Using AP fees wisely

A thought from a meeting yesterday with John Lowe and an idea I had a week ago: what would happen if newspapers withdrew their subscriptions from the Associated Press, which cost too much and offer little value online when you can link instead, and used all or part of those savings to start an incubator fund for local news startups?

Such a fund would offer a extraordinary advantage over printing day-old national news that people can get instantly online.

The innovation required for newspapers to reinvent themselves isn’t generally coming from within. There are institutional and cultural reasons for this. For instance, a friend who took an early retirement from The Oregonian said that his group of friends who wanted to discuss how to change the newspaper had to do so off company time. They brainstormed ideas over pizza and beer that were rarely implemented once they got back into the office. Google has the 20% rule. This is a significant difference in workplace, but a seed fund for news startups would promote the type of creativity and tenacity needed to survive in this new environment that corporate culture typically squashes.

Newspapers could benefit in a couple of ways. One, the contract with the startup might structured in such a way as to guarantee content to the newspaper’s print product at mutually agreeable rates. Two, if the startup pulled something particularly innovative, the newspaper could just buy the company. This is what Google does because it knows that disruptive thinking has a lower barrier to implementation on the ‘net.