There’s been something different about the “world” section of your newspaper over the last month.

But if you haven’t bothered to look past the brightly coloured Beijing covers and bylines of Australian correspondents courting Stephanie Rice you may not have noticed something that has seriously alarmed newspaper staff across the country.

The Reuters wire service has gone.

For the first time in 65 years Fairfax and News Ltd print publications are free of Reuters copy following a historic breakdown in commercial relations between the UK based news agency and their Australian counterpart AAP.

In late June Fairfax reported that AAP had decided not to pay an increased subscription fee to Reuters. AAP had been paying $600,000 a year for the privilege to access Reuters stories, and troubles arose when the UK agency attempted to negotiate an increase to double that amount in five years.

According to Reuters, the company wants to arrange direct copy access with individual publications as it does with images.

But that simple concept hits a snag when it comes to the incestuous Australian media market — AAP is owned by Fairfax and News Ltd, who in turn own almost every newspaper in Australia.

As yet Reuters have not organized any deals for direct service with any papers in Australia, although Sky News, News Ltd and Fairfax online services all continue to use Reuters.

Media Manager for Reuters in the Asia Pacific, Brett Curtis said the agency have no intention of going into business with AAP again. However, he told Crikey, “We really like News Ltd and Fairfax. We’d like them to be out clients again. We would really like them to receive our full service at a competitive market rate.”

With access to alternative wires such as AFP and AP, Editor in Chief at AAP Tony Gillies said their client papers are ‘satisfied’.

“Subscribers haven’t pushed us that badly about it. The only paper to complain was The West Australian. Everyone seems happy,” said Gillies.

It would seem odd that the beleaguered West Australian, that bastion of quality journalism, is the only paper to have complained — except when you remember it’s the only metro paper not owned by AAP’s bosses.

An anonymous journalist told Crikey that as a result of Reuter’s absence, Fairfax coverage of the conflict in Georgia was “a mish mash” with “no coherence”. Many journalists and editors believe that other international wires are not able to provide the quality of coverage Australian newspapers have come to accept as normal.

Major dailies are rather indignant to find they now receive identical international copy to regional papers. Foreign affairs editors are subjected to the assessments of time poor AAP subeditors sitting at a desk in Sydney as to what the most important news in the world is.

Events cannot be transmitted in real time to newspaper staff because they must filter through AAP first. And sometimes AAP will sit on a story if they have their own correspondent in the region, waiting for that correspondent to file.

Still receiving Reuters images, staff are struggling to use them — the accompanying story is missing. Although AAP assures Crikey they provide 7-800 international stories a day to their client papers, journalists say that isn’t good enough.

As one journalist put it, “Newspapers have lost all control.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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