Editors React To AP Rate Cut: 'A Good Starting Point' Or 'This Changes Nothing'

This story was written by David Kaplan.
The Associated Press' decision to revise its controversial member pricing plan received a mixed reaction from editors at newspapers that have submitted notices asking to exit the fold in two years. Editors appear keen to listen, but no one is willing to say this is a mind-changer. Still, the papers have achieved their first goal: getting the AP to take their concerns seriously and getting a break on their membership fees. And it's worth pointing out that the cancellation notices only represent a fraction of the over 1,500 AP members.

Last week, The Tribune Company and Columbus Dispatch both handed their notices that would allow them to sever their contract with the wire service in two years, though Tribune stated it would continue actively talking to the AP about seeking changes to the pricing plan. They joined six other papers that gave the AP notice over the summer: Minneapolis' The Star Tribune, Idaho's The Post Register, The Bakersfield Californian; and three Washington State dailies, The Yakima Herald-Republic, Wenatchee World and The Spokesman-Review. Here's some of what these newspapers say about AP's turnaround:

-- "Not withdrawing notice": I spoke to Sarah Jenkins, editor & VP of the Yakima Herald-Republic, who noted that the AP's board acted after last week's announcements. While saying the notices didn't drive the decision "per se," Tom Brettingen, the AP's chief revenue officer, told paidContent's Staci D. Kramer that "putting in a cancellation notice to give the paper a chance to leave has always been a way to get our attention." As for her take on the AP's promise to cut member assessments by another $9 million next year, for a total of nearly $30 million, Jenkins said she is listening, but that the paper was not prepared to withdraw its cancellation notice. "For us, part of this is money we were in what AP calls the '10 percent minority' facing a rate increase in 2009 but it's also about 'customer service,' if you will. And in the press release, at least, the board is saying that AP is willing to look at the content and customer service issues we've all been concerned about. It's also worth noting that Sam Zell, the man now at the head of the Tribune Co., is on the AP's board of directors Starting the clock [on cancellation] was a business decision based on the uncertainty of the future, and that has not changed just because they've issues a press release." More react after the jump.

-- "A good start": Gary Graham, editor of The Spokesman-Review, called the board's decision "a good starting point," AP reported."I'm encouraged that the AP board is responding to the concerns that many of us have had." That's quite a turning point as well, since the paper had threatened to sue the AP in order to get it to waive the two-year waiting period. Ben Marrison, editor of the Dispatch, also told AP that the wire service appeared to be showing greater understanding. However, he added it was too soon to decide if the paper would back away from its desire to cancel its membership. Meanwhile, Nancy Barnes, editor at the Star Tribune, also told the AP reporter that she's open to hearing more about its plans.

By David Kaplan