Thursday, March 12, 2009

Chilling words for the AP

Josehua Benton at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog has an update on the news-sharing experiment between eight of Ohio's largest newspapers. It's an extended interview with Ron Royhab, executive editor of the Toledo Blade, and Royhab has some chilling words for the AP:

And so we are at a point where we believe we don’t need the Associated Press Ohio Wire, because it’s covered.

Royhab's conversation with Benton also provides a bit more insight into how to execs at AP, to which the Blade pays $550,000 a year, po'd the top editors at the Ohio Eight.

And they were very hostile toward us. Matter of fact, Tom Brettingen, who is the senior vice president, said, “You know, the newspaper industry only pays 30 percent of the income of the Associated Press, and other 70 percent subsidise your 30 percent. And they dismissed all of our concerns out of hand.

Not exactly the most surprising news, but revealing nonetheless.

Paul Colford, AP's PR director, responds with the standard script -- that AP does not sell the state wires to online or commercial source, that most of what it is selling to online is produced by AP reporters nationally and internationally, etc.

But the reality is still that the state wires have been AP's cash cow, and they are hurting. In South Carolina, for instance, the AP office - no longer a bureau - is unstaffed many more hours, including much of the weekend, and because of my former AP life, I've gotten an earful on that from editors I talk with around the state. And the output of staff-generated copy is thinning.

The Ohio experiment isn't perfect. This comment is on the Nieman post:

It’s a good idea, though disappointing that the Ohio 8 have not allowed smaller papers into the group.

But as the writer notes, his 9,000-circulation daily dropped AP about three weeks ago and have not received a single call about it…we are obtaining agate from PA Sportsticker.

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At 3/12/09, 3:41 PM, Blogger pcolford said...

Callers to the AP bureau in South Carolina can still reach someone on duty 24/7.

Regionalization of AP’s news operation means that we’re doing more reporting in South Carolina and breaking more news in the state.

We are, indeed, doing fewer minor stories than before while focusing more of our efforts on the top stories.

Paul Colford
AP Director of Media Relations

At 3/12/09, 4:03 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Nice spin.

Callers to any number of companies can reach someone 24/7 - in Mumbai or wherever. For many of the editors I talk to, Raleigh or Atlanta might as well be Mumbai.

When you don't staff for an entire weekend day, it sends a message to those editors. Maybe you should get out of NY and talk to some yourself.

I understand the pressures AP is under and am generally sympathetic to them - I was one of those inside AP who said as early as the mid-1990s that its business model had been broken or at least under severe strain since the demise of PM papers in the 1980s and the demise of news operations in those county seat radio stations. Anyone who had to run an AP desk knew it. (I've written about it here extensively.

But I can still see the wire daily. And I can see what runs in the papers here. And less and less AP, including the "good" stuff, is getting run. Combined with what I hear from editors, that tells me something. There is a waning of confidence. Your members are not stupid.

I still think ultimately AP will have to do away with most offices and bureaus and scatter correspondents about more widely - it produces wider and better coverage and probably saves you some money. It also means the state wires, as we've known them, probably go away to a more scalable product that, yes, can be sold to commercial and online vendors.

I just think it would serve AP better, rather than playing the semantics game, to come out and acknowledge where things are going.

At 3/13/09, 1:43 AM, Blogger vtuss said...

If you're relying on PA SportsTicker, you aren't putting out an AP-free product anymore. I am surprised, with the AP debate and the push for alternative sources, that this didn't get more attention in the media news last Friday (March 6). More reports out there on the Web focus on the Murdoch connection than the AP one:

Stats, the American sports data company co-owned by AP and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, is acquiring PA SportsTicker, the company bought by PA Sport in 2006 to expand into the US. At least 100 jobs are likely to go as a result of the merger between the two operations. (Full story:


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