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Gannett, McClatchy drop Associated Press stories, photos

newspapers lay on top of each other displaying section headlines
Steven Senne
On Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, GateHouse Media, a chain backed by an investment firm, announced that it is buying USA Today owner Gannett Co.

Gannett owns the Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch, USA TODAY, Louisville Courier-Journal and Indianapolis Star.

The Cincinnati Enquirer and more than 200 papers owned by Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper chain, will cease using Associated Press news stories and photos on Monday, March 25.

Multiple news outlets reported late Tuesday that the decision by Gannett — which also owns the Columbus Dispatch, USA TODAY, Louisville Courier-Journal and Indianapolis Star — enables the company "to invest further in our newsroom and leverage" more than 200 newsrooms in the U.S. "to reach and engage more readers, viewers and listeners."

Hours later a similar move was made to drop AP after March 31 by McClatchy newspapers, which operate more than two dozen newspapers including the Lexington (Ky.) Herald Leader, Miami (Fla.) Herald, the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Kansas City Star, Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune and Fresno Bee.

"This is a stunning development in American news media," says Tom Jones, Poynter Institute senior media writer, in his Wednesday column. CNN media writer Oliver Darcy said these "seismic moves . . . will impact how millions of people across the U.S. receive their news."

The Enquirer has been a member of the Associated Press — a nonprofit cooperative owned by the newspaper, radio and television stations which use its content — for decades. The wire service's Cincinnati news office was located off the Enquirer's fourth-floor newsroom at 617 Vine Street, and moved with the Enquirer to 312 Elm Street in 1992. Former Enquirer publisher Bill Keating served on the AP board for 25 years.

One of the AP reporters who has covered recent conflicts in Ukraine and Israel is Dubai correspondent Jon Gambrell, an Edgewood High School graduate who got his start as an Enquirer newsroom intern.

The AP was one of the few wire services still used by the Enquirer. Years ago it eliminated the New York Times, Washington Post and other news services.

The AP boasts that it has journalists in every state and 100 countries worldwide. While Gannett owns the most newspapers in the U.S., it does not have a global news gathering presence, as evidenced by AP stories and photos in Wednesday's Enquirer story about Ukraine; Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Germany; the Hong Kong legislature; and a United Nations climate change conference in Switzerland. The Enquirer also used AP's coverage Wednesday of Denny Hamlin winning Sunday's NASCAR race in Bristol, Tenn.

Gannett has signed an agreement with Reuters "while we build our capacity" to cover global news, according to an internal memo by Gannett Chief Content Officer Kristin Roberts obtained by The Wrap, Jones said.

Roberts noted that at Gannett, "we create more journalism every day than the AP." And eliminating payments to AP "will give us the opportunity to redeploy more dollars toward our teams and build capacity where we might have gaps," according to Roberts' memo.

Neither the newspaper companies nor AP have said how much the wire services has been paid for its news, photo and video content, "although it is likely to be in the millions of dollars," according to David Bauder, AP media writer.

Both newspaper companies have dealt with financially struggles for several years, as daily circulation and advertising revenues dropped, resulting in staff reductions and eliminating print editions on Saturday.

The Nieman Lab, part of Harvard University's Nieman Foundation for Journalism, reported a year ago that since Gannett merged with Gatehouse in 2019, the company has eliminated about "half of its jobs in the United States in four years," shrinking from 21,255 to 11,200 employees.

Gannett also hasn't earned a full-year profit since 2018, according to data provided by FactSet, and since then has lost $1.03 billion, Bauder wrote. The hedge fund Chatham Asset Management took control of the formerly family-owned McClatchy, with outlets in 30 U.S. markets, in a bankruptcy auction in 2020, Bauder said.

Bauder also noted that "Gannett said it would continue paying for two of AP's most visible services: its extensive election-related polling and vote-counting, and the AP Stylebook that sets guidelines for journalism practices and word usage."

An AP spokesperson told CNN's Darcy that losing Gannett and McClatchy will "not have a material impact on our overall revenue." Bauder put it this way: "AP has diversified its services with the decline of newspapers and U.S. newspaper fees now constitute just over 10% of its annual income." The wire service has an advertising-supported website offering its journalism directly to consumers; supplies newsroom software; and last week launched a personal finance e-commerce site called AP Buyline, Bauder wrote.

In recent years, the AP's presence in Cincinnati has diminished, then vanished. The one-person Cincinnati news office was closed in 2021, when correspondent Dan Sewell retired. Less than 10 years ago, the AP had two news reporters, a sports reporter and a photographer here.

Gannett's contract for AP content expires at the end of this year, Bauder says.

AP spokesperson Laura Easton told the Poynter Institute's Jones that the wire service was "shocked and disappointed" by the Gannett decision. "Our conversations with Gannett have been productive and are ongoing. We remain hopeful Gannett will continue to support the AP beyond the end of their membership term at the end of 2024, as they have done for over a century," Easton told Poynter.

An AP spokesperson told CNN's Darcy that the news cooperative "appreciates that these are difficult decisions to make and deeply understand the challenges the news industry faces. At the same time, this would be a disservice to news consumers across the U.S. who would no longer see fact-based journalism from the AP."

Jones ended his Poynter column by asking: "Is this a negotiating tactic for a new contract? That's possible, although Gannett sounds serious that it will move forward without the AP. If that is the case, time will tell if that decision is a smart one, not only financially, but especially editorially."

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.