When I read the Associated Press “Protect, Point, Pay” plan, I think of the Hummer.
General Motors thought it was moving forward when it trotted out the massive sport-utility version of a military vehicle. The Hummer represented a lot of smart work by a lot of engineers and GM sold a lot of Hummers. It carried on a GM tradition of massive vehicles under the Cadillac, Buick and Oldsmobile brands. But how did the Hummer work out in the long run? How’s GM doing today? In a world threatened by climate change and in a nation dependent on oil from unstable regions, the Hummer was simply the wrong move.
I think “Protect, Point, Pay” may get some traction with desperate newspaper owners who want more protection and pay. It has some good features with smart engineering. But it’s simply the wrong move.
Zach Seward of the Nieman Journalism Lab obtained and analyzed a confidential AP document explaining “Protect, Point, Pay.” I won’t repeat many of those details here, but if you care about these issues, I highly recommend reading the full report (posted by Nieman yesterday) and the three-part analysis.
The AP document says “Protect, Point, Pay” “provides a blueprint for AP to move forward in the digital world and offers a model for restoring the worth of authoritative journalism online.”
Check out the language of that statement: AP’s planning to move forward and restore all in the same initiative. That’s tough to do. Trying to protect the past too often keeps you from moving forward.
I stand by my original impressions of this AP initiative “to address the revolution in how people consume information in the digital era.” It is thoughtful and sophisticated in several respects, showing more understanding than AP and its newspaper members sometimes have shown of how digital communication works. AP-curated topic pages could soar to the top of search rankings, rivaling or surpassing Wikipedia pages (though AP members might contribute more to that value than they would receive).
I also stand by my initial impression that AP members will worry that this initiative will protect AP better than it serves the members. That’s a strongly held impression in the industry anyway.
Here are the three big problems I see with this AP approach:
- AP thinks its protective measures can “change the conversation with portals and drive traffic — and new revenues — to original journalism.” That might backfire. Protective measures may send users to other information sources.
- AP may be overvaluing its own content. Its biggest service in state bureaus, other than aggregating content from members, is covering statehouses. I’ve been involved with statehouse coverage in five Midwestern states and I can’t remember one where AP provided the best coverage. Nationally and internationally, AP content is stronger and may be growing in importance as other organizations make cuts.
- As I’ve written before, AP would serve its members better by working to provide business solutions we can share, rather than leading this charge to protect the past.
I’m sure AP will make a good Hummer. I just wish it was working on a hybrid.