AP Finally Joins the 21st Century

When it comes to defining old media, you don't get much older or stodgier than The Associated Press (AP), which has been delivering the news for 165 years. In December 2011, it decided to finally join us in the 21st century by defining a new policy that would go beyond merely breaking a story first and go so far as to add value to it with analysis, video, and more.

My first reaction upon hearing this news was that this is precisely what any online news site worth its salt has been doing for the better part of the past decade, but then I remembered who I was dealing with and decided to applaud the effort.

AP has always shied away from opinion, though, preferring instead to be the objective voice of journalism. In fact, last fall, it showed how little it understood newfangled ideas such as social media when it released a tweeting policy that for all intents and purposes tied the hands of any AP reporter hoping to use Twitter to share interesting links with followers.

At the time, instead of taking the plunge into social media, AP instituted the following policy: "Retweets, like tweets, should not be written in a way that looks like you're expressing a personal opinion on the issues of the day."

But senior managing editor Michael Oreskes, in a memo to staffers in December (as reported on The Huffington Post) indicated times were changing at the AP offices. He wrote: "AP wins when news breaks, but after an hour or two we're often replaced by a piece of content from someone else who has executed something more thoughtful or more innovative."

To that end, AP is asking reporters to add value to stories beyond merely reporting the facts. The key thing that sticks out for me in the new directive is the "journalism with voice" part. This means that the AP is removing the shackles from its reporters and letting them voice their opinions.

This is a huge step forward for the staid AP, which up to now has tried to maintain a veil of objectivity, a vestige of 20th-century journalism, which has long passed its due date. The most interesting writing has an opinion, and it's about time the AP came to that realization. After all, everyone has a bias; it's better if readers know what it is from the outset.

That's not to say that I believe reporters should go full bore and become advocates for a given position. Responsible journalists should, however, provide some analysis that gives readers insight into a certain subject. It is their job to relay a story, complete with the facts, the figures, and the feelings involved.

The AP for the most part has complained bitterly about the changing journalism landscape. As I wrote in my March 2010 Media Redux column, AP's CEO Tom Curley-who recently announced his retirement-and his compatriot Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp., spend an awful lot of time bellyaching about Google. Curley has gone so far as to accuse Google News of stealing his content-despite the fact that AP has a contract with Google.

That's why this shift in strategy is so dramatic. It's a complete about-face, in fact, from the anti-internet, objectivity über alles approach that it has taken up to this point-and it's a huge step in the right direction.

The question remains, however; is it way too late to matter? AP is in a unique position in this instance because it is still often the first on the story. As such, by simply layering on more content as the story breaks, whether that's additional details, analysis, interactive discussions, or multimedia, it can continue to build on that initial story and keep its readers' eyeballs.

It's so ridiculously sensible that it's hard to believe that AP is actually doing it. Yet, even AP, after all this time, is finally waking up to the fact that the world is changing in dramatic ways, that 24-hour news cycles are history, and that it must deal with stories that break and change from minute to minute.

Who knows. First AP starts allowing an opinion, and the next thing you know, it will have a liberal retweet policy. It's a slippery slope when you give your reporters the room to provide analysis. But if the old stalwart is beginning to understand the way news breaks and builds on the web, perhaps it's just a matter of time before it recognizes the power of social media to drive those stories.

And maybe--just maybe--Tom Curley can finally be quiet about Google once and for all. A columnist can dream, can't he?