Thursday, August 19, 2004

Commune of the Newsroom

Regarding my recent criticisms of the Associated Press, Henry from Edina (or Uh-dee-nah, as Laura Ingram pronounced it yesterday at the Bush rally), writes in with an insider's account/history lesson on how wire services do business:

The insidious thing about the Associated Press is that it's a commune of the newsroom, which is a factual observation, not a statement of opinion. The AP is a cooperative of which the various news media are members, not subscribers. At one time, UPI was a major competitor--before it went on life support a couple of decades ago, but UPI operated under a tremendous handicap--it was an always-money-losing operation of the Scripps-Howard chain. When newspaper profits began slipping from obscene to huge, Scripps-Howard cut and ran.

I had the good fortune to begin a media career in the Omaha and St. Louis bureaus of UPI in 1961-1963. I don't know how AP bureaus work today but--in them thar olden days--they fed off galley proofs from the local newspaper in which they--and most often UPI--were housed. We, at UPI, had to dig for each and every one of our facts. Okay, confession time, we'd pull text from the Omaha World-Herald and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but made enough calls to legitimize our baby and we certainly rewrote anything we lifted.

AP probably is indispensable, doing for news what Yellow Freight does for cargo, moving around a lot of stuff. Most news on the wire is inconsequential politically and serves as a report of what's going on around the country--fires, traffic fatalities and so forth. I believe AP would like to think it handles politically oriented news the same way, but it appears not to do so. It's a damn shame that its editors are failing to keep "grandma's" reporters from doddering into the left lane of news traffic. Keeping them on the straight and narrow would be such a public service.

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