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.

All sorts of ideas for the AP

Since firing a shot across Google’s bow on Monday, the Associated Press has received all sorts of heat. Most of that heat has come in the form of snarky criticism, but there are a surprising number of diamonds in the rough. Dave Winer:

No one, and I mean no one, has the site that everyone goes to to find out What’s New Now. It’s weird that AP singularly has the best resources to create such a site, and get way out in front of the Internet industry, including Google. Esp if they partnered with some of their competitors like AFP and NYTCO or Bloomberg. Then it all comes down to UI. Have a look at Twitter or FriendFeed and you’ll get some ideas right off. River Of News. That, my dear friends at AP (no sarcasm) is where you should be pouring your energy, not trying to take back what you think Google took from you. That happened a long time ago, and the toothpaste ain’t going back in the tube.

To be honest, though, I’m not sure they have the leadership to execute. That’s the biggest hurdle to innovation in this “newspaper crisis.”