What the AP must do now

I’ve written before about how the Associated Press blew it in the early days of the Web by choosing to not play in the online news space. More than a decade later, AP still has tremendous assets that it can use to become a great news source. Rather than fight expensive legal battles that it will almost surely lose, it can try to build a great product:

  • Unlock the content vault — AP content has typically been available online for no more than 30 days, which means that links to AP content goes bad quickly. AP could provide exclusive access to all of the content that it has. Not only does this provide a great service to users, it’s also great for search engine rankings.
  • Exploit the photos –- One of my favorite things when I was working in a newsroom was to look through the AP LeafDesk. AP employs some of the world’s most talented photographers and the LeafDesk was my window to the world. From there, I would choose which photos would appear in our products. In the online world with infinite space, there is no reason to have editors limit the availability of pictures to what they can fit in print. Online access to AP’s photos would be a pageview goldmine; slideshows are incredibly popular. At the New York Times, 11 million of the 49 million pageviews on the day after the inauguration went to slideshows. (Bonus tip: talk to the folks at Cooliris.)
  • Geotag the content — AP journalists are in the best position to include relevant geographic information in articles and photos. Geotagging would provide users new ways to explore AP’s content. Imagine browsing through a map with the latest photos and news. Or using geotags combined with archived content to explore a region in time. Google News tries to do this using algorithms, but often misses or adds irrelevant geotagging.
  • Organize the AP’s information and make it universally accessible — Instead of letting Google organize the AP’s information, the AP should do it. This may be hard to do given the AP’s DNA, but it needs to move from generating disposable news stories to creating longterm news resources. There is a lot of information and judgment that goes into the newsmaking process that doesn’t make it into the final story. If embedded in a database, that information could be used to automatically generate timelines of the major stories of significant news events. AP’s obit file could become a reference source about newsmakers.
  • Talk to NPR — NPR faces channel conflict similar to AP’s, yet they’ve managed to build one of the best news sites and they’ve done it under the NPR brand. NPR.org is frequently a leader when it comes to adopting new technologies, including open APIs, social media and search. Learn from their experts.

AP needs to do this under the AP brand instead of obscure local brands. It needs to focus on page performance, usability and searchability.

If AP does all of the above, it will have built an unparalleled news product. Maybe one that consumers would pay for.

More on: newspapers, geotagging

See also:


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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