CNN decision to drop AP raises questions

The move could be a sign that it's possibly gearing up to compete with the wire service.

ATLANTA: A decision by CNN to drop the Associated Press as a content and services provider is a sign that it's possibly gearing up to compete with the wire service.

CNN had been using the AP services since its launch in 1980. Its current contract with the AP expires June 30. 

In an internal memo e-mailed to staff on June 21, Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide, noted the move is an “important next step” in its content ownership strategy, which it set into place in 2007.

“Starting today, CNN newsgathering will be the primary source of all content for all of our platforms and services,” it said. “CNN-exclusive content will further differentiate our platforms in the media marketplace.”

The memo went on to say, “To support this new model, we are expanding the CNN Wires team and embedding positions with desks and bureaus to speed information to air.” Launched in 2008, CNN Wires supports the CNN.com website.

Nigel Pritchard, VP of PR for CNN Worldwide, tells PRWeek that the company also made the wire available commercially “to help advance our own business. With so many affiliates having websites and mobile platforms, we felt we could provide our wire as a service to others.”

Pritchard declined to disclose any clients of the wire service.

In the memo, CNN also announced a new partnership with Reuters to supplement its breaking news coverage. However, Pritchard characterized the partnership as “limited” in scope.

AP responded to the announcement in a statement by calling the decision “unfortunate.” Paul Colford, director of media relations for the AP, tells PRWeek, “The AP is not hobbled by the decision from CNN to live without us.”

Colford points out that the AP services not only roughly 1,400 US member newspapers, but also tens of thousands of TV and radio broadcasters, portals, and websites, as well as mobile platforms in North America and abroad.

Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, says the AP has such wide reach that even if CNN mounts a challenge it would be unlikely to pose a serious threat. “Losing a client like this isn't a crippling business blow,” says Edmonds.

“I think the most important thing for them—because they've had a lot of tensions with their newspaper clients [around costly and restrictive contracts]—is that they don't want it to have a snowball effect,” he adds. “They don't want a variety of well-respected media coming to the conclusion that they can live without the AP, too.”

He explains many media organizations are still looking at ways to cut costs. “And the AP is a big cost,” says Edmonds. “CNN was easily paying seven figures.”

Though some may consider following the lead of CNN, many news outlets—and in particular newspapers—rely on the AP for more than foreign news.

“A lot of media organizations have made staff cuts, so AP is now covering arts, criticism, science, and other topics many newspapers no longer cover,” says Edmonds. “That has made the role of the AP that much more important.”

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