Economy, Internet affect AP's news role

A combination of plummeting advertising revenue and the public increasingly turning to the Internet for non-local news could mean a shrinking newspaper role for The Associated Press, long a stalwart of daily print reports.

A combination of plummeting advertising revenue and the public increasingly turning to the Internet for non-local news could mean a shrinking newspaper role for The Associated Press, long a stalwart of daily print reports.

In recent months, a handful of daily newspapers have sent cancellation notices to the AP, which is a nonprofit collaborative owned and operated by its approximately 1,500-member news organizations.

Although the AP's board of directors approved a rate restructuring in July that could save member newspapers a total of up to $21 million a year, some publishers believe that the service's varying cost – estimated at about $143,000 per newspaper, according to a report in Forbes – is too high, says Rufus Woods, editor and publisher of the Washington-based Wenatchee World.

“I'm not sure the value we get from the AP is worth the amount of money we're spending,” he tells PRWeek. “I have an obligation to use resources widely, and we're going to be a smaller newspaper page-wise, and the AP is going to be less of a component. We're going to be much more local... and with the economics, we're going to have to focus on what we do best.”

The World also shares its content with a handful of other Washington state newspapers, Woods adds. Earlier this year, eight of Ohio's top newspapers formed a content-sharing program called the Ohio News Organization. Just this month, the Newark Star-Ledger ran a print edition without AP content, instead opting for reports from its own staff, national newspapers such as The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, and other New Jersey dailies, according to Editor & Publisher.

Although some newspapers might be unhappy with the content the AP is focusing on, more are likely upset about the wire service's cost, says Lou Ureneck, chairman of Boston University's journalism department.

“Newspapers are seeking to reduce expenses in all areas and are going so far to offer buyouts to experienced people,” he says. “They are under extreme pressure to cut costs, and one place where they have to look is at the AP assessment, which can be a very big part of the newsroom's budget, depending on the paper, running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sometimes more than that.”

However, while dropping the wire service might be attractive to cost-cutting news organizations, they will be unable to find a similar package of state, national, and international news, Ureneck adds.

“The AP is the 800-pound gorilla; it's a massive worldwide organization, and so many people rely on it because it's so capable and so broadly based,” he says. “It would be hard for any newspaper to find an equivalent replacement for the AP. They could find pieces of it – coverage of the statehouse or coverage of a particular part of the country – but the AP offers worldwide, daily and hourly news coverage, and there's nothing quite like that.”

An AP spokesman declined to comment. But AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll told attendees of the Associated Press Managing Editors conference this month that she hopes the organization and its member newspapers can work out their differences during the two-year withdrawal period, according to an AP report.

Only a small number of newspapers have recently sought to leave the AP, Sue Cross, AP's SVP for US media markets, told newspaper industry trade title Editor & Publisher last month.

“The last time we had a big rate structure change was in 1984, and we had cancellations then,” she said. “My impression is that the [rate change] is a very low percentage. The positive feedback has outweighed the negative.”

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