The Associated Press is giving me an uneasy feeling again.
I want to read the full AP “Plan for Reclaiming Content Online” for myself before I draw firm conclusions. I first read of it at the Eastern Iowa Airport this afternoon on the Nieman Journalism Lab blog entry by Zach Seward. Zach acknowledges that he’s just starting to analyze the seven-page briefing, which was sent to members. He will post further blog entries on the plan and eventually will post the full plan.
I’m writing this post from Denver International Airport. If I were at work, I would inquire of colleagues and try to get a copy of it and read and react more knowledgeably. I will do that, but I want to react quickly to what Zach has reported. The report drew a swift and mostly critical response on Twitter and I want to contribute to that immediate conversation in more than tweets, though I certainly did that. The problem with commenting quickly is that I have to write this long caveat that I don’t fully know what I’m writing about yet. If any of these impressions change on full examination, I will note them.
Let’s start with a positive statement: From what I can see, this plan reflects more understanding of the digital world than earlier AP statements. Dean Singleton’s blustery warning last spring that AP would seek legal and legislative remedies for “misappropriation” of members’ stories showed a complete lack of insight about the link economy. The more recent plan to protect AP content by use of a digital “wrapper” fell flat as AP’s own explanations of its intent and use conflicted.
This plan appears, from what I know, to be detailed and nuanced and to reflect an understanding of the value of links.
That said, I have two strong doubts about this approach:
- The title, “Protect, Point, Pay,” uses two words that reflect the dangerous thinking that plagues way too much of our industry today: The focus on protection of a declining model rather than development of a new, prosperous model and the stubborn denial of all evidence that paid content is not the path to a prosperous model.
- The plan makes a distinction between “utility” and “unique” news that is meaningful but might be controversial among members.
The Nieman Lab account says the AP plan calls utility content “the type and amount of news that is quickly and easily available from other sources.” This sounds to me, almost by definition, to include stories that members supply to the AP (except perhaps for content that members do not post online or hide behind paywalls). That news will be available for members to post on their web sites, while AP will keep unique content (which sounds like it will mostly be photos, graphics and enterprise stories produced by AP staff) available only at an AP site. Related breaking stories available on member sites would link to the AP content on the AP site. That provision prompted “recovering journalist” George Frink to tweet that AP would turn its members into “link farms.”
As I traveled last year for the American Press Institute, I attended some conferences where AP CEO Tom Curley and state bureau chiefs caught flak from angry editors and publishers who felt AP’s wide web distribution of their content was harming its value. If AP’s efforts to “protect” its content protect staff content more than they protect member content, I can assure another outcry. One editor, Mitch Pugh of the Sioux City Journal, said as much in a couple of tweets.
As I noted here recently, I think AP should begin focusing on helping newspaper members develop tools and platforms to serve business customers. To continue trying to protect a content-focused role that is increasingly outdated is not a strategy for success. I hope I read soon, from Nieman Lab reporting or by reading the report myself, that AP is planning something in this direction.