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Newspaper frustration with the high cost of the Associated Press–and some misguided perceptions about what AP does–is creating some interesting new competitors for the venerable wire service.
The New York Times has a story on CNN's nascent effort to offer its reporting to newspapers on a syndicated basis. And an outfit called GlobalPost has been quietly laying plans to create a Web-only international reporting service, with some fairly big names attached. It's scheduled to launch in January.
Aside from newspaper-based syndication services and Reuters, these are the first significant challenges to AP to arise since UPI cratered a couple decades ago. In that time, AP enjoyed a near-monopoly on providing wire service reports to newspapers and others, and along the way picked up a reputation for being expensive and a bit arrogant–if not competitive to the newspaper companies that own it.
Faced with threatened cancellations from several member newspapers, AP recently rolled back its recent rate hike a bit (and announced staff cutbacks to go with it). The arrogance/competitive problem is a bit harder to deal with. A lot of newspaper people perceive that AP takes their work and sells it to competitors like Google News, when in reality what Google, Yahoo and others get is original content produced by AP–and the fees from Google, et al, help offset what the wire service charges newspapers. (By contract, AP can't sell newspaper-produced content outside the industry, which gets it through AP's state wires, not the general wires.) Still, this attitude leads to things like nutty calls for newspapers to abandon the AP or to figure out other ways to keep Google from "stealing" newspaper reporting. Sigh. What decade are we in, anyway?
In any event, AP now has some company in providing national and international news to newspapers. CNN's offering seems to have potential, if the cable TV network can provide high-quality text-based coverage (not necessarily its forte). GlobalPost makes somewhat less sense–with a need to have a staff of expensive foreign correspondents, its business model isn't very clear, especially with many newspapers cutting back on international coverage in general to focus more on local news.
Online, there's another alternative, which newspapers seem to have problems figuring out: Beef up coverage by aggregating links from other news sites. I'm always flabbergasted to hear editors complain about sites that link to them (somehow, in this view, the linkers are stealing content,), when in fact that traffic is almost always additive--and newspapers should be doing the same thing themselves. Newspaper sites should be the central source of links to anything they cover, and they should use those links to supplement coverage they can't do themselves.
This is what NBC and Examiner.com are doing with their news-aggregation sites; for that matter, it's the secret behind Google News and the DrudgeReport, which are significant traffic drivers for many large newspaper sites. You'd think newspapers would take the hint and start aggregating links for their readers. That would be a lot cheaper than the AP or any of its new alternatives.