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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Monday, October 20, 2008

You can't spell cheap without AP

The word that newspapers around the country are starting to rebel against the Associated Press and its pricing structure brings back a lot of memories -- and they aren't good ones.

I'm old enough to remember United Press International, the AP's one-time competitor -- until tight financial times prompted newspaper editors to drop UPI and create what in effect is a monopoly that is now facing a challenge from the very members who made it so powerful in the first place.

Wire services are a strange form of media. For much of their history, they collected local news items from customers and repackaged it as their own. Specialized staffers did original reporting in business, health and government, but for the most part, it was a regurgitation service, with overnight staff combing the morning papers papers for news and churning it back out for the afternoon papers.

You can see the problem right there. As afternoon papers (and local dailies) started to disappear, the need for repackaged news and pictures disappeared.

UPI, unlike AP which is a cooperative owned by "members," felt the heat first -- aided and abetted by weak owners and managers who eventually saw the service purchased by News World Communications, owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

UPI's problems accelerated when the New York Times dropped the service, similar to what is atarting to happen now. The AP easily filled an obvious hole, but at a significant financial price, a common characteristic of monopolies.

But the media world today is far different than it was when UPI hit the skids. The web, for one thing, serves as a vast wire service. Google and Yahoo News basically serve the same function without the rewriting -- or the cost. And the AP is the predominant source for both those aggregators.

That has undoubtedly created myriad headaches for the AP's brain trust because they are now, in effect, competing against themselves. And by some accounts, not so well:

...[E]ditors and publishers at some other papers have become vocal critics of the way The AP operates, saying that it charges more than they can afford, delivers too little of what they need and — particularly galling to them — is sometimes acting as their competitor on the Internet.

“They seem to have forgotten that they are there to serve us,” said Benjamin J. Marrison, editor of The [Columbus, Ohio] Dispatch.

The financial realities of today's media means the trend will continue. The AP, like the members it serves, hasn't found an effective way to charge for the free content on the web -- except by charging those very members extra for the right to use that copy in their own online editions.

But bloggers eager to stick another nail in the MSM's coffin shouldn't be too gleeful. If AP copy disappears from the web, we will lose important links too.

There is no doubt some smug satisfaction among Unipressers saying "I told you so." But don't write the AP off. They may be squirming a little, but they will survive.

And by the way, the other half of that headline motto was: "You can't spell stupid without UPI."

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3 Comments:

Blogger saraht said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

October 20, 2008 4:46 PM  
Blogger saraht said...

The Last Republican

October 20, 2008 4:47 PM  
Anonymous jr said...

Oh the memories ... I wonder if UPI would still cash that 1986 paycheck that bounced?

October 21, 2008 4:02 PM  

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