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Sep 11, 2008

New Jersey: Largest paper runs without AP

New Jersey: Largest paper runs without AP

The Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey, was published on Wednesday without any Associated Press copy.  At this stage, it is still unclear as to why the paper chose to run without AP.  Sources close to the newspaper have pointed towards either a protest over AP's controversial new rates that began in January, or that it is a test to see if the paper can run without AP copy, the world's largest newsgathering source, as a means to cut-costs.  

Other dailies, such as The Bakersfield CalifornianThe Star Tribune of MinneapolisThe Post Register of Idaho Falls, the Yakima Herald-Republic and Wenatchee World of Washington have notified AP of their plans to discontinue the news service.
... the key to the transition that the newspaper industry is facing. ... How did AP create the new rate structure? How many newspapers have cancelled AP services? ...

Minneapolis' Star Tribune is the latest newspaper to cancel their AP service, reports the MinnPost. The Twin Cities publication follows in the footsteps of five ...

US regionals turn away from AP to focus on local reporting

A number of US newspapers have submitted cancellation notices to the Associated Press (AP), announcing that they are dropping their contracts with the news service. Reasons range from the recent changes that the AP has made to its fee structure to its diversion from regional news. The Wenatchee World of Wenatchee, Washington, The Yakima Herald-Republic of Yakima, Washington, The Spokesman Review of in Spokane, Washington and The Post Register of Idaho Falls, Idaho, spoke to the Editors Weblog about their decision to cut back on AP content and future plans that they have.

The AP's new fee structure

The new pricing structure, approved by AP's board last year, includes state, national and international breaking news and allows newspapers to buy individual articles and other services, as opposed to its old structure of one bulk membership fee. The AP claims this will cause fee increases for only 10% of its subscribers, 

But the Post Register's editor and publisher Roger Plothow refers to the new fee structure as "too rigid" and "too expensive", pointing out that the AP hasn't adapted too well to the changing newspaper industry.

Spokesman-Review editor Steve Smith mentions that he had to lay off 16 of the papers staff in December 2007 and choosing to unsubscribe from the AP ("even considering the cost of replacement services") would save the paper nearly USD$300,000 and permit it to keep 10 to 15 jobs.

"The AP's declining content contribution?" or "Focus on Local News"
"They do far less for us than ever before. This year, we would have had to pay extra for basic Olympics coverage once included in the basic rate. And the AP staff in Olympia, the state capitol, told us they were unable to provide statewide coverage of last month's primary election. That is simply not acceptable, not considering how much we pay," says Smith.
The Wenatchee World, apart from financial concerns, dropped the AP for similar reasons. It wishes to pay more attention to regional news and the AP's regional reports have "gone by the wayside," says the paper's editor and publisher Rufus Woods.
"We've started a free story-sharing service with other papers in our region to enhance our regional report. We do it for free and it works great for everyone," says Woods.
"I believe that successful news organizations are gonna be the ones that will have the strongest local content and the challenge for us is that it's more expensive to provide local content than anything else," says Jenkins.
Plothow predicts that smaller and medium-sized regional papers will rely less on the AP for content since most of it may be obtained through other sources or be less relevant to readers of papers like the Register. He says that in two years time, the Register will be 80-90% regional and local, with only the most important national and international news articles.

"We will take our savings and invest it into local reporting resources. For newspapers like ours, local is the only future," says Plothow.

Smith reflects a similar idea: that while his paper has international and national coverage, its focus is primarily on local and regional events. For this, the Review cannot rely on the AP, he says. Perhaps it is due to the news outlet's job cuts or the "restructuring and emphasis online and in multi-media." He also mentions that dropping the AP's online service, like audio and broadcast coverage, made no change to the Review's site traffic.

"The big question is what kind of news report resonates with readers. Given changing reader habits, it may be that an all-local paper is in our future. Or perhaps just a slimmed-down national/international report," says Woods.

Newspapers defecting to AP competitors?

The Register is replacing the AP with other services such as Thomson Reuters, the New York TimesThe Los Angeles Times-The Washington PostEuropean Pressphoto Agency, sports providers like PA Sports Ticker and a  "reconfigured coalition of regional newspapers that share content," according to Plothow.

The Review is adapting a similar technique. It may also make use of McClatchy-Tribune's proposed network that would be set up "under their auspices" and would pay the paper for any Review content that it would use.

Tim Brettingen, the AP's chief revenue officer, said that an AP contract is "one of the great bargains in the industry," in an interview withPaidContent.org.

But Spokesman Review's Smith countered that opinion, saying, "Frankly, I think it's highway robbery. And obviously, I am not alone. I have heard from several dozen editors who have dropped or soon will drop the service for most of the same reasons. Most of the major papers in our region are opting out."
Jenkins says that submitting a two-year cancellation notice gives the paper time to look at alternatives "that are available now" and those that "are being developed".

"When you look back two years, so many more sources would have become available in that period that it's hard to tell what will be available two years from now," Jenkins adds.

The effects of AP's pricing structure on the US newspaper industry 

"The industry's going through dramatic change and we have to be open to radically new ways of doing business to stay in business. AP assumes they are a necessity but more newspapers are viewing it as a luxury and are weary of the "corporate" approach of the organization. If AP wants to partner with members in this evolution, great. If not, so be it," Woods says.
Smith, referring to the way in which the American media landscape is evolving, said "If more regional papers begin to share their content between themselves (as has begun in South Florida), the change to our industry will be seismic. AP has been the backbone service for more than 100 years. That could change in the next few years with AP becoming less of a provider and more of a competitor in the race to survive the new information revolution." He continued, " The mere fact that once competing news organizations -- The Miami HeraldSouth Florida Sun-Sentineland Palm Beach Post for one example; a growing Northwest coalition for another -- will now collaborate signals a huge and unprecedented shift in the news landscape. And any sort of mass shift is going to boost the growth of fledgling content providers such as PA/SportsTicker. There will be some entrepreneurs who will make their fortunes with these changes. And new partnerships will grow between unlikely parties such as CNNand MLB.com."
The Post Register's Plothow predicted, "The AP will likely become a service for large newspapers. In the U.S. 1,200 of the 1,400 daily newspapers are under 50,000 circulation - these are the papers that will begin leaving the AP en masse over the next year or so." He concluded, "This will likely only improve local journalism, and national and international journalism is rapidly moving onto the Web. Whether that's a good thing remains to be seen."


Wenatchee World: 22,579 daily, 24,414 Sunday
Yakima Herald-Republic: 38,000 daily
Spokesman Review: 89,000 daily, 113,000 Sunday
Post Register: 25,500 

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