Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

AP Blues

Posted by Ron Coleman on May 18, 2008

Steve Boriss on the Associated Press:

Marshall Field III, grandson of the founder of the department store of the same name, also challenged the AP monopoly with mixed results. He tried to launch the Chicago Sun in 1941, but struggled because AP member Chicago Tribune blocked his membership, freezing him out of the ultra low-cost news available to members. Field took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found the AP in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The Court in its decision quoted legendary appellate judge Learned Hand, who wrote of the dangers of AP’s monopoly: “In the production of news every step involves the conscious intervention of some news gatherer, and two accounts of the same event will never be the same. … For these reasons it is impossible to treat two news services as interchangeable, and to deprive a paper of the benefit of any service of the first rating is to deprive the reading public of means of information which it should have; it is only by cross-lights from varying directions that full illumination can be secured.”

Unfortunately, the AP’s legal defeat led to no discernible increase in competition among newspapers. Not a single, financially viable paper has been launched in the more than 60 years since the decision.

But the real problem is not the number of newspapers we now have, but that they refuse to compete with each other, a symptom of the AP-created culture of collaboration over competition. For example, in any other business, if there were a highly successful paper in one city, it would be natural for it to expand to a nearby city to dethrone the leader. But as members of the same AP network, papers assume their cities belong to them, and no other member has the right to invade it. Even if a neighboring paper did invade, the AP network makes it nearly impossible for them to succeed through competition because all papers are essentially running the same stories anyway.

The end result of the AP network has been the creation of a news supply chain that reliably turns out monolithic, center-left news. Each evening, the New York Times and Washington Post coordinate their stories, creating what is erroneously referred to as the “national conversation,” but is really how the world looks to editors writing for audiences in the nation’s liberal centers of money and power. These stories are then slavishly followed by the TV networks, spread by the NY Times, Washington Post, and AP news services to metro papers, whose stories are, in turn, slavishly repeated by local TV stations.

This AP-supported journalism culture deprives Americans of their birthright as codified by the Founding Fathers.

Very, very interesting. Still, I wish he had cited that part of the “code,” because I am not sure where a right to monopoly-free newspapering is written in the Constitution (he did say “Founding Fathers”).

I think the AP is despicable for a lot of reasons, too, but I’m a little surprised a libertarian law professor such as Glenn Reynolds, via whom I found this link, doesn’t enunciate either a constitutional argument to buck up Boriss here, or a free-market defense of the application (successful or otherwise) of antitrust law to a First Amendment protected activity such as reporting.

What I’m getting at here is that I don’t quite understand the political economy of Pajamas Media in this article in terms of what I thought it was in general, except that, well, yes, we righties hates the AP. Can’t we do better than that?

Cross-posted on Right Wing News.


3 Responses to “AP Blues”

  1. Ara Rubyan said

    Honestly, I don’t read many dead tree editions of newspapers anymore. But when I did I noticed a trend toward joint operating agreements and consolidation of ownership. In other words, fewer and fewer owners in charge of more and more newspapers. If that is still the case then I think that’s a bad thing.

    Not convinced that AP “hegemony” ranks anywhere significant on the Richter scale of news media consolidation.

  2. Ara Rubyan said

    P.S. Cute picture. Wasn’t there a Three Stooges episode…?

  3. pennywit said

    I can think of a number of issues that Boriss fails to cover adequately. Unfortunately, too pooped to put pen to paper. Maybe tomorrow.


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