The changing face of AP
I don't know what percentage of stories and photos in small- and medium-size newspapers come from AP and other wire services, but I do know it's substantial. Indeed, many local papers could not put out a daily without the copy provided by wires. And as belt-tightening owners continue to shrink down their own newsrooms, the demand for AP content only grows.
Which is why so many editors are worried about AP's shifting strategy, as outlined in today's Wall Street Journal:
Long a newspaper-centric organization, the AP has shifted its focus in recent years. With readers and advertisers migrating away from news on printed paper and toward cable TV and the Web, the AP is devoting more of its resources to producing content for other news outlets. These include the very Web portals that pose the greatest competition for newspapers, such as Yahoo and Google, which are now among the AP's biggest customers.
Newspapers account for only 27 percent of AP's total revenue, the story says. The big money is in covering Wall Street for Yahoo Finance and the like. And the revenues are being invested in tailoring content to mobile devices.
This doesn't mean AP will stop writing stories, but it isn't as interested in staffing bureaus in places like Ohio or Montana or Arizona. That means less local copy for local papers. In fact, concerned editors in Ohio say AP is becoming more of a taker than a giver.
MediaNews Group CEO Dean Singleton is chairman of the AP board and in the same WSJ story he defended the change in focus:
[Singleton] says that he welcomes a healthy debate about the AP's role in reporting and delivering the news but that the editors' complaints are misguided. "When you're faced with downsizing your news operations and making dramatic changes in how you operate, you always look for someone to blame," he says. "And AP has been a handy entity to complain about."
Singleton knows plenty about being blamed for harming newspapers. But his defense is not simply political. What is AP is doing is consistent with his own strategy, which is to break down the walls of individual newsrooms and to create more of a MediaNews wire service that shares content over a broad region. This gives him leverage to be the "local" provider of quick-hit wire pieces to mobile phones and computers, while the AP focuses more on national niche markets - entertainment, politics, business, etc.