This week, each of our newspapers received a memo asking that they send AP release letters in advance of what will be an eventual move away from the wire service. I’m quite sure this was met with angst in some places. Though I think it’s the right move for our community products for the reasons I explained in that memo, I understand there might be trepidation.
That’s why I was glad to receive this email from Dan Shearer, editor of our Green Valley News and Sahuarita Sun. He said I could reprint it here, so I’m giving you a slightly edited version. Take it away, Dan:
Wow, (ditching AP is a) big move. Overdue, too.
We did this about three or four years ago. … Within two months, we’d dropped nearly all AP from the news side and cut the wire editor’s hours from 40 to 20. And the paper got better (even with a couple of layoffs that year). Finally, we had a focus (local, local and local).
Here’s what I’d recommend people check in on right away: …
- Does your local college/university have a news service? Arizona State University and the University of Arizona both do. The UA has a legislative reporter we use three months a year because our people want that. There’s also an investigative reporting non-profit that does decent work (http://azcir.org).
- Obviously, nearby papers are a big help. For us, it’s the Nogales International. We rarely use anything from the other Wick papers because of proximity, though Sierra Vista is in our congressional district so we use that. I’d resist the urge to create a Wick News Service so papers can share work. It works against the push toward local and tends to be more work than a lot of editors can handle. … The best we can hope for is to give editors in your area a heads up if you have something they might want. And scope out Wick newspaper websites with regularity.
- If you have strong local freelancers, consider increasing that budget instead of making a new hire. (We saved $17k/year by dropping AP, not enough for a FT hire.)
- Prepare yourself for the vocal minority to complain. We still have people canceling the paper today because they don’t understand the role of a community paper. They’re looking for the White House; I’m giving them the school house. I tell them we supplement the Arizona Daily Star, we don’t compete with it. Generally, people not connected to the community don’t want our paper. Those people are few, and I don’t worry about meeting their needs.
- I thought our online numbers would take a big hit when we dropped AP. Not so. We kept the AP feed online until the service stopped and it accounted for 10-15 percent of our overall page views. But with a renewed and refined push for local, we easily made that up. It was never an issue. (By the way, we discovered a year or so later that AP was still picking up our stuff and putting it online under their bylines. So check that their not thieving once the contract is done.)
- Big move: We dropped coverage of UA sports. Frankly, the former sports editor loved doing it (and was good) but no way we could compete with the Star’s coverage. The mantra to the reporters remains: Give me what nobody else has. I understand all our papers are in a different situation — some are the main news providers in university towns, so our choices may not make sense for them. A place like Sierra Vista is interesting. It’s somewhat remote, I don’t think the Star has much foothold there, and it’s a paper people may actually rely on for national/int’l news and sports. But it’s also an audience that can find all of that online.
I have not had one regret since dropping AP. Like I said, we’re better off not having the crutch.
— Dan Shearer