalism is to get the six different nuanced opinions out there without a lot of commentary -- then go do more reporting and do a real explainer. I prefer that term to "analysis"; I think it better captures what you're trying to accomplish.

This will dramatically change AP's role and access, however. And I'm not sure the powers that be in D.C. (and the capitols) hold AP in as high a stead as AP thinks they might. Given the choice, they'll go with the NYT or WaPo, maybe the LAT. That has the benefit of giving it the imprimatur of a real brand. AP just is not a real brand yet to much of the news-consuming world, not that kind of brand, at least, although the comments on Politco and elsewhere indicate it is quickly taking on the baggage of one. But as that giant straight-news organization in the background, AP often was the one that could get in the door when others couldn't.

So it really does pose a little challenge, doesn't it.

My prediction: AP will be a private stock company, or it will undergo a significant ownership reorganization, within a decade and as early as five years. It's going to have trouble sustaining this model as a cooperative.

MORE: Discovered later -- Forunier explains his epiphany after Hurricane Katrina.

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