May 24, 2008

Why AP Is the Way It Is, and Where It’s Going

Filed under: Business Moves,MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:46 pm

Anyone wishing to understand why leftist bias pervades US “mainstream” media reporting will benefit from reading Steve Boriss’s May 18 column (“Is the Associated Press Good for America?”) at Pajamas Media.

Boriss quickly runs down the history, and gets right to the point: The self-described “not-for-profit cooperative” has a history of acting as a monopolist:

Marshall Field III, grandson of the founder of the department store of the same name …. tried to launch the Chicago Sun in 1941, but struggled because AP member Chicago Tribune blocked his membership, freezing him out of the ultra low-cost news available to members. Field took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found the AP in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The Court in its decision quoted legendary appellate judge Learned Hand, who wrote of the dangers of AP’s monopoly: “In the production of news every step involves the conscious intervention of some news gatherer, and two accounts of the same event will never be the same. … For these reasons it is impossible to treat two news services as interchangeable, and to deprive a paper of the benefit of any service of the first rating is to deprive the reading public of means of information which it should have; it is only by cross-lights from varying directions that full illumination can be secured.”

Unfortunately, the AP’s legal defeat led to no discernible increase in competition among newspapers.

The result? In most cases, one version of “the news”:

….. in any other business, if there were a highly successful paper in one city, it would be natural for it to expand to a nearby city to dethrone the leader. But as members of the same AP network, papers assume their cities belong to them, and no other member has the right to invade it. Even if a neighboring paper did invade, the AP network makes it nearly impossible for them to succeed through competition because all papers are essentially running the same stories anyway.

The end result of the AP network has been the creation of a news supply chain that reliably turns out monolithic, center-left news.

Now, the AP is taking steps to cut out the middlemen, i.e., their member publications (internal links added by me):

….. the AP, which was created by its member papers, has turned on its masters in at least three ways. First, while its members’ businesses are shrinking, the AP has used their fees to mushroom into a huge, full-service news outlet with more than 4,000 employees working in more than 240 bureaus worldwide. Second, last September after AP members made the foolish complaint that Google News was not paying them for words in the brief synopses linking to their articles, the AP made a deal with Google News (link is to Boriss’s Future of News web site — Ed.) to feature the AP’s version of the story, and ignore similar stories at the members’ own sites — a move that, no doubt, has cost members a good deal of online traffic. And just recently, the AP launched a program to make its stories available on iPhones, preempting its members’ necessary efforts to restore their ability to generate and deliver their own, valuable original content.

The comments that follow Boriss’s column are instructive, including but not limited to these:

  • In one comment, Boriss himself predicts that AP might evolve into a BBC-like entity. He also “justifies,” to a point, leftists’ perception of media bias against them: “The Press isn’t actually ‘Left’ — they are center-left and establishment friendly. And they only speak in that single voice. So, if you are left of center-left they seem right and if you are middle to right they seem left. And for all those who don’t agree with the establishment position, they are pro-establishment.”
  • Another commenter who says he is a longtime AP staffer noted big changes: “When I started (late 1970s) and for most of my time there, we were the Joe Friday of journalism — the “just the facts” guys/women. Opinions and columns were clearly marked, and we were told, in no uncertain terms, that our opinions were not to go into news stories.” No one can credibly argue that this is the case today — not while Jennifer Loven, Jeannine Aversa, Scott Lindlaw, or Martin Crutstinger ply their trade.
  • Yet another notes that AP staffers “HATE bloggers.” Well of course they do. I would suggest that many of them see it as their duty to “offset” what those eeeeeevil center-right talkers and bloggers are saying and writing — which would explain why AP’s content has drifted relentlessly further and further leftward in the years I have been following it, and why, during a Republican administration, they “cling to recession” when there hasn’t been even one quarter of negative economic growth.

The solution to this unhealthy near-monopoly is the creation of a viable, comprehensive, competitive alternative news-gathering organization at the source level. There are signs that something like that may evolve, but there are also indications that the growing friendliness between AP and info behemoth Google that Boriss alluded to will work to stop anything that might spring up dead in its tracks.

(Disclosure: Yours truly is a weekly Pajamas Media columnist.)

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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