There are lots of musings out there about ASNE’s cancellation of this year’s annual convention, but the one that grabbed my attention came from my friend Steve Buttry. Steve opines that a merger between ASNE and APME makes the most sense. I think it is important that the record show that merger between the two organizations is not a recent discussion.
Steve Smith pronounced APME the feistier of the two organizations and in my ASNE-biased mind that has certainly been true when it comes to merger. I don’t want to engage in any neiner-neiner” across backyards, but right at the turn of the millennium there was a great chance for a merger and it fell apart.
A 2000 article in E & P says that there were no merger plans, but the two entities were ” emphasizing a commitment to work more closely with each other.” Yeah, right. Those were was the really the words of a broken down negotiation that never flew. I was there.
Jerry Ceppos, who was president of APME in 1999-2000 acknowledged in a Poynter piece last year there was “a process that led from my fairly private dream of a merger of ASNE and APME . . . to a simple last-ditch effort at cooperation between the two groups . . . . to the failure of both ideas because of organizational rivalries, among other reasons.”
That is a key quote. The talks fell apart because of rivalries that were in my mind always a bit mysterious. I still believe Rich Oppel and I, the top two officers in ASNE at the time, could have pulled it off politically, but we never got the chance. Jerry had been the instigator of the idea and he showed tremendous political courage by raising the issue. He got politically annihilated by APME board members who apparently thought ASNE was playing the role of the bully. That despite the fact Jerry carried the idea to us. I learned a long time ago that if somebody calls you arrogant, you have at least made somebody feel as if you have behaved arrogantly. Perhaps ASNE did something that was arrogant, but I never got it at the time.
The reason this blog is important historically is because one of the key players over the years in making a merger difficult was the Associated Press. Can I hand you a smoking gun that proves that? No, I cannot. However, while I was born at night, it wasn’t last night. I am convinced to my core the AP actively lobbied against such a merger repeatedly. At one point I was told AP offered new assistance to APME to keep it running. Perhaps that was the right thing to do, but I do think it is a tad misleading to say organizational rivalries stopped a merger. Institutional rivalries were at play too–AP’s.
Ceppos said in his 2008 Poynter piece, “Maybe my ideas came too early. Maybe I was a bad politician. But everything has changed (except for my political skills), and it’s clear that now is the time to merge to produce one blockbuster group rather than two diluted ones–if it’s not already too late.”
I do not fault anybody’s political skills. I do acknowledge dramatic change. I don’t know if it was too late in 2008 and I don’t know if it is too late now. But with the profoundly changed role AP is playing in today’s newspaper world, perhaps it is time to have the discussion about one merged organization with AP sitting on the sideline without exerting influence.