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December 06 2011

22:30

The AP brings a quasi-competitor into the fold

In 2008, eight Ohio newspapers, upset with what they saw as high prices charged by the Associated Press, rebelled against the wire to form their own statewide news-sharing service, the Ohio News Organization. With rare exceptions, stories produced by any of the newspapers could now be published in any other members newspaper — without the AP having to serve as an intermediary.

That inspired Roy Hewitt, longtime sports editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, to form a similar organization for sports journalists. The National Sports Content Sharing Network formalized what sports writers and editors have already been doing for years — freely sharing stories and columns with one other. There are now 55 U.S. and Canadian members.

Today, the Associated Press is embracing, not shunning, the network. The NSCSN will begin using the AP’s Marketplace distribution platform to share content.

Hewitt said he made the deal on three conditions: “One of those was that it would be free, which is guaranteed for at least the first year, and it’s not expected to cost after that because AP is not looking at this as a revenue stream. No. 2, that it would be open to people who are not AP members, because you do not have to be a member of AP to be part of [the exchange]. And three, that the material only be available to members of the network,” he said.

The AP software already integrates nicely with most members’ existing content-management systems; it replaces an existing platform that required a lot of copying and pasting. For the NSCSN, it means a dramatically simpler workflow.

“For us,” said Jim Reindl, the AP’s director of sports products, “it’s happier members.” In other words, the AP’s support engenders good will and exposes more would-be customers to its software. Two small U.S. papers that are members of NSCSN — Hewitt wouldn’t say which — do not belong to the AP.

“The historic record is there of the unrest we faced in Ohio a few years back, and it’s no secret that the Cleveland Plain Dealer is one of those newspapers,” Reindl said.

The agreement does not change the way NSCSN works. It is a cooperative; no money changes hands. Papers put content in and they get content out. The network carries the kinds of stories that might not make the AP wire — all of the columns, sidebars, and analyses generated by a big game.

“I certainly saw how OHNO could be helpful to papers with reduced resources, but it’s not something new to us in newspapers,” Hewitt said. He left news for sports 31 years ago and has spent the last 19 at the Plain Dealer. “We’ve always shared with other sports sections around the country. It doesn’t happen for metro, it doesn’t often happen for features…but it’s never been unusual if the Browns were playing the Steelers for me to call up Jerry Micco at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and say, ‘What do you got this week that might be of interest of my readers?’ And offer him the same. We’ve done that forever.”

The AP has a recent history of helping smaller papers cover sports in a time of declining resources. This spring the wire introduced “hometown leads” for Major League Baseball coverage. For news outlets that can’t staff away games, AP reporters file stories about the losing team in addition to the typical winner-focused stories. After hearing very good feedback, the AP expanded the service to NFL, college football, and college basketball this summer.

Image by flickr_lisa used under a Creative Commons license.

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