Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
“Modern” homepage design increases pageviews and reader comprehension, study finds
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
March 13, 2009, 8:39 a.m.

How one newspaper is adjusting to life without the Associated Press

The list of major newspapers that have announced their divorce from the Associated Press is substantial: the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, the New York Daily News, the Tribune papers in L.A., Chicago, and elsewhere. And others are mulling their options.

But AP rules require a member newspaper to give two years’ advance notice before leaving the cooperative — so the papers that have decided in recent months to jump ship haven’t yet had to live without AP content. (Or, for that matter, AP costs.)

In the comments on one of our posts, I heard about one paper that had already cut AP entirely out of its pages: The Norwalk Reflector, a 9,000-circ daily between Toledo and Cleveland in northern Ohio. Publisher Andy Prutsok decided two years ago, shortly after taking office, to drop out of AP, which was costing the paper $48,000 a year.

The two-year mark eventually passed, and the switch became official about three weeks ago. He says he hasn’t gotten a single complaint from readers about it — and that his readers expect local news from their local newspaper, not national or international headlines. If they want news from far beyond Huron County, they have other options.

Admittedly, what a 9,000-circ paper draws from AP’s services is very different from what a huge paper like The Chicago Tribune does. But I was still curious how the transition had worked out so far in Norwalk. I interviewed Prutsok over email; the transcript is below.

Q: What were the factors that led you to pulling out of AP?

Prutsok: For me it was my history. I came out of the Boone Newspaper Group, based in Tuscaloosa, Ala. A great organization of mostly small dailies (under 10,000) and some weeklies. The papers were generally highly leveraged or at least operated as such and we just felt AP was a luxury, in many cases one we couldn’t afford or didn’t really need. People didn’t read the Suffolk (Va.) News-Herald or the Clanton (Ala.) Advertiser for national and world news. The Norfolk and Birmingham papers were in racks every place we were and if that’s what people wanted they had access to much more of it for the same price. We considered our franchise to be 100 percent local news.

I brought the same thinking with me to Norwalk when I came here late in 2006, plus I detest two-year outs on contracts and find it offensive. I will not sign anything like that. In early 2007 I canceled our AP contract as a matter of routine. Advertising was still reasonably strong at the time and it wasn’t really a cost-cutting issue. But I could tell things were getting screwy out there and wanted to have my options open when the time came.

As things turned out, our economy turned way south — Huron County, Ohio, our home, had an unemployment rate of 18.3% in January, the worst in Ohio, and that’s about as bad as it gets. So not renewing was really a no-brainer. If I could cut $48,000 off my bottom line, why not?

Q: What kind of changes did you have to make to the paper to make up for the absence of AP content?

Prutsok: Really about the only change we made was a redesign of our front page to eliminate some national briefs we were running in our rail. AP copy was only used as filler otherwise. The only concern we had was agate and we found we were able to get that through PA Sportsticker out of New York. Actually, they have a superior agate package than what we were receiving from AP. We have encountered some formatting issues (we’re only a few weeks into this), but our IT folks are working on it and I’m sure we’ll have it straightened out. We also subscribe to the McClatchy-Tribune wire, MCT Direct. The total cost of the two reduces our monthly wire costs by 67 percent.

Q: What AP services are you missing the most?

Prutsok: I just spoke with our news editor about this and there’s really nothing. It was easy, he said, when there was a three-inch hole to fill to go to AP and flow it in. It’s not much more difficult with what we have now, just a change in habits.

Q: What’s been the reaction from your readers so far?

Prutsok: No reaction. It’s a bigger deal to us than it is to them. Our readers couldn’t care less if we carry the same news that they can get off the evening news.

Q: In my interview with Ron Royhab, we talked briefly about the prospect of the Ohio News Organization selling access to its papers’ stories to other, smaller outlets like yours. Is that something you could see The Reflector buying (assuming the price was right)?

Prutsok: We would be interested, but it would depend on price. Via MCT Direct, we have access to a considerable amount of Ohio content. Apparently all papers that buy MCT Direct have to let MCT pull from their stories and then all can use. It would need to be less expensive than what we are paying MCT.

Photo of downtown Norwalk by Seth Gaines.

POSTED     March 13, 2009, 8:39 a.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
“Modern” homepage design increases pageviews and reader comprehension, study finds
A new report from the Engaging News Project shows that users prefer modular, image-heavy homepage designs.
Newsonomics: The halving of America’s daily newsrooms
If you’re lucky enough to have the right deep-pocketed owner buy your paper and steady it, you’ve won the lottery. If you’re in a town whose paper is owned by the better chains, or committed local ownership, your loss will probably be mitigated. Otherwise, you’re out of luck.
Gimlet wants to become the “HBO of podcasting” — here’s what its founder’s learned trying to get there
Alex Blumberg, CEO and co-founder of Gimlet Media: “People who like public radio like podcasts, but people outside of public radio also like podcasts. So let’s find those people.”
What to read next
1119
tweets
New Pew data: More Americans are getting news on Facebook and Twitter
A new study from the Pew Research Center and Knight Foundation finds that more Americans of all ages, races, genders, education levels, and incomes are using Twitter and Facebook to consume news.
542Putting the public into public media membership
Getting beyond tote bags and pledge drives is critical to the sustainability of public media. Is there an alternative vision of membership that relies on relationships more than money?
538How Upworthy is using data to move beyond clickbait and curation
After hiring Amy O’Leary from The New York Times, the site has started using user data to inform its original content production.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
California Watch
NBCNews.com
The New Yorker
Kaiser Health News
San Diego News Network
Chicago Tribune
American Independent News Network
News Corp
Medium
St. Louis Beacon
Davis Wiki
InvestigateWest