Is it sadomasochism? Can anyone out there make sense of today’s relationship between the Associated Press and its member newspapers? 12/4/07Posted by Steve Boriss in AP.
The relationship between newspapers and the Associated Press (AP) once made a lot of sense, if not to the public then at least to the newspapers who owned and controlled this not-for-profit. It made sense for everyone when newspapers established the AP 160 years ago as a pooled-reporting operation to get news from Europe faster and cheaper. After that, it made sense for these AP-member newspapers, but not the public, when it degenerated into a cartel with bylaws designed to snuff-out would be competitors, before the U.S. Supreme Court found them guilty of violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act (1945). Since then, it has made sense for AP-member newspapers, but not the public, to continue to act like a cartel, pooling stories to keep reporting costs artificially low. This has made it cost-prohibitive for newcomers to compete by delivering better, alternative news content. Now you know why we have not seen a single new, financially self-supporting metro daily newspaper in the last 60 years.
But as of recently, the relationship between the AP and its members seems to make no sense, and the papers’ actions have switched from being selfish to seeming stupid, suicidal, or sadomasochistic. First, newspapers started handing over their articles to AP representatives the night before their papers were delivered, allowing audiences to get their stories sooner and free via local TV and radio. Next, members allowed the AP and other members to post their articles on the web, allowing everyone to get their full stories without buying their paper or visiting their site. Next, after making the foolish complaint that Google News was not paying them for words in the brief synopses linking to their articles, members even more foolishly agreed that, instead, Google News could pay the AP a nominal amount, feature the AP’s version of the story, and ignore similar stories at the members’ own sites — a boneheaded move that, no doubt, has cost them a good deal of online traffic. Now, with newspapers shrinking their staffs and suffering a 9% revenue drop through the 3rd quarter of 2007, in part because they offer so little content that cannot be found elsewhere, the members are allowing the AP to use their fees to do more of its own reporting, increase its total staff, and greatly expand its international operations.
So, this relationship seems to have devolved into sadomasochism, with members now paying the AP to inflict pain and potentially fatal business damage on them. Is there anyone out there willing to make the case that this relationship is still a win-win?