Friday, August 07, 2009

AEJMC09: Sports sharing net planned. AP killer?

Is this a potential AP killer?

The news to come out of today's J-lab lunch at the j-profs convention in Boston is that 50 of the nation's largest papers are working on a sports content sharing site similar to what Ohio's newspapers have set up with OHNO.

Cleveland Plain Dealer Editor Susan Goldberg served up the nugget while she, Miami Herald Exec Ed Anders Gyllenhaal and Rex Smith, editor of the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, talked about ways they're cooperating with former competitors and working around the wire service.

Among the papers she mentioned are looking at it are Denver, Atlanta, Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Pete Times and one of the Pittsburgh papers. AP's cost -- about $1 mil a year for her paper -- remains stuck in the craw of many editors, even though the wire service has lowered its rates given the economic times and the rising competition from some of its own (very unhappy) members. Goldberg says that's a lot of money that could go to save some local news jobs.

She didn't provide a lot of other details, but said the agreements are awaiting legal review - everyone wants libel protection if someone files some bad copy.

Gyllenhaal says a key challenge is to figure out how to balance the two C's -- coordinate and compete. He says arts groups used to multiple critical voices (one assumes they figure their odds are better to get a good review) are the most vocal when things get shared. (The Herald shares with Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. It also has combined Florida Statehouse operations with St . Pete to create a six-person bureau that he says now allows for the papers to do some joint enterprise.)

Some of his other key points:
  • Pace much faster
  • Herald looking at possible 24-hour Web/TV news.
  • Hopes to begin partnerships with community groups, small media and unemployed journalists (nervous laughter from him and crowd, realizing those might well be people the Herald has let go). It already is partnering with Miami University and Florida International on the student-staffed South Florida News Service. "We're not going to do it with the staffs of 400 or 500 that could cover anything. ... But there are ways to do it if we're smart."
  • He seconds the sentiments of Goldberg that the content sharing has pressured AP. "AP has become much more accommodative."
Smith said his paper, the New York Daily News, the Buffalo News and two New Jersey papers, the Star-Ledger in Newark and the Bergen Record (which also covers New Jersey's northeast counties across from New York City) have set up a sharing system. (Syracuse and New York Newsday also were involved, but decided not to follow through.)
  • He was surprised at the N.J. papers' involvement, but it turned out they'd been talking about combining forces in Trenton. (They've done so to create a joint state capital bureau with 18 people.)
  • We probably can't replace content with networks like this, but we can augment.
  • Sports also will be important. He says a key issue will be staff buy-in. Some are unhappy they won't be able to get stringer fees, as some apparently do now, for their work that appears in papers other than their own.
  • He seconds Gyllenhaal that it's "really had an impact on the AP."
  • The sharing really showed its worth during the recent Buffalo plane crash. But there still remain questions, such as whether and when the stories move online and if the sharing takes away some views.
  • Not everyone will be invited. "We will enter into a content-sharing agreement with the Daily News, but not with the New York Post. There is a difference." And while a small Adirondack paper can provide outdoor coverage, he wondered whether the larger papers can trust a 15,000-circulation daily.
A few other things:
  • Smith says the sharing can work for investigative stories. The Hearst papers have a project coming out this weekend on medical mistakes that has been reported and edited coast to coast.
  • Under questioning from a member of a Boston-based alternative news site about whether freelancers will have to sign onerous contracts, Gyllenhaal said: These partnerships are not the best for the writers involved, but neither is losing a third of your staff."
  • None of this is going to save journalism; it's only a small piece, he said.
Goldberg, asked if the Plain Dealer and similar papers might go without AP someday, said "it's possible." There's a basic disconnect, she said: "I want them to cover the really boring meeting at the Statehouse so my people don't have to." But, she said, AP wants to do bigger projects and enterprise "that I have neither the desire nor the room to publish."

(Such sharing is showing up other states, too. For instance, the S.C. Press Association has created its own news exchange site and even hired an editorial cartoonist for it.)

AP killer? No, probably not yet. But if viable sports sharing takes hold, it will be a very big potential chunk out of AP's revenue stream. AP may say otherwise, but I can tell you from experience, both working in AP and since then working with papers, that the sports copy is the one reason that always gets cited for keeping the wire as they grumble about writing the check. If the papers can produce copy quickly (no guarantees there) and back it up with a substantial photo offering, it could be a real shin-kicker for the wire service.

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At 8/9/09, 2:37 AM, Blogger Stan Spire said...

To quote:

And while a small Adirondack paper can provide outdoor coverage, he wondered whether the larger papers can trust a 15,000-circulation daily.

Oh, when it comes to professionalism, size does matter? Take a look at one of the big operations, New York Times. Alessandra Stanley. Jayson Blair. Judith Miller. Sure, the Podunk Times can have bad reporters but their mistakes aren’t on the same scale.

BTW, this line in your post:

But, she said, AP wants to do bigger projects and enterprise "aht [that] I have neither the desire nor the room to publish."


Stan Spire

Proofreader At Large
Expert Mispeller

At 8/9/09, 10:08 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Thanks, Stan. I can always use an editor, especially when trying to post from a laptop balanced on my leg.

I also through a wayward "u" in Gyllenhaal, now removed.

I knew everyone would like that line from Smith. And I was glad to see Goldberg lay out pretty bluntly what these papers want from AP. It may be painful to hear, but now that it's said, maybe it opens up the discussion. (BTW, it hasn't changed in 20 years, either.)


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