Wire services are a double-edged sword

There’s an interesting trend happening in the news media. As wire services become ubiquitous, providing almost all the content for crappy, journalist-free newspapers like Metro, major news organizations are beginning to realize that they need to provide good, original content to distinguish themselves from these free alternatives. Otherwise, why would people buy their paper or visit their website when they can get the same wire story from another source?

Earlier this summer, CanWest completed its pullout of Canadian Press, the only nationwide news service in Canada. The decision cut CP’s budget by 9 per cent, and had some people crying that the sky was going to fall.

Although we’re only a couple of months into it, that looks unlikely. CP’s reliance on the big papers was already much lower than it had been previously, thanks to these free papers and other organizations like radio stations who are too cheap to have a news staff of their own. They’re also expanding their online presence, providing things like those Flash-based election tickers. (It’ll be interesting to see how CanWest papers handle general elections where the CP wire is of critical importance.)

I’ve heard a lot of people criticize the move, both inside and outside affected newsrooms, because it limits access to news from small regions, and because other outlets will run news they don’t have access to.

But I see it as a good thing. CanWest used some of the money they saved from dumping CP (though very little compared to how much they’re pocketing for shareholders) to expand its CanWest News Service, which before this summer was basically just the newsrooms of CanWest papers and a few reporters scattered in places like Ottawa, New York and Washington D.C. Now instead of one news service, we have two competing ones, and more journalists covering news.

In a similar vein, as of today CNN is no longer a client of Reuters news service. (If your first reaction to that news was “CNN was using Reuters?”, you’re not alone.) Instead, the news channel and Internet news giant will be boosting its own news-gathering, while still using Associated Press copy. That’s probably just some marketing speak and the investments will be trivial, especially when you consider that they were just looking for a better deal, but it’s better than nothing.

Wire services are very important, because they allow small news organizations to get news from far-away places, and provides an alternative to, say, expanding the White House Press Briefing Room to the size of a small stadium.

But in the Internet age, where a story carried by a wire service can be read from hundreds of different websites, news media have to provide strong original reporting to send eyes their way.

It’s vain, self-serving, greedy and transparent, but it’s good for journalism.

UPDATE (Sept. 11): CNN dumping Reuters comes back to bite them in the ass when they couldn’t run the Bin Laden video that Reuters had gained access to and started distributing. I wonder if Reuters paid Bin Laden royalties?

3 thoughts on “Wire services are a double-edged sword

  1. Pingback: Fagstein » Google the wires

  2. Pingback: Fagstein » Canadian Press wants attention

  3. David Pinto

    The comment about Canwest Global expanding its news service does not mention the very real losses which Canwest Global has inflicted on itself by chopping CP.

    Take England, as an example, where there is the Press Association (PA), the equivalent, more or less, of CP. Much of the news which comes out of England via CP and into Canadian newspapers comes from PA.

    All of those news items, distilled by PA from British newspapers and picked up off the PA wire by CP, or by AP, are now unavailable to Canadian newspapers.

    So Canwest has expanded its news service. So what? If it expands its news operation in London England to two people from one, or even if it expands its news operation in London, England, to twenty-two people, it will still be unable to generate all those hundreds upon hundreds of brief news stories from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland which interest thousands of Canadians who have ties to those countries.


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