No More Associated Press?
Dis-Associated: The tension between Maine’s major daily newspapers and the Associated Press is mounting. According to an informed source in the industry, the Portland Press Herald, Bangor Daily News and Lewiston Sun Journal plan to take steps, possibly as soon as this weekend, to protest the AP’s new rate structure, scheduled to take effect in January 2009.
No matter what form that protest takes, it probably won’t mean the papers will stop printing wire-service stories any time soon. Papers must give two years notice before leaving the AP, which is a cooperative owned by its member news organizations.
Nationally, at least six dailies have announced plans to quit in 2010.
One of them, the Yakima Herald-Republic, is owned in part by the Blethen family, which is also the majority owner of three Maine dailies, the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal in Augusta and Morning Sentinel in Waterville.
The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash. is challenging the two-year notice for withdrawing from its wire-service contract, stating it wants to be AP-free before the new rates take effect next year.
Officials at the paper refused to comment on whether that action was a protest or a test of the Star-Ledger’s ability to cover the news without assistance from the AP.
In 2007, the wire service announced a new rate structure, promising it would save members $5.6 million, a figure that was later upgraded to $14 million. It divided AP offerings into two tiers – one that included breaking news, sports, business and entertainment information and another premium package that carried lifestyle, analysis and other non-breaking stories. Even though many of the protesting papers reported their 2009 bills from the AP had declined slightly, they weren’t satisfied. They said they wanted a system in which they paid only for the materials they used, a so-called “cafeteria” approach.
“We want to receive about a quarter of what we now get from the AP and pay about half our current fee,” an Idaho editor wrote in a letter to the wire service announcing his paper’s plan to terminate its contract. “A quarter of the product for half the price seems fair and doable.”
Calls to editors at the Bangor and Lewiston papers seeking comment on the Maine protest were not immediately returned today.
Distant: If the Sun Journal drops the AP, how will it report stories in its own backyard? In its Sept. 17 edition, the paper relied on the wire service for its front-page coverage of a Portland news conference introducing the new owners of a company seeking to build a casino in Oxford County.
But failing to send its own reporter to an event 40-odd miles away that could have a major impact on a significant portion of its circulation area doesn’t bode well for the Sun Journal’s possible AP-less future.
Dysfunctional: From the Sept. 17 edition of the Original Irregular, Kingfield’s weekly newspaper:
“In the absence of rational arguments and as part of the near conclusion of the Irregular’s energy series thus far, LaBrecque said it can be determined that there are no silver bullets offering hope that the future will remain like the past.”
(I have no idea what that means – but it scares me, anyway.)
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.