Is AP content still relevant on Web sites?

Many of us have been arguing for years that adding additional Associated Press content to a newspaper will only hasten its decline.

The reasoning is that AP content is typically added to save money, but it’s commoditized content. People can find the same content in another publication. So, why would they read yours to get it?

Most likely they won’t. So, by trying to save money, a paper will most likely lose more money because it has made its content less appealing. This can partially explain losses in newspaper circulation.

Do people really read their local hometown paper for wire copy? Of course not.

AP content makes even less sense on the Web. Steve Yelvington says to stick a fork in AP because it is done. What real purpose does highly commoditized content serve on the Web?

Very little. The trend has been towards more local content and social networks for users. Users are joining social networking sites because it allows them to connect with people that share similar experiences of beliefs. They are looking for unique experiences.

Local and hyperlocal content are unique to specific publications. It’s the kind of content that is guaranteed to draw unique eyeballs. And it’s the kind of content that newspapers should be striving to produce.

I often flip open the page of large metro newspapers (I’m looking at you Plain Dealer) and find tons of wire copy. Well, I also read The New York Times and other publications. If The Plain Dealer wants to fill their paper with day-old stories that first appear in the Times or the AP, I’ll probably pass.

I simply don’t read a newspaper about Cleveland to get news that can be read anywhere.

Yelvington explains: 

Local news websites are under tremendous pressure to build audience. Having generic AP content isn’t an effective way to do that, so they’re turning to blogging, photo galleries, social networking tools and databases of local information.

At some point, wire copy is not merely of low value, it’s of negative value. Local sites are drowning their users with too much stuff, too many links. As Jakob Nielsen has said, every added link subtracts from the prominence of every other link. A cleanup is in order.

Nielsen is absolutely right. Many Web sites are hindered by the wall of information. The wall of information occurs when a homepage has too much information and too many links. It overwhelms readers.

Rather than stick around and try to make sense of all the noise, readers leave. This is why a site like the Drudge Report is so popular. It’s very easy to find what you are looking for.

Beyond a content and commodization standpoint, AP just doesn’t bring in the money. At my paper, we just don’t get the page views on AP content, which is why we use less of it on our Web site than our print edition does. Other papers notice the same lack of internet in AP content on their Web sites.

The smart thing to do would be to jettison AP content from most newspapers and Web sites. It isn’t good business practice, especially if you are a local newspaper.

There is a place for AP content, but it has to be displayed properly. My paper only runs AP content related to the military or Pentagon. We at least filter the stream of content for readers.

The future of journalism, especially on the great equalizer known as the Web, is more local and niche content. Users can get content about national and international stories from a myriad of sources. The only way to get more eyeballs to your site, and to build a more loyal user base, is to offer your users unique content.

And good content.