AAP is a vital supplier of Australian journalism

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Most restaurants don’t grow all their own food. Of course, they can and may grow some produce, but their expertise is on the preparation, cooking and plating of the dish. They look to farmers to supply the raw ingredients. This is a pretty good analogy for the role of the national newswire, Australian Associated Press (AAP), which will be closing mid 2020.

Labor ministers holding up signs reading 'Thanks AAP' (Getty images/Tracey Nearmy)

Newswires — others you might have heard of include Reuters, Bloomberg and Dow Jones — are wholesale providers of news. The vast majority of what they provide is fact-based, objective and filed extremely quickly, often in real-time.

Sometimes AAP news is run straight as its filed to the wire, either with an AAP credit or, more rarely, the name of the AAP journalist who wrote the story.

It is also used by journalists to glean context, background or facts to add to their stories, which is why you so often see ‘with AAP’ at the end of stories published by mainstream news outlets.

The financial noose has been tightening around the necks of news operations for the last two decades. Traditional sources of revenue such as classified advertising have moved online. In a worldwide trend, many news organisations have gone out of business, merged or sold up. Those that still operate are often in financially precarious positions, continually looking to cut costs.

And as journalist numbers across the sector have declined sharply, more than ever before we see a reliance on the national newswire to provide the ingredients for news desks to deliver a plate of news. Over 2500 jobs have been lost in the sector since 2011 and losses have continued unabated. The closure of AAP will mean another 180 job losses, though some new roles are expected at Nine and News Corp to fill the news space left by the wire’s loss.

 

'In the era of social media and "fake news", we need verified facts that form the basis of public interest journalism more than ever.'

 

We know that the barometer of a healthy democracy is its quality journalism. In recent years, AAP has been particularly active in court and parliamentary coverage — coverage that comfortably meets the definition of public interest journalism defined by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission as ‘Journalism with the primary purpose of recording, investigating and explaining issues of public significance in order to engage citizens in public debate and inform democratic decision making at all levels of government’. A key role of such journalism is to keep government and other institutions in check and report on their activities or in some cases, wrongdoings — look at the sports grants scandal for instance. As noted by AAP veteran reporter Megan Neil in a recent tweet, AAP has covered ‘every single hearing day of every national royal commission in recent years: child abuse, banking, aged care and disability’.

The Public Interest Journalism Initiative’s (PIJI) 2019 report 'The Nature of the Editorial Deficit' interviewed editors from a range of Australia’s news outlets. Many noted the importance of AAP’s contribution, particularly in court reporting and in regional and rural reporting, where they themselves lacked sufficient journalist resource. By providing newsrooms with base coverage, AAP gives other reporters the space to conduct the sort of investigations that are integral to public interest journalism in this country.

AAP also provides important fact-driven reporting during national emergencies as demonstrated during the recent bushfires when frontline photos taken by AAP’s photographers were regularly featured on the front pages of Australian newspapers.

In the era of social media and ‘fake news’, we need verified facts that form the basis of public interest journalism more than ever.

It is worth noting as a result of industry contraction that AAP itself has also undertaken more investigations and broken stories of huge public importance, such as Lisa Martin’s investigation into Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton using his ministerial discretion to grant visas on ‘public interest grounds’ to enable two young tourists to stay in Australia for baby-sitting roles.

In AAP’s management address to staff on its pending closure, the reason major shareholders Nine and News Corp gave to pull the pin on AAP is due to their desire not to subsidise the competition.

This is understandable given that they are private enterprises with shareholders to answer to, but there is a strong public interest in keeping a national newswire service in order to support sector infrastructure. 

PIJI, a non-partisan organisation dedicated to public interest journalism sustainability, is interested in interrogating a variety of options to lessen the financial pressure facing news organisations, for example a R&D style rebate, which would support the health of public interest journalism.

As a society, we need facts to inform our decision making when participating in democratic processes. We also need facts when living through national emergencies like floods and bushfires, which are becoming more frequent and more intense.

AAP has been a vital part of the architecture of public interest journalism infrastructure for the better part of a decade. Its loss will leave a significant gap that will put even more pressure on a struggling but essential industry and further hinder the flow of quality journalism.

 

 

Isabelle OderbergIsabelle Oderberg is a former journalist who worked for Reuters, Dow Jones, Australian Associated Press, Business Spectator, Herald Sun and News Corp. She was Australia’s first social media editor, sat on the Melbourne Press Club board for five years and was a founding committee member of Women In Media Victoria. Six years ago she transitioned into the not-for-profit sector as a media and communications strategist and has worked with Australian Red Cross, St Kilda Mums and the Council to Homeless Persons. She now works as communications strategy and media manager for PIJI.

Main image: Labor ministers holding up signs reading 'AAP thanks' (Getty images/Tracey Nearmy)

Topic tags: Isabelle Oderberg, AAP.Australian Associated Press, public interest journalism, PIJI

 

 

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Existing comments

AAC is dying; God bless the AAC. We have all been beneficiaries of an institution now in decline. God bless Eureka Street and all that rise from the ashes. Single benefit I see is that we will clearly know propaganda from news: public interest from Manufactured editing. Weep not for the AAC but the spectre on Capitalism turned "Media"!
Roy Fanthome | 16 March 2020


Can we offer some funding to ABC to keep AAP services operating? Gerard
Gerard | 16 March 2020


I read the news about the closure of AAP with a sense of foreboding. This has been a vital source of informed and reliable journalism for decades. We in Australia will be the poorer for its demise.
Margaret Neith | 16 March 2020


This is catastrophic for freedom of speech and democracy in Australia. Fake News is now endemic as shown by the incredible "Herd Mentality" thanks to misinformation on the net. Good on you ES keep up the good news
Gavin O'Brien | 17 March 2020


Journalism, as an ethics and profession, is costly boots on the ground in search of commentary, individual pieces of data on their own meaning nothing until attached to make something accepted, usually on the strength of consensus, to be meaningful. But when opinion, manufactured cheaply from an armchair from the opinion-maker’s personal sense of rationality, can impersonate commentary on free-to-air social media at no purchase cost to the consumer, the consumer gets what the consumer pays for, monkeys for peanuts.
roy chen yee | 18 March 2020


Any chance of getting the AAP to survive under a subscription model? Media companies pay an annual subscription and that funds the organisation?
Anonymous | 20 March 2020


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