Wired: AP Byline Strike Hopes To Send Message

2008 is wrapping up pretty poorly for The Associated Press, which this week saw two more setbacks: an employee byline strike and a new online distribution deal for Reuters, its competitor. The latest developments follow a series of bad news over the last couple of months, including newspaper publishers canceling their memberships and new competition from a wire service launched by CNN.

The strike isn't a work outage--rather, it's a "byline" strike by 1,400 Associated Press employees who are members of the Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America. They are withholding their bylines as the guild negotiates with the AP about a planned freeze on salary increases and spiraling medical costs.

The byline strike is mostly symbolic, but it will be noticed by readers used to seeing a journalist's name associated with news content. It also reminds AP executives of the potential scope of a real work outage.

Also this week, Reuters struck a deal with Politico, the online political news emporium, that gives publishers in Politico's news-sharing network access to Reuters' articles alongside Politico's original content in return for a portion of the ad proceeds. Online publishers can use up to 10 Reuters stories and 10 photos from the news service every day; they can also use Reuters' content free in their print publications for six months, after which they have to start paying for it.



The Politico Network counts more than 100 online and print publishers as members, including 67 newspapers that have joined the network since it launched in early September. Among these are The Arizona Republic, Des Moines Register, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as all 27 dailies owned by Advance Publications, including the Star-Ledger, based in Newark, NJ, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, and the Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

These are just the latest in a series of setbacks for the AP. In late October, the beleaguered Tribune Co. said it was dropping its AP membership, and E.W. Scripps is said to be considering the same. Earlier this year, The Columbus Dispatch, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, and several other regional newspapers said they were canceling their AP memberships. Eight Ohio newspapers formed their own news-sharing service, hinting that they might drop the AP, and Pennsylvania papers are considering a similar move.

In November, CNN announced the launch of a new wire service, which the cable network is pushing as a low-cost alternative to the AP. CNN Wire will draw on reporting from about 3,000 journalists around the world, according to CNN. More recently, the McClatchy Co. said it will share foreign news stories written with The Christian Science Monitor on a trial basis; the temporary three-month deal may be extended and even expanded in the future.

Feeling the squeeze from all this competition, the AP announced in late November that it will cut 10% of its total workforce in the coming year, or about 400 positions out of a total 4,100. Chief executive Tom Curley said that a substantial proportion of the cuts will have to come from the newsroom, since journalists already make up three-quarters of the AP's staff.

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