The rapid impending closure of news service Australian Associated Press (AAP), is one of those occasions when you don’t know what you have lost until it has gone.
After 85 years of operation, AAP is set to close on 26 June with about 500 people out of work as a result.
While most news consumers might not be greatly aware of AAP, they would be amazed to know that great chunks of the news they read and listen to originates from AAP stories.
Wide range of news begins with AAP
From photographs to court stories to coverage of parliaments around the country and even from around the world, many of the stories you hear, read and see come from AAP and it is not yet clear how that basic and unbiased level of coverage will be replaced.
It goes even further with the vast majority of share price tables, television programs, racing fields and form guides and even company press releases also coming through AAP and its affiliate Pagemasters.
Even those lofty commentators who spout their confidently held opinions from media pulpits will have constantly monitored the AAP newswire for “inspiration’’ – news stories from which they can find the next issue to keep their readers, listeners or viewers happy.
If you want to see someone who is really terrified about the loss of AAP, just have a chat to a chief of staff or news editor from any media organisation and ask them how it will change their life on a quiet Sunday.
What is behind the AAP closure?
The central question about the impending death of AAP is why it is happening and whether there are any sinister overtones about its closure.
On one level, the end of AAP is simply a story of a business failure, with the major shareholders – in this case the big media organisations by Nine (which also owns Fairfax), News Corp Australia, The West Australian and Australian Community Media – pulling their support for a company that is losing profitability.
The reasons for those falling profits include the declining revenues caused by internet-based media disruption – an atmosphere in which those that pay good money to generate news often see their work slavishly copied.
Is there a hidden agenda?
To make matters worse, these internet giants are also scooping up many advertising dollars to support the “news’’ they pump out – advertising dollars which might otherwise have been spent with traditional media companies that still employ journalists.
There is also a darker theory about AAP’s closure which is that the big media companies that owned AAP were essentially sick of paying the substantial amount of money they contributed to keep the newswire running, only to see smaller competitors paying much less to subscribe to the newswire getting the same service.
Plans to internally replace AAP already afoot
That speculation has only been enhanced by the fact that News Corporation (ASX: NWS) and Nine Entertainment (ASX: NEC) have already made some plans to rehire some of the staff from AAP and form internal newswires.
Current AAP chief executive officer Bruce Davidson is also planning to establish a new business with some of the profitable parts of AAP such as Pagemasters.
Of course, there could be elements of truth in all of these theories.
If you put yourself in the position of a major media organisation, fighting against internet giants that are cutting your lunch and small competitors who are snapping at your heels, it might be tempting to rob them all of one of their advantages that you have been paying for.
Or it may have been as simple as trying to save some money – rumoured to be as high as $8 million a year in the case of News Corp Australia – and coincidentally score a rare win against some competitors at the same time.
Predominantly, however, in a business sense there may not have been a practical and profitable future for AAP in its current form and with the media disruptors continuing to grab news for free or on the cheap.
Which all means that even with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission now investigating the closure over competition concerns, there seems little that can be done to save an organisation despite its admirable history of informing the public for the best part of a century.
However, in a year’s time when you are commenting that there doesn’t seem to be as much news around as there used to be, you will probably be quite correct in believing that the demise of AAP is behind it.