- Interview: Dean Singleton, AP Chairman: Setting 'The Rules Of Engagement'

Staci D. Kramer
Monday, April 6, 2009; 8:07 PM

Anyone who thinks he or she really understands what the Associated Press plans to do about controlling the use of news industry content is much better at mindreading and predicting the future than I am. After all, the AP already has an aggressive rep when it comes to lawsuits over aggregating and intellectual-property protection so the idea of suing isn't new. That's one reason I asked for time with Dean Singleton, chairman of the AP board and CEO of MediaNews Group, following the news that AP is launching such an initiative for the news industry.

Singleton didn't pull any punches during our phone interview?repeating in various ways, "We own the content. We can use it as we see fit because it's ours." But he didn't provide much detail, either. What he did say: print isn't going away, advertising can't carry the weight anymore, and online pay models may be on the way. Highlights below:

Why take this tack?: "I think our industry has been very timid about protecting our content, probably because we've done so well in the past few years that we didn't recognize that misappropriation is as serious an issue as it is. As we're now relooking at business models, it's become clear that we must protect the rights of our content. ... We perhaps have been timid about enforcing [those rights]. No more. We own the content but we've let those who spend very little, if any, get the most advantage from it." What can they get from it at this point? "I am very confident that we will develop new models that help us get more."

Online only? Not MediaNews, said Singleton. "No, I think print's going to be important for a long time. ... Print is still the meat. Online's the salt and pepper."

New business models, new terms: Singleton: "What's becoming clear is that for many, many decades, advertising has supported our news mission and it's not supporting it today. ... If we don't solve these issues, then survival is not assured. And we expect to solve these issues." As for hybrid pay/ad models: "We're looking at those models both in our company and in the industry. ... The business models of the future are still evolving." When I pushed about whether he envisions taking content that currently is free and making it paid?and how he would handle the consumer response, Singleton replied: "The content is ours and we can do anything with it we choose to do with it. If it's in our best interest to give it away, we will give it away. If it's in the best interest to charge, we will charge."

Looking beyond AP, NAA: Singleton is among a group of publishers taking part in a side meeting during the Newspaper Association of America meeting in San Diego; the AP annual meeting traditionally dovetails with NAA. Gawker had some fun , calling it "A Big Secret Meeting to Save Newspapers, 10 Years Too Late." But these conversations have been going on for years, behind closed doors, in public, sponsored by alphabet orgs, privately convened. I asked Singleton what makes this different from the last dozen meetings he's been to on the same subject. He said he'd know after the meeting.

What about us? We get along fairly well with AP when it comes to using the news service in our own reports. We link to stories on member or client sites, usually with attribution and without wholesale quoting. We ask directly for artwork when there's something we'd like to use in a news story, as was the case with the photo accompanying this post. So I was a little taken aback when I asked Singleton what would happen to sites like ours: "I'll leave that to the rules of engagement that we'll be developing" in coming weeks. Not "we're not after sites like yours" or "we're looking at flagrant violators." And no sign at all that AP will be reaching out beyond its members for input.

Photo Credit: AP/Reed Saxon


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