Where Can The AP Find Content Theft? In The Mirror.

Yes, I enjoy working with many AP staffers and I am fortunate to have a number of friends among the nearly 4,000 people at The Associated Press. The AP's best work, on Guantanamo inmates and on recipients of federal bank-bailout money, is terrific. But the AP vow that it will be diligent about protecting the intellectual property of newspapers makes my Spidey sense tingle.

One of the worst offenders is the AP itself. The bread and butter of an Associated Press report is not global or national enterprise reporting, it's quick rip and rewrite work that rebrands and distributes newspaper content. Sometimes, the name of the paper that did the work is part of the AP package. Often it is left out. Nothing Google does will destroy brand value as fast as repackaging original content and omitting all credit.

In a few minutes of searching just now, I stumbled on a typical situation. An Iowa paper, the Des Moines Register, ran an article about hospital budget cuts.  A short while later, there was an AP story about hospital budget cuts from Iowa. In this case, the AP piece on the Chicago Tribune website actually credits the Des Moines paper. Often, too often, there is no such credit.

The AP is a collective and any AP member has a right to the locally generated news report of other members. Very occasionally, a story from one paper will run on a state wire as is — with full credit to the paper where the story started. As every newspaper editor knows, the more common situation is content laundering — the AP does a very light rewrite, strips away any credit, and allows any other paper to use the story.

Typically, this is a big portion of a state or regional wire report. When I worked in Pennsylvania, for example, where there is a talented and hard-working AP crew, it was common for the AP state wire to serve up stories to members that were essentially uncredited rewrites from local newspapers.

What if the AP simply distributed the original stories — allowing content to be shared among members as it was published, without an AP reporter making a call to confirm information or rewriting the article. That would be a real content-sharing cooperative, similar to cooperatives springing up in Florida, Ohio, New York and New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Maine.

Is Google the enemy? Or is it a long-standing practice of rebranding and re-distributing content under the AP flag that is really hurting newspaper companies? If the AP wants to expand its search for content theft, a good place to start would be a long look in the mirror.

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