Metaphors: Hummer, 1996 Honda

1996 Honda
Jim Barnett’s Why NYT Co. might not be as quick to sell the Globe as you might think at Nieman Journalism Lab

The Globe does cost a lot more than my Honda to operate. But the really big bucks — the $1.1 billion purchase price — is money long since spent. Just like the cost of a new car bought 13 years ago, there’s no way to recover anything close to the purchase price. I can tell by checking the Blue Book value.

General Motors’ Hummer
Steve Buttry’s AP contradiction: Move forward but restore

When I read the Associated Press “Protect, Point, Pay” plan, I think of the Hummer.

General Motors thought it was moving forward when it trotted out the massive sport-utility version of a military vehicle. The Hummer represented a lot of smart work by a lot of engineers and GM sold a lot of Hummers. It carried on a GM tradition of massive vehicles under the Cadillac, Buick and Oldsmobile brands. But how did the Hummer work out in the long run? How’s GM doing today? In a world threatened by climate change and in a nation dependent on oil from unstable regions, the Hummer was simply the wrong move.

Why The Gazette is right to leave the AP collective

So The Gazette is planning to live with the Associated Press. A difficult decision, I’m sure, but one I fully support.

My suspicions were aroused when Steve Buttry tweeted about a meeting with the AP bureau chief and the regional vice-president. And this evening, Mr. Buttry moved this on the Twitter wire:

My letter notifying AP that The Gazette is planning to leave: Column explaining it to our readers should post shortly.

In that letter, dated Sept. 18, Mr. Buttry wrote:

Perhaps the moves you have made to sell AP content widely across the Internet were necessary decisions as you seek to adapt and prosper in the digital age. But those moves certainly have contributed to devaluing your content to members.

Yes, yes, yes. By selling its content to Google and Yahoo and others who take but don’t contribute stories, the AP has made the stories it provides to the wire service’s owners (it is a newspaper collective owned by its newspaper subscribers, after all) more or less useless. Every AP story run in the dead-tree edition has already been available for hours when it arrives on the reader’s front step (or drive way, or bushes, or roof). And it isn’t cheap, either, costing hundreds of thousands or millions, depending on a paper’s circulation.

The Gazette is just one of the papers that have threatened to leave (the AP requires two years’ notice to stop service, a requirement one paper has challenged). But local news is what will keep newspapers afloat, not wire content and certainly not stories readily available from Google or Yahoo.

I’m not saying everyone should be or is getting her news online, but newspapers can’t compete in the long run if they pay more for less valuable content. By raising its rates, AP is pricing itself out of a lot of paper’s future plans. Local reporting is what the AP cannot do to any large degree and it’s what newspapers need more of to save themselves.

Update: In Mr. Buttry’s Sunday column, he gives three main reasons for the decision, similar to what other papers have said:

  • The availability of the AP’s national and international news online lessens the value of the that news to the paper.
  • The selection of state and sports news has declined.
  • The AP has increased rates (6 percent to 10 percent for The Gazette) and decreased the service options.