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The L.A. Times Fades and the A.P. Finds its Voice

When a colleague told me this afternoon that the Los Angeles Times had announced yet another massive round of newsroom layoffs, all I could do is shrug my shoulders and roll my eyes. It seems like every time my attention is diverted elsewhere, the west coast Times comes back with another shocker. This time it's a 10 percent staff cutback, which means that the newspaper that once boasted 1,200 staffers less than a decade ago, now has barely half as many.

Of course, the Tribune Co., which owns the Times, is staggering under a massive debt load just as advertising and circulation revenues are declining rapidly. It is increasingly hard to envision a future for this newspaper, frankly. All the signs read "one way" and they all point south. (Hint: Go digital and do it fast.)


We've been posting a lot here about the Associated Press lately, mostly focusing on the rebellion by some of its member newspapers to pay its new, higher fees, which it has now pulled back from. But an intriguing argument is emerging that the AP may actually be transforming itself from the ultimate service provider to media organizations into a stiff competitor.

In recent years, the AP has undertaken a number of notable investigative series that none of its member organizations could have conducted. Now, in an historical irony of major proportions, the AP is coming under attack for its provocative headlines like:

  • "Is Edwards Real or a Phony?"
  • "Mitt Romney's victory in Michigan was a defeat for authenticity in politics."
  • "John McCain calls himself an underdog. That may be an understatement."
  • "Obama Walks Arrogance Line"
  • "Slick Hillary?"
  • "I miss Hillary."
  • "Biden pick shows lack of confidence."
What's ironic is that the AP came into being in 1846 when newspapers decided to pool resources to cover stories in Europe; and then it evolved to help them collectively to extend their reach and book national advertising revenue, which required a more "objective" editorial voice.

As consolidation in the industry continues, it may in fact make sense for the AP, which has significant reporting resources, to do what its members can no longer do, i.e., investigative reporting and more provocative journalism -- such as aggregating blogs, for example.

The fate that awaits newspapers need not be that that awaits AP. Rather than denouncing this agency for its tentative moves into a more aggressive stance, maybe journalists should be saying, in the old Sixties lingo, "Right on!"

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