Pulling the pin on AAP: Where will radio newsrooms stand in 2018?

Staff Writer

For decades, AAP has been the mainstay of newsrooms across the country. It’s the starting point for journalists as they look to fill a bulletin and when a big story breaks, the old ‘rip and read’ can be a lifesaver.

But with the arrival and dominance of social media and the involvement of ‘citizen journalists’, many newsrooms are choosing to ditch the service and save some big dollars.

That trend formed part of the discussion at the Radio Alive conference, where senior journalists discussed “real news in a world of fake facts”.

The value of AAP’s service offering was recognised, especially in the current media environment when ‘fake news’ is thrown around as nauseam.

Whilst the ABC doesn’t use ‘wires’ (it has it’s own in-house service), Head of Editorial Policy Alan Sunderland appreciates its relevance over social media platforms such as Twitter.

“We have a vast news covering resource of our own domestically, so AAP has never been a vital link for us in that same sense as other media organisations,” he said.

“I just make the obvious point that Twitter will never perform the same function as AAP”.

It was a point taken up by ARN’s National News Director Deborah Clay. The priority of her news team is to chase the local lead and find stories that resonate with their audiences.

But she’s also mindful that while Twitter etc can be a great starting point as a thought starter, there are inherent risks in relying on the ‘citizen journalist’.

“The whole point with ‘fake news’, what it’s trying to say, is that somebody that’s on Twitter is just good as a journalist who is sitting in a newsroom,” she explained.

“But the difference between that person on Twitter and major media organisations is that they have invested the time, the energy and the resources.”

“So we have to trust these professionals because they are the ones who can do so much more than some random person on Twitter.”

Channel 7 Sydney News Director Jason Morrison had to make the decision about keeping or ditching AAP.  He decided to cut the wire service, recognising the importance of investing in ‘boots on the ground’. 

“I dropped them because they were too expensive.  I made the decision between ‘do I drop them or do I drop people who work for me”.  And I’ve got more journalists in the field than they do.  It was an obvious thing for me to do”.

An organisation on the scale of Seven probably has the luxury of a large enough team to meet the demands of various news bulletins run across the day.

But for a ‘new’ media outlet such as the Huffington Post, AAP is proving to be a valuable resource. Editor Chris Paine explained how it’s been able to ‘fill the gaps’.

“We’ve been going for over two years and we’ve existed without a local wires service. But the reason we’re trialling it is because there are stories they can provide for us that do two things.”

“First of all, there are some great crime and court stories around the country and when you can’t be in court, you can’t run a story because you can’t know what was said. So that’s one thing.”

Paine explained that the other reason for the decision was the size of the media outlet in Australia.

“We’re quite small. We have to pick and choose our marks. We can’t possibly cover whatever everyone else is covering, because we’ll just fall behind, we’re not going to make our mark.”

“So, we can use AAP to cover some of the news of the day, while we spend time looking at those clever ways to get into other stories that we care about and our readers care about.”

There will be ongoing arguments for and against maintaining a wires service such as AAP.  It is costly, yet it is also a valuable resource.

But in the fight against the ‘fake news’ tag, it’s clear we can’t rely solely on social media to do our job.  As journalists, we should be chasing and creating and not just relying on what another outlet has provided.

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