Ask The Editor

April 9, 2009

AP vs web aggregators, part 2: Could newspaper failures have been prevented?

After writing the earlier post on the AP’s claims of copyright infringement by news aggregators and others, I found this article in Business Week. And it says pretty much what I surmised about the AP’s motives:

In a largely overlooked aspect of its battle with Google and other aggregators of news content, the AP plans to build an online destination where it hopes Web users can easily find and read its news stories and those of other content creators. When it comes to compiling online news, the AP wants to out-Google Google. The Web search giant “has a wacky algorithm” for collecting news stories, AP Chief Executive Tom Curley says in an interview. “It does not lead people to authoritative sources.”

So, the AP does intend to compete with Google News or maybe, try to shut it down (fat chance).

Let me say that, as a writer and editor, I am horrified at how many newspapers have failed (and still may fail). But the AP’s current position highlights the awful truth:

It could have been prevented.

All the news organizations own the rights to display their content on the web. But they never devised sensible business models for doing that. Even after Yahoo, Google, MSN, Drudge, and everyone else figured out how to profit from linking to news on the web, those who were generating that news stood around, picking their noses.

Now, late, late, late to the party, the AP decides that it will become an aggregator too, with all its subscriber partners. But, competing against Google News et al is an outrageously difficult feat. (My home page is set to Google News; many cable and DSL providers set users’ home pages to their own news aggregation sites by default).

So, yes,  the AP probably now recognizes that it should have taken advantage of its own assets the moment others discovered value in them. But since it didn’t, and it can’t turn back the clock, it cries copyright infringement, hoping to shut down or maybe slow down the established aggregators and get its own go-to news site up.

Sad, stupid, and infuriating to think, as we watch this melodrama, that possibly, news organizations themselves could have become the equivalent of Google News, years ago, and saved the news.

– Anita Bartholomew

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