To Partner or Not to Partner? Distributing News in the Internet Era

By Palser, Barb | American Journalism Review, December 2007 | Go to article overview

To Partner or Not to Partner? Distributing News in the Internet Era


Palser, Barb, American Journalism Review


Local content is king. That's one of the celebrated facts of the networked information age. Unfortunately for local news organizations, the strategic implications of that fact are a little murky.

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As national portals--for instance, the Google/YouTube behemoth--make moves to distribute and host more local stories and video, there's paralyzing uncertainty as to how the owners of that content should respond. Should they partner with Google to scatter their content to the ends of the earth, trusting that it will bring new audience and revenue to them? Or should they guard that unique asset and refuse to send it anywhere without getting paid? (See "Online Salvation?" page 18.)

This isn't an academic question; local news organizations are under desperate pressure to produce profits from their Internet and mobile ventures. As they walk the tightrope between a diminishing traditional business and a promising but immature new one, there's a sense that any strategic misstep could send them hurtling into the void.

Two recent media partnerships illustrate how complex this game of content ownership and distribution can be. The first is the one between Google and the Associated Press. On August 31 the following story was published, ironically, on the AP wire:

"Internet search leader Google Inc. on Friday began hosting material produced by The Associated Press and three other news services on its own Web site instead of only sending readers to other destinations.

"The change affects hundreds of stories and photographs distributed each day by the AP, Agence France-Presse, The Press Association in the United Kingdom and The Canadian Press. It could diminish Internet traffic to newspaper and broadcast companies' Web sites where those stories and photos are also found--a development that could reduce those companies' revenue from online advertising."

That idea didn't sit well with the aforementioned newspapers and broadcasters, but the actual impact on local news sites is likely to be subtle. The partnership relates to the Google News site--not searches on Google.com--and to AP stories that are carried on the national and international wires. Instead of linking to dozens of sites with the identical AP story, Google News now hosts the AP story on its own site.

Practically, this shouldn't be a big deal. No local news organization should be dependent on random Google News links to national AP stories that happen to be on its site. Symbolically, however, the AP-Google business relationship raises the question (not new) of whether the AP--a not-for-profit cooperative owned by its 1,500 daily newspaper members--is a friend or foe to those members in the digital age. …

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