August 7, 2009
By Ken McIntyre
Never accuse the Associated Press of being hidebound by
journalistic tradition. In a sharp break with past practice, the
once-venerable news service is providing its 1,500 member papers
with ready-to-run stories produced by "independent" reporters and
Earlier this summer, the 163-year-old news cooperative announced
it would distribute "watchdog and investigative journalism" penned
not by its own staff or that of member papers, but by four outside
groups: the Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, Calif.;
New York-based ProPublica; and two D.C. outfits, the Center for
Public Integrity (CPI) and the Investigative Reporting Workshop at
AP, itself a not-for-profit enterprise, identified the four
organizations as "civic-minded" nonprofits. They also all have
decidedly liberal sponsors. A cursory glance at the "independent"
news shops reveals their reliance on left-tilting patrons such as
the Knight Foundation and leftist donors such as financier Herbert
Sandler and currency speculator George Soros.
Sandler and his wife, Marion, founders of ProPublica, are
generous givers to Democratic candidates and left-wing causes
including the Center for American Progress and ACORN, the
ethically-challenged radical action group. Soros, an early backer
of CAP as well as the radical MoveOn.org, poured tens of millions
into attacks on President George W. Bush.
AP calls the exercise an experiment. The readers and editors of
the wire's member papers must be cautious consumers.
Readers will need to pay closer attention to bylines and other
identifications to see who is behind a particular article. Is the
reporter employed by the newspaper or AP? Or is it someone working
for a third party with a political agenda?
Hometown editors will need to work a little harder, too. AP has
a reputation for delivering clean copy, if sometimes incomplete
stories. But now, serious editors are obligated to scrutinize AP
copy for bias as closely as the work of their own staff.
Besides exercising due diligence, local editors will need to
level with readers. That will mean clearly identifying "outsourced"
pieces as coming from ProPublica or CIR, via AP, rather than merely
slapping the wire service's tag on an activist shop's work.
AP's rationale for embracing nonprofit journalism is that
struggling newspapers, large and small, are shedding staff.
Shrunken newsrooms no longer have the manpower or expertise to root
out corruption by digging into government contracts, travel records
or zoning changes.
Nonprofit journalism certainly can serve the public interest.
But "outsourcing" the shoe leather means fewer investigative or
enterprise stories will be written by reporters accountable to
employers with a stake in the community. Increasingly, readers will
be asked to trust the integrity of journalists paid by
"independent" groups whose donors and goals aren't so clear.
Readers seeking fairness, balance and truth can hope AP might
consider distributing work by independent journalists toiling for
nonprofits backed by conservative donors.
For now, AP's dalliance with left-wing journalism risks an
under-the-radar switch on newspaper readers, who don't tend to
notice byline names nearly as much as reporters would like.
The move holds risk for AP, as well. The wire bills itself as
"the largest and most trusted source of independent news and
information." That credibility is now on the line.
McIntyre, a newspaperman for more than 25 years,
is the Marilyn and Fred Guardabassi Fellow in Media and Public
Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in the Washington Examiner
Never accuse the Associated Press of being hidebound by journalistic tradition. In a sharp break with past practice, the once-venerable news service is providing its 1,500 member papers with ready-to-run stories produced by "independent" reporters and editors.
News Director of The Foundry and Marilyn and Fred Guardabassi Fellow in Media and Public Policy
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