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Collaboration in the U.S. news industry -- it hasn't always worked

This is a sidebar to a longer piece found at the Reynolds Journalism Institute website.


The U.S. news industry has had limited success at collaboration. In fact, small groups of newspaper owners have co-owned modest successes, including Classified Ventures. But two efforts to build digital-era content exchanges have failed:

  • In 1995, nine of the largest U.S. daily newspaper publishers formed the New Century Network and hired Cox Enterprises executive Peter Winter to run it. Their goal was to create a central aggregation site for newspaper-generated content and also an advertising-sharing network. Some progress was made on advertising, and a “portal” with some topical news went public. But the NCN did not create any technology for pricing or sharing payment information content and in 1998 it shut down when the partners couldn’t agree to added investment beyond $25 million spent.
  • In January 2012, The Associated Press, Business Wire and 26 newspaper publishers of varying sizes capitalized NewsRight LLC. Initially, publishers thought they were creating a service that would police copyright infringement and collect content royalties. But management quickly saw that as impractical and not a good business model and attempted to move in a different direction – aggregate audience and share content with dynamic, real-time pricing competition among participating publishers. They obtained tacit antitrust clearance from the U.S. Justice Department. (See Appendix A) Some big publishers didn’t buy into the new plan and NewsRight liquidated without launching.
  • In about 2005, a substantial group of U.S. daily publishers formed the Yahoo Newspaper Consortium and aligned with Yahoo! Inc. The idea was to use Yahoo’s advertising technology and the feet-on-the-street sales muscle of newspapers to share revenue from small-market local businesses that were not otherwise being enticed online. There are various assessments on what happened, but in 2013 much the same group of publishers retitled themselves the Local Media Consortium, added broadcasters, and negotiated a non-exclusive, new deal with Google Inc. to use Google’s advertising platform. Participants seem happy with the new arrangement; it’s unclear whether it will expand beyond programmatic advertising.

There are at least two other examples of effective collaboration in the U.S. newspaper industry and both of them are co-operatives, rather than for-profit ventures such as NCN and News Right. They are The Associated Press and the PAGE Co-operative. The ubiquitous AP is owned by the U.S. dailies who have joined it. PAGE is a Pennsylvania-based buying co-operative comprised mostly of smaller, family-owned newspapers. Typically, co-operatives do not compete with their owners by the nature of their business, and that was true of The AP for most of its 168-year existence. But The AP began selling its news report to non-member broadcasters in the middle of the 20th century, and in the mid-1990s it started selling its report to online services like Google and Yahoo, effectively strengthening the ability of digital platforms to outpace newspaper websites as online purveyors of news. Today, less than a quarter of The AP’s revenue is said to come from newspaper member assessments.