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What was missing from Singleton’s AP speech?

I keep thinking about the missed opportunities of Dean Singleton’s speech earlier this week.

What if, instead of bluster and opaquely worded legal threats, Dean Singleton’s address had been a challenge to leverage the breadth and depth of the AP network and its member newsrooms to create something new and better, rather than merely a curse of the darkness? What would such a speech be like?

Some points I’d love to have seen him make:

We’re going to build something better than Google News. Nobody in the newspaper business is going to do a better job than Google when it comes to automation and search algorithms. But what the newspaper industry can do better than any cluster of computers in the world is to edit and curate news. Google News happened because there was a void and Sergey Brin’s robot army was ready and able to fill it. But imagine reclaiming the mantle of “AP News” as a signifier for quality, completeness and currency. Done right, could be Google News with an important and irreplaceable overlay: human editorial judgment.

We will become the online home for curated links. If, as Jeff Jarvis and others argue, the link is the primary unit of online currency, who better to curate the best links for a given news story than a (virtual) roomful of reporters? This will require journalists and editors to stop thinking of themselves as the default “best” source of news information; daily newspapers are collections of generalists who parachute into stories as they happen while topic bloggers and micro-reporters live at ground level and, more often than not, have a deeper knowledge and understanding of the story. As Danny Sullivan said in an already-legendary rant two days ago, “I’ve published content on my topic (search engines) that I know has been of far superior quality than that published by many supposedly ‘quality’ publications. So for them to argue they were somehow ‘quality publications’ deserving special treatment was arrogant not to mention simply incorrect.” So link. Link copiously. Become a source of the best links for any given story or topic. Buy or at least replicate its model of human-filtered search results for a more news-centric perspective.

We will create the best video news hub online. Yesterday, the web was atwitter with news from Brightcove that newspaper-associated video was on fire, spiking to almost 43 million streams in the first quarter, nearly triple the same period last year. That’s great, but to put it in perspective, in January, according to comScore, YouTube delivered more than 6 billion streams. Assuming Brightcove represents about 10% of all newspaper video streams (probably an underestimate, but I’m being safe as I don’t have the data), that means that YouTube is likely pushing at least 40 times the video that newspapers are. My point: there’s a lot of room for growth here, and AP and the newspapers of America can help to drive and organize that news video:

  • Make your video embeddable. Not exactly cutting-edge advice, but you’d think it was looking at many newspaper sites.
  • Create a credible, searchable hub for citizen news video. Pay for it when it’s good. Promote it on your sites and in your pages. Solicit it and create an easy means for creators to share it with you and others.
  • Stop producing videos. Post more news video. You get the difference? Online video is not television. Short, lightly edited pieces are better.
  • Make this a very mobile-friendly channel. Which brings us to…

We are building the most amazing news hub for smart phones. Google got to be as big as it is by creating awesome products that scratched an itch we didn’t know we had. Mobile is mere moments away from becoming extremely itchy. It’s still not too late for mobile, even though your online people have been trying to get you to focus on it since 2004 at least. But the perfect storm of high-quality phones and cheap, fast bandwidth is here. What is the AP doing to take the lead?

We have created a skunk works, a band of talented, empowered geniuses flying the pirate flag in an undisclosed location. Fund a group of the most frustrated and brilliant people in the newspaper business. You’ll find them in newsrooms across the land, pushing great ideas to market, but still feeling that there are even better ideas that never make it past the white board for any number of reasons. They all have stories of thwarted ideas and squashed dreams. But they’re still there, saving the business, one day at a time. Dangle some money and hire the best of them to join a very small team (no more than 10) on a two-year contract, with renewal options. Give the team a budget and some launch deadlines and allow them to build you some products. You don’t get to dictate those products. You don’t get approval. You just feed money to the process, and wait. If you’ve chosen your team well, in six months your investment will begin to reward you richly and in two years time, The AP will be on its way to being more than easy shorthand for “The Last Days of Newspaperdom.”

I’m not saying all of these are easily attainable, but until you aim, you can’t shoot. What other ideas did you think were missing from Singleton’s speech?

What to read next
Ken Doctor    Aug. 25, 2014
“Things” editor, distribution editor, correspondent for progress — as newsrooms change, so do the ways they organize their human resources.
  • Dave Barnes

    You make me laugh.
    Dinky Singleton and innovation in the same sentence.
    Right. And, pigs are flying this afternoon.

  • Wenalway

    Dean Singleton is destined to be the poster boy for the demise of American journalism.

    The next original idea he comes up with will be the first one.

    Dean Singleton: Failure at running his chain. Failure as an AP board member. Failure at journalism. Failure at life.

  • boadicea

    This is such great thinking on how to move newspapers into the future.

    I hope against all hope that AP, or someone similarly situated, will take it and run.

  • Paul Colford


    You didn’t complete your homework.

    A closer view of the AP’s operations would have included the impressive work of AP Mobile.

    For a primer on this, see AP CEO Tom Curley’s remarks from Monday at the AP’s annual meeting in San Diego (with embedded link to a short video about AP Mobile):

    Quoting Tom: “More than 1,100 of you [newspapers] have signed up to make your own branded news available on AP Mobile, and monthly traffic has topped 38 million page views. This week we started testing a paid mobile application with Blackberry. We’ll soon be rolling out a pilot program for local ad sales. Many members – like the Las Vegas Review-Journal – are pressing to become the local news leader in mobile.”

    Paul Colford
    AP Director of Media Relations

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  • Tim WIndsor


    I did not see Curley’s comments, or else I would have included them for balance. I didn’t include AP Mobile in the main post because, in my opinion, it doesn’t break any new ground. But after looking at it again, I do have to admit that it’s certainly better that what you’ll get from most newspapers or TV stations on mobile.

    So, detention half deserved. Though, as the nuns used to say, even if it isn’t deserved this time, I probably got away with something previously, so it all evens out.


  • lambert strether

    Another elite collapse — they can’t imagine making money any other way than they used to, so they try to force everyone to adhere to their failed business model, rather than change it. AP, “health” “insurance” companies, banksters… The same rot, everywhere.

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  • Christine

    I would have liked him announce he was going to stop punishing his still-profitable papers with unpaid furloughs, frozen wages, unfilled positions, evaporated 401(k) contributions, the inability for photographers to replace a burnt flash unit and the firing of hard-working reporters, editors and paginators.

    Then, I would have liked him to give us all a pony, a la Oprah.

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  • Scott Nelson

    No pirate flags or undisclosed locations, but here’s one suggestion to the AP braintrust (sorry, too long to put in one comment here):

  • John Bird

    Decent enough comments, but I fear the viewpoint that bloggers are better equipped to deal with stories than “parachuting generalists”. Yes, bloggers are sometimes closer to stories in their locales than reporters, but they are also generally untrained in fact-finding and usually have a naked political agenda. I would not trust bloggers to do anything other than point reporters in some good directions.

  • MichaelJ

    @ John,
    On the other hand, given the dismal quality of reporting the Bush administration I’m not sure it can be assumed that reporters have earned our trust.

    Except for very few exceptions the reporting on the “meltdown”, the “bailouts” and the reorganization of our economy is not very good. The quality of most reporting on international issues is also pretty dismal.

    So while I appreciate where you are coming from the idea that people in general “trust” the news is not borne out by experience or fact.

  • DaleA

    I’ll echo MichaelJ here. I’d be a more upset at the demise of the traditional newspaper if it had been delivering a decent product for the last decade or so. It’s become undeniable that there are some things that mammoth for profit corporations just can’t do well, and news distribution is one of them. I don’t see why bloggers are by definition untrained in fact-finding. As for having a naked political agenda, do you honestly believe that Rupert Murdoch doesn’t, and do you honestly believe that his agenda doesn’t affect the reporting of his employees? I prefer an honestly stated naked political agenda to corporate-friendly beat-sweetening talking points masquerading as neutrality.

  • Anthony Moor

    Hi Tim,

    2 1/2 years ago Tom Mohr, the then-recently departed head of Knight Ridder Digital called for newspapers to fund a “Switzerland” that could develop common platforms and an industry-wide network. His post is here I remember thinking, at the time, that something along those lines is the only logical way to change the game.

    He lamented that “not a single example of breakthrough online innovation has emerged out of a newspaper company.”

    Nothing’s changed.

    I have participated in endless calls with my newspaper counterparts, during which I’ve rolled my eyes as I realize getting newspapers to act together is impossible. Herding cats.

    The lack of understanding about some of the most fundamental aspects of digital technology and the implications for journalism, information science, business and culture are astounding.

    That said, hope springs eternal for an eureka moment on the part of our industry’s leaders along the lines of what you’ve sketched out. Unless Google’s got a job for this astrophysics major who stumbled into journalism 25 years ago!

  • DanielY

    OK, what happens when an Internet company—could be Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc—decides to create a community marketplace for journalists, photographers, insiders and experts to replace the archaic structure of the AP and other wire services? This technology is available and could add much more value to those who actually create content than the current model. It might also add more value to the folks that Dean has ignored for the last decade—readers!

    The fact is that the model that Mr. Singleton worships is dead—and the arrogance, mediocrity and lack of vision of newspaper executives across the nation have killed it. Newspapers had the opportunitiy to own online firms like Monster and the sites that have decimated their classified business. Their arrogance and short-sightedness in the late 90s prevented this. I remember sitting across the table from a leading publisher in 1999 who bragged about turning down a majority stake in a company called Yahoo. They repeated this mistake with hundreds of start-ups in favor of the belief that one day the Internet would disappear.

    Now as newspapers are going bankrupt and advertisers are moving more and more to new media—what is the response? Its not focusing on innovation, A/B testing their business models, developing new relationships with advertisers, creating greater community with readers or building better partnerships with new media. Indeed, its not creating better content or re-evaluating how they present/slant the news. Instead, their strategy involves picking fights with firms that would destroy them tomorrow were it not for the nostalgia of what newspapers used to be. What happens if Google treats AP content as toxic and blacklists all sites from its search algorithm that carry it—like the AP’s lawyers are advocating (without knowing they are doing so because they are ignorant parasites)? The answer is that publishers will choose being listed by the search engines over the AP. The answer is Google or others will create new models to make the AP irrelevant.

    When your marketing and business strategy is being developed and executed by a team of lawyers—its time to turn out the lights. Perhaps, it is already too late for them.

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