AP’s Curley warns on unlicensed use of news

Friday, September 24, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An enforcement mechanism needs to be created to help curb unlicensed use of news on the Internet, Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley said yesterday.

Curley said an effort was under way to track websites engaged in content “scraping,” and that he planned to name 18 of them at an industry meeting today — including one with revenues approaching $100 million. He refused to name any of the sites in his speech at a training program run by Associated Press Managing Editors at the First Amendment Center.

Any site that “scrapes” AP material “doesn't do any of the work — there's a lot of that going on,” Curley said. “That's where we have a lot of work to do, and that's part of us taking control.”

When sites post newspaper and AP content without permission, the appropriation also deprives managers of key information on how their stories are being eyed by customers, Curley said.

“We let others walk off with the customer data, and the business that goes with that,” he said. “That's one of the things we have to stand up and fight on.”

Curley also said 900 newspapers had signed up for the news cooperative's voluntary digital registry, and that 700 were receiving real-time tracking data. The AP believes the service can help it and newspapers find new moneymaking opportunities from online licensing and advertising. Curley said the registry “is a start — we need to kick it up.”

Newspapers are facing sharp declines in print subscriptions and the advertising sales that account for most of their revenue. All are looking for ways to make money.

One way to control who uses content is to create a universal sign-on, Curley said, citing AP's Top 25 college football website as an example.

Understanding news consumption allows managers to best allocate staff and resources, Curley said. “You have to define the most important stories in your market and you have to be great on those stories,” he said. “One size no longer fits all.”

Curley said key news coverage areas the AP was focusing on include terrorism, the drug war along the Mexican border, elections, freedom of information and state legislative coverage.

“That's the base,” he said. “I think you really have to go in and say, 'These are the areas that are important.'”

“The potential impact of a journalist has never, ever been greater,” Curley said, saying journalists can show readers and viewers the impact of the news.

“They can't do that at Google,” Curley said. “Only [journalists] still ask the tough questions.”

Using the Freedom of Information Act is one way to gather important stories, Curley said.

“The government stiffs you pretty good” with delays, he said, noting that some requests have “been there for 15 years.”

“We've got to put the resources wher the reporters we have left can be more effective,” Curley said in calling government-held information an important resource. He noted AP's continuing efforts to sue government agencies when necessary to obtain public information under FOIA.

Data on public interest in news should help drive decisions on how to “cover the rest of the waterfront,” Curley said. “That's where we really have to be smart about understanding the customer and quickly jumping on things that make sense for our communities,” he said.

The Associated Press is a not-for-profit cooperative owned by its member newspapers and broadcasters, a global network providing coverage of news, sports, business, entertainment, politics and technology in all media formats.

First Amendment Center intern Laura Stephenson contributed to this report.