Tuesday, June 22, 2010

CNN drops AP

By GARY BAUMGARTEN
Paltalk News Network

NEW YORK - While growing up in Detroit, we, of course, cheered for the Detroit Tigers. But we had a healthy respect for the New York Yankees. Later in life, while stringing for UPI, we competed ferociously with, but had the same kind of respect for, the AP.

AP was the seemingly omnipresent news giant.

Why?

Because the Associated Press is a cooperative. Which means that the work of every member newspaper, TV station, radio station, cable news network and now - Internet news site - can be picked up by the wire and sent to all the other networks.

So, while its bureaus are an important component of what the AP does, they key to being all knowing and all seeing are its members.

It's always been common belief among journalists that if you're an operation of any size, you need the AP to know what's going on in the world.

Apparently not at CNN - which bills itself as the world's news leader.

CNN has dropped the AP, effective immediately.

To be sure, CNN is beefing up its internal wire service - adding reporters to its bureaus. And it will backstop its own news gathering capabilities by re-subscribing to Reuters for breaking news.

Also, - just like AP depends on its members - CNN relies on its affiliates to tip them to things happening in their backyards. But even so, CNN can't hope to cover as much ground as does the AP.

Which means the news content will suffer.

CNN already experimented by previously dropping its AP membership at its radio network. I worked at CNN Radio (or CNNRadio as we liked to brand it) for a decade as bureau chief and correspondent in New York. My friends at CNN Radio in Atlanta tell me they've been struggling to cover breaking stories ever since.

They'd see an AP news flash on CNN television but they'd not be able to report on it until they were able to independently confirm the information. Or until the CNN wire caught up with the AP.

Extremely frustrating when you're putting together an hourly newscast and trying to compete with NPR and CBS and ABC Radio.

Now the same frustrations will be felt by their colleagues at CNN television. When other all-news networks and stations interrupt with breaking news, CNN will be lagging behind. Except when it, its affiliates or Reuters are on top of the story as well.

CNN has one other advantage. It's built up a loyal following of citizen reporters, who dutifully send in video of news events - like tornadoes, fires and floods - they stumble upon. Oftentimes that actually puts CNN ahead of the AP

So maybe this will work for CNN. In the end, it probably doesn't matter if it does or doesn't. What matters is the perception of the audience.

If the audience believes CNN is kicking its competitors' butts, this will be viewed as a tremendously astute cost-saving measure.

But if the consumers of news get the impression CNN is lagging in news coverage - and ratings suffer - it will be seen as folly.

Of course, CNN can compensate with better analysis of the news it presents. Giving it perspective and depth. But that's something the network - and all news outlets - should be striving for anyway. Whether they are AP members, or not.

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