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Ohio newspapers try to break away from the AP cartel, only to form another. But the future is competition, not collusion 5/2/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in AP, Competition.

Can we talk? Almost from the very beginning, the Associated Press (AP) has been a greedy deal among newspapers at the expense of their readers. It started innocently enough as a group of New York newspapers pooling their resources to get news from Europe faster. But soon, it degenerated into an anti-competitive scheme resembling a cartel, with AP member newspapers at times banding together to snuff-out would be competitors by denying them membership. Worse still, it created an unhealthy culture in which newspapers viewed themselves as collaborators, not competitors. It’s not a daily miracle that virtually every mainstream outlet covers essentially the same news items – it’s an AP-created culture in which papers refuse to compete for readers by offering different stories.

The AP formula worked for newspapers prior to the Internet because even though papers nationwide were printing the same stories, local readers could only get this material from their local newspapers. But now that readers can get this news from just about anywhere, local newspapers are now seeking to withhold news they would have shared with the AP (e.g. original local stories) so they still offer news that would otherwise be unavailable to their readers.

Does this mean that newspapers are now poised to compete on the basis of providing original content that cannot be found anywhere else? Unfortunately, some habits are hard to break, as shown by a group of Ohio newspapers that have essentially formed their own AP-like cartel, to deny the AP of stories they will instead share among themselves. The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s reader rep Ted Diadiun defended this new arrangement, writing “we don’t compete for readers with the newspapers in Cincinnati or Columbus, except in the most tangential way, and never did.” That may be true of the past and present, but it may make little sense in the future. If there is, indeed, a market for pan-Ohio news, which in itself is questionable, each of these newspapers ought to be pursuing it at the expense of its fellow Ohio newspapers. The future of news will be about every news outlet fighting for itself to satisfy their audiences. News outlets will no longer be playing on the same team. (H/T: Lost Remote)


1. conservatism_IS_compassion - 5/4/08

Did newspapers cooperate in any substantial way before the telegraph and the AP came along? I don’t think so. IMHO before then the printers of the several newspapers were mostly printing their own opinion, and “news” which, in principle, other local people might have heard just as soon as the printer heard it. There would have been no occasion for one printer to defer to the “objectivity” of any other.

Whereas now, a given newspaper is publishing reports from all over the place, written by reporters that the editor of the paper doesn’t even know – all he really knows is that he has to take the assumption that the reporter is telling the truth on faith. Thus, if a Dan Rather is caught relying on crude forgeries to make a deceptive case, other reporters “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

To me the issue of whether newspapers refuse to cooperate with the AP is less important than the fact that they are in the news business at all. Just being in that business is an indictment that you are superficial and negative.

2. Pajamas Media » Is the AP Good for America? - 5/18/08

[…] members are beginning to recognize these problems, most recently demonstrated by a network of Ohio papers who are cutting the AP out of their statewide stories in favor of a collaboration of their […]

3. The Associated Press Competing With Its Own Member Papers - 5/21/08

[…] loss of traffic from Google News, and now this seems to be happening, with a group of Ohio papers forming their own Ohio-centric wire service in competition with the AP. As the Internet causes media outlets to increasingly compete with one […]

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