Excellent story today by Cate Dody in the New York Times explaining how the Associated Press plans to remake itself for a world where its longtime cash cow, the newspaper industry, goes dry.
Its AP2.0 plans involve something called The Digital Cooperative. The pinko-dystopia vibe derives from the fact that AP is not a for-profit enterprise, and it’s doing the Full Digital Dive to position itself for the future. Apparently the plan calls for shifting some editing jobs to reporting jobs so AP can crank out more content, some of it of the multimedia persuasion.
The AP’s digital re-org may help answer three key questions facing those pondering the future of journalism:
How much value to editors add to the journalistic equation? Editors may argue that having fewer editors handling more reporting, as the AP2.0 plan calls for, is a recipe for lousy journalism. We’ll see. (I say this as a longtime newspaper editor myself.) Alas, I’m not sure how one would judge the degradation or improvement of AP reporting over time. The journalistic snobocracy looks down on AP as middling house-brand news as it is. But as a guy who is involved with a web site that rigorously grades news reports in the health niche, I can tell you AP stories rarely suck and often rank right up there with, and often above, the swank dailies‘.)
As news continues to go multimedia, how much of a market will there be for multimedia pre-packs? This is precisely the product AP plans to have its co-op fieldhands produce. I’m guessing the answer is: A really big market. Once you surf below the top dozen news web sites, the amount of original, creative multimedia work done in middle America newsland declines dramatically. I’m guessing there will be a strong demand for plug-and-play multimedia packages that can deliver page views for the web site of the Democrat-Chronicle-Journal Reader and Advertiser without the publisher having to hire a single intern who knows from Dreamweaver.
Can AP bravely draw on the lessons of its own failure? Earlier this year AP shuttered the youth-oriented multimedia venture called called asap. A much beloved product (at least, and perhaps only, by me), asap had some hot young hands doing inspired, if wildly inconsistent, work. Its business model was a failure; it sucked cash from the corpus of AP like a hagfish. Fine. Digital suits often talk about how they need to fund new media experiments, some of which will succeed and others fail but provide lessons for the future. It’s good to see AP bounce back with a new multimedia product. Let’s hope they haven’t leaked all of the fun out of it.
As a co-op, AP differs fundamentally from the newspapers it has long served. As the New York Times article points out, it does not have to labor under Wall Street projections or shareholder pressure. Relieved of the duty of delivering 20 percent margins to owners, it may have elbow room to operate in the digital world that newspapers do not.
Unlike newspapers, after all, AP is intentionally non-profit.