The AP is fighting an uphill battle

Arriana Huffington wrote:

More and more new-media sites now perform two of the key functions formerly reserved for the old-media establishment—breaking major stories and offering original investigative reporting. And they do both with the speed, interactivity, and transparency that are the hallmarks of the Internet.

and Tom Curley said:

We content creators have been too slow to react to the exploitation of news content by third parties without input or permission. Random distribution of traffic by aggregators such as search engines directs audiences and revenues away from those who invest in original news reports. And randomness assures the aggregators and their ad networks a stream of revenue based on the aggregation and indexing of published news content. The content creators must act quickly and decisively to take back control.

The AP is fighting an uphill battle

Companies who absolutely defined Network and Speed in the Old Era prior to the rise of search, distributed feeds and photo sharing had all the market power. The AP was the model aggregator and distributor via satellite, leased line or Telex. It was the only game in town. The AP combined Network (180+ bureaus) with Speed (generally first on most major stories) for a truly differentiated, nearly unreplicable offering.

Today, this unique and differentiated Network and Speed combo has been completely undone by the Internet. Proof? Who broke the Hudson river landing last winter? A guy on Twitter on his iPhone. Where did the most compelling photos of the Green Revolution in Tehran come from? People on the street with Nokia camera phones. Where does the best digital industry news come from - The AP or 000s of online marketing bloggers? What's a more compelling top-line snapshot at the state of world business, Google News or AP Top 10 Business Headlines?

This new competition for eyeballs is hardly "Randomness" as Curley states. It just appears so to organizations that fiercely protected the production of truth and factual reporting with regimentation and strict ways of newsgathering. This randomness is actually a viable, self-policing super-organization that is capable of producing "good enough" news more quickly, more nimbly and occassionally superior to what AP struggles to write and shoot every day. It's enabled by broadband and mobile Internet access that gives every pair of eyeballs more choice and access to news from any source than ever before.

AP Internet News is now just one of dozens of industry news feeds that I scour every day. Five years ago it was pretty much my only source for digital industry news.

The inverted pyramid news story, which at best moves an hour or two after news breaks, still has a role to play, as a critical reality check on the citizen and Low-Pro news production that comes before it when stories break, and as a critical factual anchor source for the 000s of derivative news stories that will follow.

But it's no longer the only game in town, and the AP needs to move beyond this bedrock of news production to remain viable. Curley is correct that unauthorized re-use is an affront to AP's expertise and quality, but at the same time his strategy is sisyphean. The web is far too large and unweidly to police in the ways he plans. His News Registry approach tries to preserve the old guard but misses an opportunity to transform the web, and to become a leader in doing so.

Rather than try to draw lines in the sand to protect the old way of doing business, the AP must re-package its expertise and quality-news capabilities to acheive its larger objective of informing the world with facts and objectivity. By taking a page from the playbook of aggregators and platforms, AP can marry its capabilities with open-source distribution techniques to raise the bar for everyone.

In my next post, I'll suggest some ideas for how companies that have traditionally differentiated themselves using offline Network and Speed can transform these capabilities to lead the charge into digital channels.

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