About 18 months ago, newswire service Australian Associated Press (AAP) stepped up its court coverage to fill a hole that its clients — Australia’s biggest news outlets — just can’t fill like they used to. As we hear time and time and time again, resources are stretched, journalists are being laid off, and specialist reporters are becoming fewer.
And while all that’s going on, AAP — which is owned by Fairfax, News Corp and Seven West Media — is also changing its offerings to plug the gaps in coverage. Court reporting is one of the most resource-intensive rounds: reporters can sit in a court room for a day and might not even be able to file a story on it. And AAP editor-in-chief Tony Gillies would like to think that the decision to treble his newswire’s court story output to up to 70 stories a day has made life a bit easier for newspaper editors.
“As [newsrooms are] all transitioning, they’re having to make some very very astute decisions around resource, around style, around the approach they take, but they can’t do it all. They can’t do everything in the newsrooms,” he told Crikey.
“There are certain things in news that you just can’t fake, and court’s one of those things. You have to be there (to cover it), and when you have to be there, it’s a resource-hungry beast. If they can trust that we’re going to do it well, deliver what they expect at the level we expect, not get them in trouble and all that sort of thing, well then that actually works — it allows newsrooms to make better judgement calls on how they deploy their resources.”
Gillies said any “ubiquitous” coverage is where they can step in while mastheads focus on unique content, aimed at their own audiences — analysis, commentary, investigative journalism.
“The appetite to duplicate the effort is less than it used to be,” he said.
With the creation of new sporting formats and codes over the past few years, AAP has also increased its sport coverage. And Gillies said special events — big sporting events, elections, the Federal Budget — that need someone to take care of logistics such as media accreditation and travel was another area that AAP is likely to increase its coverage.
For the Rio Olympics, he said, it cost $16,000 a head for each person a news organisation sent, and most organisations would have a team of about 30 journalists, photographers, and crew.
“And yet, there’s not much you can make exclusive in that. It’s there for everyone to see. How can you make that unique? More and more publishers are looking at those sorts of things and saying, if AAP can give us a very strong base coverage then maybe we don’t need to send 30 people, maybe we can send far fewer but to provide very strong, unique colour, commentary.”
And for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, it was AAP that provided photographs and copy from media-only sections inside the venues when News Corp and Fairfax refused to sign what they said were overly restrictive conditions.
“Not being part of the accredited group made it very hard. But I guess it gave them some comfort knowing that AAP was there getting all those things,” he said.
AAP was set up in 1935 by News Corp, Fairfax and Seven West to share the cost of bringing international news into Australia. As those newsrooms and their needs have changed, so has the newswire service. It’s now almost entirely devoted to domestic news — AAP shut down its Jakarta bureau last year, and Papua New Guinea in 2013. There is still a bureau in London, and some correspondents in New Zealand. In Australia, they employ around 200 staff in their newsrooms.
He said that there’s room for AAP to do more specific work for the mastheads — last year News Corp cut its photo desks drastically and now uses AAP photographers to take many of its photographs. And there’s also an increasing business in sponsored content for commercial clients — separate from the newsdesk — as well as the layout business PageMasters and a media intelligence business.
“You don’t want to ever see a day where you’re not doing that news content, that’s why we’re here … The reason we have a media intelligence agency is not because Australia needs another one of those, it’s to support the news business,” he said.