Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Newspapers Weigh AP Alternatives

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Newspapers Weigh AP Alternatives

Article excerpt

Since the Associated Press announced its controversial rate change last year, many newspapers have started considering other content options. And things are not likely to calm down any time soon.

A handful of dailies -- including several who admit their AP rates actually fell -- have given notice to drop the service, editors in several states are forging content-sharing alliances, and Politico and PA SportsTicker are quickly positioning themselves to help replace the 160-year-old news cooperative in daily news pages.

But is the latest dispute over AP rates and services a real sign that its relationship with newspapers will be forever changed? Can a mid-sized or major daily really exist without the news cooperative? Or is this just a bluff?

"AP is going to lose newspapers, it is a question of how many," says Editor Dean Miller of the Post Register in Idaho Falls, which several months ago gave its required two years' notice that it plans to drop the news service. "My guess is most of their losses will be in medium and small markets." Since the beginning of the year, when the backlash began against AP's rate change, more than a half-dozen dailies have given notice, including The Bakersfield Californian, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, and Washington's Yakima Herald-Republic and The Wenatchee World.

"I think the AP regional report has fallen off in quantity, and in some ways, quality," claims Paul Emerson, managing editor at the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune, which gave notice to AP in September -- even though its rates would drop about 17% under the new system. "It is mostly a concern about content." At least one paper, the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash., is challenging AP's two-year-notice requirement and plans to stop using and paying for the wire service by the end of the year. "The legal point here is that we are not canceling a contract, we are declining to sign a new contract," says Editor Steve Smith, who admits a $30,000 expected savings in 2009, but says the remaining $375,000 AP bill is too high. "More editors are feeling disenfranchised and disregarded by AP."

AP officials declined to comment for this story. But AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll, addressing the rate issue during the Associated Press Managing Editors conference in Las Vegas last month, told a group of newspaper editors there, "we certainly hope that the basic fundamentals of the economy and the marketplace will firm up enough so that the pressure is off some of the people who own the AP."

But even with promised AP cuts, editors have been dissatisfied, saying they cannot afford it. Others have claimed the news content is not what they need, particularly with regard to regional and state coverage. "We are exploring our options to see what our outs are," says Ben Marrison, editor of The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch and one of eight Ohio editors who wrote jointly to AP in late 2007 to complain. "All of our department heads are exploring what it would mean if we had AP or did not have AP."

The dispute dates back more than a year to mid-2007, when AP announced the rate restructuring (and some new services), which will not even take effect until 2009. When the new approach was announced in 2007, AP promised a combined savings of $5.6 million across newspaper member budgets, which increased to $14 million, and, finally, $21 million just days before the AP's annual meeting in April 2008. …

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