Tag Archives: Associated Press

Killed ASAP (which means October)

Much as I dislike seeing 24 journalists lose their jobs or be reassigned, I’m glad to hear that the Associated Press’s ASAP service will cease in October. During the nearly two years since its launch, I’ve been tempted to write something about it, but hadn’t been able to think of anything kind to write about it.

I’ve never understood why the AP or any newspaper needs a new service whose “original content will be provocative, smart, relevant and immediate.” The AP or any newspapers’s existing service should already be all those things.

If the AP’s writing in general isn’t provocative, smart, relevant, and immediate, then the AP needs to reëxamine itself. Unfortunately, the AP’s writing is best defined as unprovocative, as smart and immediate as a small claim’s court transcript, relevant only to 50 year-old Caucasian male editors, but at least immediate. I suppose one out of four isn’t too bad, but it isn’t good either. News can be provocative, smart, and accurate (hint: go read The Economist). Provocative needn’t mean subjective: evocative writing is provocative and objective.

Moreover, why should the AP or any newspaper start a new service aimed at an audience who are age 18 to 34? If its service in general isn’t attractive to them—the single largest segment of the American population—then the AP or that newspaper needs to revamp itself in general.

What the Associate Press should instead be doing is revamping itself. I’ve got some friends who tell me that the ASAP might have been its experiment about that, but I think the wire service should have made its main courses provocative, smart, relevant, and immediate, rather than just a side dish.

While I’m on the subject of the Associated Press, let’s point out’s the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ of that organization. Before newspapers and the public gained access to the Internet, the AP had two main values for news organizations: (1) The AP’s worldwide staff of journalists produced a very valuable news product. And (2) the AP communications network was the integral system linking together American newspapers, broadcasters, and syndicates who wanted to sell or share stories.

Newspapers’ access to the Internet eliminated that second main value of the AP. Sure, most news syndicates (New York Times News Service, King Features, and other companies even more hidebound than the newspapers) still use the AP’s network to deliver stories to newspapers. Yes, the AP shares its member newspapers’ stories with other member newspapes (AP ‘electronic carbon’). But all that can just as easily done nowadays by the newspapers and syndicate themselves via the Internet. The Internet makes the AP communications network redundant. The AP’s main value is reduced to the work of its correspondents.

Despite its second main value becoming an inexpensive commodity in the news marketplace, the AP has never reduced the rates it charges newspapers, broadcasters, or syndicates. Economic would indicate that this situation cannot sustain.

What’s buoyed the AP and has kept it from collapsing is that it doesn’t have any functional competition. United Press International functionally went out of business during the 1980s. Reuters could have stepped into the domestic U.S. news market, but decided that the cost of staffing news bureaus in each U.S. State was prohibitive.

Atop of that problem, the AP—an organization chartered under New York State’s fish & game club laws during the 1800s —is constrained by its ownership. They are the newspapers it serves, who refused to let it serve broadcasters until the broadcasters sued the AP in the 1940s and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the broadcasters. The AP’s newspaper members/owners have similarly been very reluctant to let the AP serve ‘pure-play’ new-media companies (such as Yahoo! and Google) that compete with the newspapers online.

So, where does the AP find new revenues to offset rising costs? It’s already got a nearly 100 percent market share of the American newspaper market (the AP would have a 100 percent share had not the daily in Willimantic, Connecticut, a newspaper owned by a certain Crosbie family, not dropped the AP and found it could publish quite fine daily for years). The AP has been losing broadcast business ever since the 1980s when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission begtan permitting licensed broadcasters the option to operate without news programs. And the AP’s ownership won’t readily permit it to pursue ‘pure-play’ Internet businesses. The only thing the AP can do is to keep raising the rates of its existing customers each year.

Something has got to give or break. I think the Associated Press had better fix its problems before what breaks is the AP itself.

Reuters Retreats Two Years on NewsML

This past weekend, most of the stories about the online news industry focused on Associated Press President & CEO Tom Curley‘s keynote speech at the annual conference of the Online News Association. Though it was good to hear that the AP has finally realized that there’s a seismic environmental change underway in media, Curley’s speech was about AP intentions, not AP accomplishments. The American wire service has accomplished little with new media during the past ten years.

A story that was under-reported weekend was Reuters‘ postponed deployment of NewsML. The British wire service (disclaimer: where I worked during most of 1989 to 1993) is approximately half a decade ahead of the AP in new media. Reuters began serving online news site in 1994, years before AP did. Reuters has migrated its worldwide communications network from its proprietary satellites and cables system onto the Internet. And Reuters has been instrumental in developing the worldwide news communications standard known as NewsML, an Open Standard version of XML for news organizations.

Agence France Press> (AFP), the Italian news agency ANSA, the Belgian news agency Belga, the Swiss news agency SDA/ATS, United Press International (UPI), the Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association, The Irish Times of Dublin, The Wall Street Journal Online, PR Newswire, and Business Wire have also been instrumental in developing NewsML

Unfortunately, Reuters has announced that it’s postponing deployment of its own NewsML front-end system, called News2Web, by two years, until 2006. As The Guardian reported on Friday

    David Schlesinger, global managing editor of Reuters’ news operation, told staff in an email that the News2Web project would be delayed. He said progress had been made on the web-based product, but acknowledged that the group’s news staff were aware of technical hitches with the project. Staff trials of the new product, designed to make the entire editorial process web-based, are understood to have been negative.

    “As many in editorial know too well, we have had significantly less success getting the front end of the system right; we don’t yet have the new desktop in a state ready to roll out to journalists,” said Mr Schlesinger.

    News2Web was targeted for launch at the end of this year and was seen as a flag bearer for Reuters’ strategy of putting its entire business online.

    A Reuters spokeswoman said delays in the development of News2Web meant it would not be available in the group’s main product for City professionals, 3000 Xtra. While Reuters is much more than a news service, its news feed is still an important component of the trading and financial information screens it sells to banks and brokerages.

    “It makes no sense to roll it out in the newsroom until it’s in the main product,” said the spokeswoman.

    She would not disclose the cost of the News2Web programme but some Reuters staff believe the project is significantly over budget. There are fears among news staff that deeper job cuts will be made before Christmas to ensure that Fast Forward stays on track and cost savings targets are not affected by the budget overrun of News2Web.

Though the AP’s Curley talked about “atomized” news and “My Personalized News”, a wire service must output such content in a structured XML protocol, namely NewsML. Despite this delay, Reuters is far ahead of the AP in actually implementing that.

'Gaslight' AP Claims To Go 'Turbo'

Editor & Publisher magazine reports that Tom Curley, the former publisher of USAToday who is the new president and chief executive officer of The Associated Press (he’s following a Gannett senior executive career tradition), told newspaper publishers about what he calls “eAP” or “the electronic AP”.

“We see eAP as a giant leap forward,” Curley said. He also told of plans to increase AP revenues by developing new business in foreign countries. “Future growth depends on repositioning AP for serving international markets and news and information audiences,” he said.

We’re skeptical. The AP has long (150+ years) been called a ‘gaslight’ organization because it’s woefully slow adapting to change. Had Curley detailed actual plans of what the AP will do online, then perhaps we could accept his slapping an ‘e’ in front of his company’s initials. But just as calling a something ‘turbocharged’ without actually adding a turbine doesn’t improve it, calling the Associated Press “the electronic AP” without actually having changed the organization does nothing.

As for the idea of increasing revenues by developing new business in foreign countries, say hello to Reuter’s business plan of 1960.