McGuire on Media

POLITICO'S move is another episode in the AP/Newspaper saga

POLITICO’S decision to make its material available for major new media outlets is another kick in the contract for The Associated Press war with newspapers.

Not only will Politico provide quality Washington news for newspapers and web sites, it will offer a revenue sharing model. This is from its release: “POLITICO will sell national advertising to be placed on partners’ web sites, and revenue from those ads will be shared between POLITICO and the media outlets.” Now that sounds like a true partnership.

This kind of potential is exactly why I suggested in my last entry that more newspapers should file a two-year cancellation notice with AP.  It is my contention that filing such notices will prompt an important dialogue between newspapers and The Associated Press.  The POLITICO move is also evidence that such cancellations could create a marketplace for ad hoc solutions to the newspaper’s need for supplemental material.

I am convinced that the existence of a marketplace will stimulate and create entrepreneurship on behalf of information providers. That could inevitably mean a richer product for newspapers.

The universal fear among editors and sports editors seems to be whether AP’s sports material can be replaced. Again, I think if some entrepreneurs sense there is a market this challenge can be solved quickly and efficiently. Last week a former student of mine apprised me of a new sports site called Fanmedianetwork.com and while it’s not fully populated yet, it is a great concept.  The site will aggregate fan blogs on every team in every sport.  It’s not a big leap to imagine converting that service into a sports news wire. Certainly one would think that ESPN  is discussing the possibility of starting a sports news wire. They have hired so many former newspaper writers recently they certainly should have the sensibilities required. And, don’t eliminate the possibility of an entrepreneur solving this problem too.

Paid.Content.org has an interesting interview with Tom Brettingen the chief revenue officer of AP.  There’s nothing shocking in the interview, but it did serve to remind me of two things. First, Tom Brettingen is one of the 20 most charming people I have ever met.  He was the bureau chief in Minneapolis in my early days at the Star Tribune. I remember him as a great guy. Secondly, that memory and Tom’s words in that interview, reminded me AP is not evil. That is not what this debate is about.

The debate is not really all about price either. The debate is about news content partnerships in the declining, but still viable age of newspapers. Sure, a big newspaper’s AP bill approaches 5 percent of the total budget and that is a big deal. The bigger issue, though, is what does a news partnership look like and does AP come off as a bully these days for desperate newspaper editors?

There is one other disturbing reality in this debate. Newspaper editors are frustrated with AP and want to find alternatives, yet a lot of major newspaper executives are on the AP board. Are newspaper editors being given free rein to cancel AP and really engage the debate, or are the top executives discouraging that action for fear of embarrassment? I don’t know for sure that is happening, but if it is, it becomes one more example of the strain between editors and newspaper executives.  The industry would be well served if the editors, the executives and AP could sit down together for a mediated problem-solving session.

If something like that does not happen, entrepreneurs at places like POLITICO and ESPN are going to come in underneath AP and create havoc that has a real potential for ugliness.

Without question the best blogger on AP is Doug Fisher . He has wondered in his blog whether the AP’s cooperative model can sustain itself. That would dramatically change this entire newspaper/AP debate. It simply strikes me that a dose of good listening spiced with some tough negotiation would be far better for The Associated Press and for newspapers.