The mandatory two-year notice of departure served up last week by the Tribune Company on Associated Press was the strongest shot yet across the bow of the wire service. Other organizations have done the same to the venerable AP in recent months, while some are likely contemplating the same in order to deal with their costs, the service itself and their participation in it as content providers who need to find new markets on their own.
AP is introducing a new rate structure that changes the package of material it will supply as part of a basic service. It's a complicated formula, but in general it compels outlets to pay a premium for non-breaking news. The notices (also served up by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Bakersfield Californian, and others) send the signal of discord with the new packaging.
Now, two years is a long time in this business, and there is no shortage of ideas on how AP might refashion itself to keep Tribune (which has such titles as the Sun-Sentinel and Sentinel in Florida, the Baltimore Sun) and others in the fold before they leave contractually. But it's a clear indication that news organizations feel emboldened to look for other suppliers to manage their non-local news costs.
In our case, we left The Canadian Press as a newspaper chain in mid-2007 and strengthened our own Canwest News Service. We contracted to such firms as Reuters, Agence France Presse, Press Association and others to supplement existing suppliers like The Daily Telegraph, Bloomberg and others for non-local content.
The move kept more funds within our company, permitted us to hire a new generation of journalist to help us drive change, gave us a tighter-knit relationship with a domestic service, and also meant we were no longer sharing our journalism with our competitors through a cooperative. It's hard to imagine, one year or so into the experience, how the service could have done any better.
Having worked at CP for 14 years (and run its competitor for about a year), I know how valuable news agencies have been. But in a challenging age of expense management in newsrooms, those agencies have to be nimble, niche-like when it matters, and on the same page about how content is shared. These days they have competitors across any category and there are other places to shop.
AP is a giant, so it can withstand the departure of any single organization without wilting. But if its rates are an issue, and its philosophy of what constitutes basic service and premium services even more of an issue, it is bound to have more notices arriving in the mail.