The statewide news you get in Alaska – particularly hourly radio updates – might be about to take a hit.
How big a hit? No one knows.
How important a hit? Hardly anyone seems to care.
Or at least the established Alaska media, most of which has long relied on the Associated Press, has ignored this story even though AP members – not to mention the listeners and readers of AP news – appear destined to be affected in some way by the unannounced departure of the Alaska Dispatch News from the AP family.
As an AP client, ADN reportedly provided about half of the AP’s in-state revenue before ruling “the essential global news network” unessential. As an AP member, ADN gave the AP liberty to freely circulate a lot of ADN content to other AP members around the state and nation.
The best-case scenario for other AP member papers and stations, particularly those in Alaska, is that ADN’s decision to go it alone means only the loss of ADN copy once carried by the AP. The worst-case scenario would be further cutbacks in AP Alaska staffing because of lost revenue.
For the AP, the revenue loss amounts to “two FTEs,” ie. “full-time equivalent employees,” said Larry Campbell, a former Alaska bureau chief for AP.
The AP now has four reporters in the 49th state — three in Anchorage and one in Juneau.
It remains unclear how AP will respond to the new fiscal reality. Officially, AP Vice President and Director of Media Relations Paul Colford offered this bromide by email Thursday:
“AP will continue to provide a strong, vital news report in Alaska.”
He did not respond to an email asking for details. Campbell said the AP Alaska Bureau is already so small it would be hard to cut much more, but suggested AP might change its focus to better serve Outside customers who will be picking up a greater cost of running the bureau if it remains the size it is now.
ADN was paying AP $170,000 per year. The price was revealed when the new owner of the newspaper, Alice Rogoff, sued the former owners of the newspaper, The McClatchy Co., contending she’d been cheated on a $34 million, two-year-old newspaper sale. She blames McClatchy for the ADN’s inability to get out of the AP contract two years ago.
Campbell, who now edits a newspaper in Oregon, expects AP to keep a reporter in Juneau no matter what happens.
“Just for tradition sake, you want to keep a capital correspondent,” he said, but the news service could probably drop the part-time staffer it has long hired to help out there when the Alaska Legislature is in session.
If the Juneau position remains, that leaves three AP employees in Anchorage who might be in position to be cut, but “I don’t know if they’d cut that much more,” Campbell said. “They’re all (News Media) Guild, except for (Mark) Thiessen,” AP’s Alaska editor.
“I don’t know if they can even move them because they’re all Guild,” Campbell said
AP and the Guild reached agreement on a new, three-year contract in the fall of 2014, and the Guild at that time reported that it had “pushed forced transfers off the table.” There is nothing to stop AP from asking Alaska employees to relocate, however.
And the organization has quietly laid people off in the not-to-distant past.
Campbell said AP never asked him to provide a balanced budget as bureau chief, and there was always a recognition the Alaska bureau was covering the 49th state not just for Alaskan clients but “for the rest of AP.”
Whether AP still needs people in Alaska to cover Alaska, however, is an open question given the way media is evolving. Communications have so shrunk the world that it might now be cheaper to cover the 49th state from somewhere other than in the 49th state.
“You absolutely could” do that, Campbell said, noting news from Alaska now is regularly routed through a regional news desk in Phoenix. Certainly, he said, all editing duties – if not all reporting duties – could be moved elsewhere.
A nonprofit cooperative owned by the about 1,400 U.S. newspapers, AP is in some ways no different than the newspapers which are, or were, its largest customers. It has been struggling to consolidate and economize in a world where the internet has seriously disrupted old business models built around disappearing print publications and print advertising.
Founded in 1846 after five New York City newspapers united to fund pony express riders bring news of the Mexican War as fast as possible, the AP grew and flourished when it started running a “wire,” first with telegraph and then with teletype. In the 20th Century, the “AP wire” was how news was spread to newsrooms around the country.
And then the tubes changed everything.