As recently as the mid-1980s, the newspapers that ostensibly own the Associated Press constituted 50 percent of its revenue. Over the past decade, with the explosion of syndicated news on wesbites and the proliferation of cable news channel, cashflows have come increasingly from new media customers, who tend to favor more soft news coverage on topics like entertainment and lifestyle. Smell like a recipe for disastrous internal strife? Funny, because that's exactly how it's turning out! It was one thing when the editor of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette likened AP's CEO to a Soviet apparatchik this past April. But now even the insane revolutionaries at Sam Zell's Tribune Company are staging a mutiny, moving to cancel the wire and saying AP is charging higher prices for less hard-news (think state and local) content:
I think many editors are concerned about the new financial rate model that AP has rolled out," Earl Maucker, editor of the Sun Sentinel, said about the notice. "It is a natural approach for us to take a hard look at that. Are there other alternatives out there that would provide the depth and breadth of coverage we need?"
Although Tribune can't get out of its contract for two more years, it's planning to terminate deals for all nine of its daily newspapers, including the Sun-Sentinel, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. The company's concerns likely mirror those of other newspapers grumbling about recent changes at AP and about, in the words of the Wall Street Journal this past June, the organization's "perceived insensitivity to newspapers' financial hardship. The AP requires a seven-figure annual payment from most large newspapers, and it makes it very difficult to opt out of certain services."
Sensitivity to America's dying newspapers, which fancy themselves (not entirely inaccrately) as guardians of the noblest journalism traditions, is all well and good. But it seems likely AP will largely continue in its new direction of softer news for newer platforms: While the print world stagnated, AP's revenues have tripled in the last 20 years.