Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Bleeding at Both Ends

By Shawn Healy
Who is to blame for the imminent death of print media? According to the April issue of the American Journalism Review, the finger is pointed squarely at the Associated Press (AP). Paul Farhi, in an article titled "A Costly Mistake?," looks back at the decision the AP made a decade ago to sell its content to AOL and other internet providers for online distribution of content.

From the beginning, the AP was the primary provider of news for CompuServe, Prodigy, and Excite, and migrated to Yahoo, MSN, and the Huffington Post as the latter sites assumed the high traffic mantle. Most recently, news aggregating giant Google has gone so far as to integrate AP stories into its own template rather than linking to other sources.

While the AP has benefited from this digital explosion, the news organizations that have owned the nonprofit cooperative since 1846 have floundered, forced to compete directly with news aggregating portals powered by their own work.

Certainly, the AP is not solely to blame, as nearly all news organizations offered their content free of charge on their own web sites. This has bred an assumption shared among readers that "If you won't offer it to me for free, another site surely will."

Instead of boosting the prominence of its members' web sites from the outset, the AP orchestrated a coup de grace. In the aftermath, newspapers are ending their affiliation with the AP out of both disgust and a feeling that the content it provides for syndication is overly ubiquitous.

The AP and its member organizations essentially made news into a commodity, sacrificing pricing power, and leader to reader migration to the web without proportionate advertising revenues to finance the high costs of original reporting.

Farhi writes, "In a sense, the AP is now suffering from the business equivalent of an autoimmune disease, when the body turns on itself. The AP has been strengthened by customers from outside the newspaper circle. But those new customers have helped foster a competitive climate that has weakened the health of newspapers, which could threaten the newsgathering ecosystem that the AP brought into being 163 years ago."

The tourniquet to stop this proverbial bleeding is elusive, but may emerge from the very organization that punctured the skin. The AP is in the process of exploring a "cooperative passport program" where readers would pay a single price for universal access to online news content. My fear is that this would lead to further abandonment of news consumption altogether, the other piece of the multivariate equation that plagues newspapers.

Their salvation is not a predestined outcome, and the AP is now pursuing other defensive measures, including filing suit against aggregators who profit from the free dissemination of their content while hiding behind the "fair use" fortress.

Both paths may neutralize the most promising aspect of online news, namely its viral nature. Many of us now consume news through RSS feeds, links on social networking sites, or simple email forwards, abandoning the home page of news sites altogether. By tangling the web instead of enabling its infinite expansion, the AP and its constituent organizations may induce the premature death of an industry now wobbling uncontrollably through the web.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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