Agencies as the new newspapers?

 Jeff Jarvis made interesting comments here regarding new division of “labour” in the internet age, in this case among newspapers and Google (or somebody – Google is a metaphor). His point is that everybody should be doing what they are best at, and he considers that:

Newspapers are in the wrong businesses. They should no longer be in the manufacturing and distribution businesses — which have become heavy cost yokes — and should no longer try to be in the technology business. They’re bad at it.

This statement by itself is debatable (are newspapers really in the manufacturing business? Were the Beatles in the manufacturing business just because their albums had to be manufactured somewhere, or were they even in the vinyl business, because this was done on vinyl?), while his argument as a whole is fascinating and well worth to be considered.

But what caught my attention was one of his suggestions, or rather a suggestion taken over from Bob Wyman of Google, that

Ideally, every newsroom would be able to think of Google, and all its capabilities, as their own. It just doesn’t make sense for hundreds or thousands of newspapers to try to craft their own versions of all this stuff.

But, if Google doesn’t do this or, because of political issues can’t do it, then Yahoo! or Daylife or even the AP should do it instead. The point is that someone should provide a technology platform that serves as the “paper” for the new journalism and takes the “web site” expense line out of journalism’s budget. The web should be where a newsroom makes money — not where it spends

Jarvis concludes:

And a note to others — Google, the AP, et al: There is an opportunity here to be the platform for news. Takers?

And here I come into the debate. Is a news agency (a wire service in American English) a platform for news from many (all) newspapers in a country (in the world)?

On the face of it, it is – that is what a news agency (wire service) does – produce news. The news agency is also neutral, because it usualy serves all or the most news media in a country or accross the world. It is very much adjusted to internet 1.0 because news agency journalism is a 24/7 business. It is, however, much less adjusted to internet 2.0, because media integration is not inherent (you would probably be surprised how many news agencies do not have photo, not to speak about audio and video), and especially the community issues like citizen journalism.

On the other hand when you take the main idea – every business should do what they are best in and work on their competitive advantage, the suggestion as regards news agencies is probably not sustainable.

What the wire services are good at is getting the news, getting it quickly and getting it more cheaply than what all their customers would pay for obtaining the story (ie. the correspondents etc.) individually. They are good at pushing their news items to their customers (the newspapers, and other media) in the most effcient way. They are good at providing their news items with useful metadata. They are good at selecting what is important from what is just happening.

Why, then, would they host other media organisations websites? Why would the media want them to do it? Agencies have generally no competecy in advertising (which sustains newspapers) and they are a B2B type of business- newspapers are both b2B and B2C businesses.

On top of that the media have ambivalent relationship towards news agencies – even AP, which is a cooperative (not the only wire service model in the world) had big issues with members regading prices this year. If they do not wish to pay for what they realy need – the news – why would they pay AP to be a platform for their output? And if the media and the public (through advertisements) will not pay, who will? Or why should the AP take the challenge?

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