While everyone talks about the death of newspapers, the people in charge at Australian Associated Press (AAP) are watching their business grow. News organisations are hungrier than ever for content, but with fewer resources to provide it, how will quality journalism survive?

The ACIJ/Crikey Spinning the Media investigation noticed the ubiquity of AAP copy across the 10 papers we analysed. Sometimes AAP journalists were credited, sometimes AAP was attributed and sometimes journalists simply co-opted AAP copy.

Kyle Taylor spoke with Tony Gillies, the editor-in-chief of the national wire service, and editor Mike Osborne about their clients (Fairfax, News Limited), the influence of public relations and the how they feel about the unattributed use of their journalists’ work.

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Taylor: How do other media organisations use AAP material?

Gillies: Via subscription, there are rolling deadlines, so every minute of every day we’re sending stories out and updates of stories. Our copy, our stories aren’t sold on a one-off basis, buy this story or buy that story — it’s not a syndication type of thing. We wholesale that news to all media and they buy it on an annual subscription basis.

Osborne: Almost every unattributed brief in the newspaper is usually ours.

Gillies: Many will choose to use AAP stories as is, sometimes they’ll put bylines on it, sometimes they’ll credit AAP, quite often they don’t.

Taylor: Is that completely at their discretion?

Gillies: It ends up being so, yeah. I mean it’s a stipulation within contracts but we don’t necessarily police that as such … but online, we’re very strict on attribution and you’ll see AAP copy attributed everywhere online, and with varying degrees of visibility in print. But the print part doesn’t bother us so much.

Taylor: What is it about the internet that makes you stricter about attribution?

Gillies: …from my point of view, I just think there’s less rigour on the internet and I’m not talking about the main news websites that you’ll see, the News Ltd, and the Fairfax [websites] but you’ll get websites that are utilised by companies that aren’t renowned media companies and if you get people at the other end who aren’t necessarily as experienced as you’d hope in utilising copy, you might find that they inadvertently change the context of the stories or the headline or you might end up defaming somebody or with other sorts of legal problems.

Osborne: It’s too easy to cut and paste on the internet and put it from one website to another, so it has got to be attributed and clearly marked AAP.

Taylor: Do you think there is a need to attribute a story that is from AAP when it appears in other media?

Gillies: I think where you might be coming from is, are these guys trying to hide something or misrepresent content within their publications? I don’t necessarily think so, no not at all. What you’ll find newspapers are trying to do is present the best mix of content to their readers and their readers hold them to account, whether the stuff it is attributed to AAP or to their own people, I don’t think it makes a difference.

Some would argue the other way that readers deserve the right to know the original source of the content — I think that’s a view held at some Fairfax publications (The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Financial Review) where you see a little bit more attribution.

Taylor: Would you say that the use of AAP content by other media has increased in the past 10, 20 years?

Gillies: It would be fair to say that there is a greater use of AAP content out there because there is a voracious appetite for news these days, a much greater appetite for news than there was 20 years ago.

AAP was set up 75 years ago to help its shareholder newspapers reduce the cost of producing news. Because you can identify certain parts of the news cycle where you can’t really add a lot of value to it by putting various resources to it. Like look at court cases for example … when you go to cover that story it’s pretty simple, it’s what was said, there’s evidence presented and you report on it …  so there are certain elements of the news where it doesn’t make a lot of sense just to throw numerous bodies from numerous news organisations at it — that’s where AAP comes in.

Taylor: Are there any specific rounds where the use of PR is more pronounced?

Gillies: Entertainment, medical rounds, these are rounds that generate a lot of good copy, but it’s the nature of those rounds where you have to work even more closely with PR people so I think they (the reporters) have to be even more diligent on the agenda that are put up by PR companies.

Osborne: Because as soon as you write a negative story, the PR company will say ‘right, that’s it we’re never going to give you access to another big star that we have’ so that’s one of the problems with — and we have to have that sort of argument all the time.

Taylor: Do you have any examples where this has occurred?

Gillies: A classic example would’ve been the release of a book by a renowned PR person, you know, it was a classic. Here’s a guy who was releasing a book, tell-all book about his life in the industry and he wanted to really stage-manage the release of that book. He put all sorts of restrictions on us …  in the end we just said “mate if you don’t want us to promote your book, we’re not a part of it, or if you don’t want a decent news story on it then that’s it, end of story”, so we didn’t cover it.

Taylor: Aside from not covering the story, what can you do?

Osborne: Well you’ve just got to say to them — we make the call on what we write and if you want it to get out, we are the biggest conduit of news out there so we use that as our arguing point.

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