Peter Kafka

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AP Exec: “To the Untrained Eye It Looks Like We’re Stupid”

newsiesRough week for the Associated Press, at least if you measure it by headlines: First, the venerable news organization/aggregator confused the likes of me by announcing a vague plan to fight the Internet. Then it went ahead and confirmed everyone’s worst fears with a boneheaded attempt to stop someone from showing a YouTube clip it had already distributed.

Time for some image repair, don’t you think?

The AP is trying to do this at this very moment by distributing an 11-point FAQ that attempts to clarify exactly what it’s thinking. But that document is still a little vague and overly formal. Good thing I got on the phone yesterday with the pleasant Jim Kennedy, who oversees strategic planning for the AP and who speaks in clear, concise English.

Much of what we talked about was a rehash of what we talked about Monday afternoon, when AP Chairman Dean Singleton first riled everyone up with his “mad as hell” speech. But given the rampant confusion of the past few days, I thought it was worth going over again. Some excerpts from our chat:

On the AP’s plans to chase down people who “misappropriate” its content: Kennedy stresses that the news organization isn’t planning on creating a Wall Street Journal-style pay wall around its content. And it’s not concerned about bloggers who link to its stories. His beef is with sites that are reprinting AP’s stories on a regular basis without paying for them. “The activity that we’re trying to limit is the systematic harvesting of news without trying to license it,” he says. “The people who are building a business by taking the content and trying to recreate a news report. That’s what we’re trying to address. We’ve had success doing this.”

On the AP’s plan to promote its work more effectively. This has been construed in some quarters as a plan to create a search engine or news portal. But it’s really just an attempt to upgrade the AP’s search engine optimization strategy–that is, trying to get its stuff to show up higher on Google’s (GOOG) search results. It will do that via “search pages,” or “topic pages,” which are par for the course in the Web world. Check out this New York Times (NYT) page on Somali pirates, or this Huffington Post page on newspapers, and you’ll get an idea of where the AP is going.

If the search page plan works, the pages will be generating plenty of page views when people land on them, and it’s possible that the AP will sell ads on that inventory, Kennedy says. But their real function is to shuttle searchers to the original source material from the AP’s members.

On the AP’s beef with Google: It’s real. But many of the stories published this week conflated the AP’s gripe-essentially, that it’s not getting paid enough by the search engine for the use of its content–with its saber-rattling against aggregators who aren’t paying the AP at all. The AP may indeed end up suing people in the latter group. But it plans on resolving its Google problem with a new contract that will replace the one that expires this year.

Kennedy is vague when it comes to specifics about the Google contract and what he’d like changed: “It’s just a reevaluation of the situation,” he says. But he’s clear that the company intends to keep working with the world’s largest Web site. “When we’re talking about Google, we’re talking about our future business relationship,” he says. “When we’re talking about misappropriation, we’re talking about people who have never contemplated a business relationship with us.”

On the confusing message that the AP presented to the world this week: Guilty as charged, says Kennedy. But he argues that his group has indeed given some thought to what it’s doing, even if it hasn’t communicated that clearly to date. “The future is going to be a lot different than the present and the past on the Internet, and we’re trying to get ready for that process,” he says. “To the untrained eye it looks like we’re stupid. But we’re looking forward to a totally new space where we have to get ready to do things in a totally different way. We’re trying to be smart business people and we’re trying to stay in business.”

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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google