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Op-Ed: The old vs. the new — AP’s NewsRight vs. Google and Twitter

The Earth
AP, like News Corp press and some others, have been bitching about news aggregators for years. They’re seen as “stealing” news and undermining the bottom line of these previously exclusive sources. There’s a few things wrong with this position.
Sydney - Bloomberg's Business Week explains the issues:
The Associated Press newswire service has just launched a “news registry” and licensing service it calls NewsRight, together with a group of traditional media chains and outlets such as Hearst Newspapers and the New York Times The AP says the new entity.. is primarily intended to help members track, then license, their content to websites and news services.
So far so good- licensing content and tracking usage, perfectly normal. It’s the object of this approach which is under scrutiny. Bloomberg again:
The AP first started talking about a news registry as far back as 2008. It was clear then that its main purpose would be to crack down on anyone using even small portions of the company’s content. …Meanwhile, the AP continued to threaten other websites over the use of its content and tried to convince sites to pay exorbitant fees for even small amounts of text or the use of an AP headline.
This is where AP’s problems start. There’s a business model issue here, as there is with all the traditional news media:
AP’s arch rival Reuters makes its news available online. Reuters has also embraced Twitter, the canary in the mine for old style reportage. The Bloomberg article theorizes that AP and others are trying to retain their old monopolies, but it may also be that their business model simply doesn’t know how to function in the new information environment.
Google has already moved on quietly but effectively from the “aggregator” insult (all news media are by definition aggregators, and some aggregate more PR than news) by setting up a service of its own, and the Google service is free. A site called Poynter.org has a revealing example of Google not only beating AP, but its news service being preferred in relation to the Iowa GOP caucus results.
The question is whether people will pay for news they can get for free elsewhere from multiple sources. AP and the others, including my much loved favourite read, The New York Times, may be barking at lightning here, making noises against sheer power. There are some potentially deadly configurations of existing online information media which could easily bury any old-style news media model.
Imagine a simple web page, including feeds from:
Reuters
Google News services
PR Newswire
Twitter
AFP
Bloomberg
BBC
PBS
CBC
ABC Australia
TechCrunch
Mashable
You could set up a page like that in about 5 minutes. It would contain more hard news than you’d get in a week on any single site. All you need are the links, and maybe a simple blog. That’d be a real aggregator, and it wouldn’t infringe anyone’s rights at all. Stick a logo on it, add some Adsense ads, and you’d make money out of it, too.
From the business perspective- What’s known for sure is that going against Google’s very consistent approach to providing free services in strategic areas simply doesn’t work. Google could, if it wanted, set up a monster news site with a lot more bells and whistles and classifier links than it has now. When it comes to pushing and shoving, size matters, and AP is a relative dwarf.
There’s a somewhat neglected side to AP’s position, which ironically AP itself rarely mentions- AP’s quality. “AP style” is famous in journalism, and it’s required reading for most US journalists. AP news is the real deal. It’s literally a role model for top class journalism and news reporting. It'd be a terrible shame if this high value news source self-destructed simply by going into denial about a new media environment.
For a long time now, I’ve been saying that the US hit the wall when the lawyers and accountants took over management. I hope this isn’t another case of that, because the world would be a poorer place without AP. My friendly advice to AP is to look at other options, find new revenue streams and don’t try to take on the world head on. It can’t work.

8 comments

#1Jan 7, 2012 Gar Swaffar
AP's attitude has been confrontational from the beginning, and honestly, their editing and proofreaders are horrible.
#2Jan 7, 2012 Robert G Cope
Soft footing for you. Well stated, sympathetic, and factual. I agree, the media world is too fast, highly fragmented, and has more multiple strong players then this AP approach can successfully challenge. Did I miss Aljazeera among the players? Then there is Huffington, which I find as valued a daily source as the NYT and Washington Post. Like Kodak, AP may have missed the train.
#3Jan 8, 2012 JohnThomas Didymus
you hit the nail on the head when you said: "it may also be that their business model simply doesn’t know how to function in the new information environment."
Some of the traditional news sources don't seem to appreciate that things are changing in the information age and that they need to change to keep up with the trends. The old model of news monopoly simply can't be retained.
#4Jan 8, 2012 Paul Wallis
Thanks, folks, for the various added values in those comments. The risk is that yet another salvageable news source, and a big one, will join the dinosaurs in the museums. Getting rid of the monopolies isn't a bad idea, but losing the talent in the bottomless pit of media's yesterday's people, as the US print guys have done, isn't.
#5Jan 8, 2012 Robert G Cope
Well done. Great finish....with "associated press" family. True.
#6Jan 8, 2012 Paul Wallis
@Janusz Überall
Very eloquently stated, Paul. — A new media environment is a fact of life. In the mid-nineties the lawyers and accountants tried to take control of the music industry on behalf of the desperate record companies through harassment and lawsuits; and what did they accomplished in these years? They came, they jumped, and they accomplished nothing.
The failure of the corporate news media is a known fact. Internet via social media effectively changed how news is distributed today, to the degree that corporate news organizations are becoming more and more impotent. And they worry, because the so-called democratization of media threatens the job security of all in the mainstream press.
The citizen journalist's revolution was born because the traditional news media was spreading administration's propaganda. The social media made it possible for American public to stay well informed about current events outside of United States' borders.
Today's readers are well-educated and well-informed because they have a choice to get their information from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Internet news organizations instead of the corporate networks. The reality is that everyone with an Internet access is a member of the "associated press" family.
Janusz, I'm doing a lot of commercial writing and marketing these days, and in my opinion they've simply lost the plot, years ago. Imagine trying to market anything these days as a "you have no choice" thing to people who've grown up with the net. It's absurd. Either they come up with unique selling points, or they're deader than the dodo. AP has resources which can do that, and they're talking law, not business. That's a downward spiral if ever there was one.
Citizen journalism is scaring them, and with good reason. Citizen journalists are often experts, much more so than the poor bastards with just a journalism degree and a style guide trying to wade through a subject. This type of democracy is here to stay. Mainstream news must acknowledge that it needs better sources, to start with, to create its content in this environment. I'm hoping all those talented guys who lost their jobs because of corporate blundering and regressionism will turn citizen journalists, and add their weight to the change that has to come. The days of the news barons are over. AP better read the writing on the wall before it gets bricked in forever.
#7Jan 13, 2014 Robert G Cope
This may be a year late, but I'm seeing the citizen-written Digital Journal now simply taking news directly from the French news agency, AFP. Is this -- as we have known it -- the end of DJ?
#8Jan 13, 2014 Anne Sewell
Seeing as "they" are reporting on all the latest news, it seems so.
Of course, the site will become just like many other news sites, no originality and duplicate content all round... as we know when you search for a story, you find the same old content over and over and over again... and that's what will happen here too. No thanks for the loyalty and all that...
@Robert G Cope
This may be a year late, but I'm seeing the citizen-written Digital Journal now simply taking news directly from the French news agency, AFP. Is this -- as we have known it -- the end of DJ?

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