Northeastern Papers Seek Content-Sharing Consortium

Top executives and editors from several major dailies in the Northeast, dissatisfied with The Associated Press, met recently to discuss the formation of a content-sharing agreement that in several cases would serve in place of their AP agreements, E&P has learned from top executives at three of the papers.

A “Northeast Consortium” of newspapers, which will include New York’s Daily News and–at least at the present time–is said to include Newsday, The Buffalo News, the Times-Union of Albany, N.Y., and the Star Ledger of Newark, N.J., among others, is weeks away from announcing a content-sharing arrangement that will include both stories and photos.

The Daily News refused comment to E&P.

One executive who spoke on condition of anonymity and who attended the “summit” of New York-area papers, held in Manhattan within the past two weeks, cited cost savings, more timely exchange of content, and what that executive called “a new spirit of cooperation” as the primary motivations for such an undertaking. This source referred to the “Draconian terms” of the AP, which last Thursday responded to newspapers’ concerns by announcing further rate cuts and restructuring.

During the New York “summit” meeting, there was a desire to make the proposed content-sharing arrangement happen “very quickly,” the source added.

“It’s fair to say that newspapers across America are upset with the treatment they get from the AP,” the executive said. “Newspapers are now taking the view that they want to take events into their own hands. The truth of it is, there is a real desire to get better content, shared among people in noncompetitive markets.”

The concept is similar to a content-sharing arrangement currently in place among seven top newspapers in Ohio, including The Plain Dealer of Cleveland and the Akron Beacon Journal, in which the papers trade stories and photographs. That agreement was forged out of editors’ frustrations with AP’s rates and news practices.

The full details of the arrangement are still being finalized. Another executive commented that each of the participating newspapers “needs to define what the value would be for us.”

Once the Northeast Consortium’s content-sharing deal is finalized, one of the executives added, “Quite frankly, AP is eventually not going to be the only game in town….What’s happening is, newspapers are going to reinvent the Associated Press.”

Last Thursday, AP stated that by the middle of 2009, it will complete a review of its pricing and governance structure, re-examining all current policies and rules–such as the two-year notice now required for leaving the news cooperative–and will consider other potential changes, including the creation of different classes of membership and services.

The AP’s Board of Directors voted last Thursday at its quarterly meeting in New York to provide all member newspapers complete access to all AP text content, at no extra cost. In addition, it voted to approve a moratorium on the rate increases that a minority of newspapers were expected to see in 2009 under the current AP pricing structure.

Paul Colford, AP’s director of media relations, released this statement to E&P this morning: “We are aware of content-sharing initiatives, including the sharing of stories among AP member newspapers using our innovative AP Exchange browser.

“We also understand that a lot of newspapers are reexamining their strategies in this challenging economic climate. The AP has been working closely with its member newspapers to ensure that we continue to offer them an efficient and essential news service.

“Last Thursday the AP Board of Directors took another step in that direction, agreeing to provide all member newspapers complete access to all AP text content, at no extra cost. This decision came as the board also reduced U.S. member newspapers