Wednesday, October 22, 2008

AP - Is Scripps next to say au revoir?

Editor and Publisher poses the question. Scripps says it's in talks, but won't say whether it's given the required notice, though Don Kausler, editor at the Anderson (S.C.) Independent Mail says:

“It’s much like what Tribune is doing, leaving options open,” Kausler said. “When AP requires two-year’s notice, we see no harm in exercising that option. That doesn’t mean that in two years we won’t be running AP stories, but by giving notice, that can happen.”

(Kausler, having recently been shown where the exit sign is at the paper, might be expected to be a little more loose lipped than the average Scripps exec.)

My prediction: It will be more a bientot than au revoir.

AP will come around this time and most of the cancellation notices will be lifted. But it will mean deep rate cuts -- and potentially some layoffs at the AP, which already is under a hiring freeze. As proffered here before, it will hasten the demise of the state bureaus as such. With the AP following its already announced plan to centralize editing, the ultimate result is likely to be a scattering of personnel to "correspondencies" and sharp reductions in the costly state bureau real estate and other overhead expenses. That will be the most sensible way for the AP to maintain some of the enterprise it needs to thrive as a journalistic organization but also to free up the bodies needed to do the "scut" work its newspaper masters demand.

At this stage in the AP's life, that would not necessarily be a bad thing, though it would be highly disruptive for a lot of people.

Down the road, as I've mentioned, is the possibility AP could shed the cooperative mantra and become a private stock company. But that raises all sorts of questions, too. Who would own the company? If it issued public stock, you've got the same problems you have with all news organizations when they meet Wall Street's unrelenting demands for higher quarterly profits. If you sold to a private investment company -- well, that's a bit of a dice roll since investment companies have been known to turn from beneficent to ruthless on a dime. An employee-owned company with multiple classes of shares? Hmmmmm, interesting idea. Journal Communications might be a model, though its shares have tanked like everyone else's in media.

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