Wire cutters: Tribune Co. newspapers dropping AP

The Chicago Tribune and six other newspapers owned by Tribune Co. are dropping the services of Associated Press, effective in early January. 

In addition to the flagship Tribune, other company-owned papers cutting ties with the 166-year-old global news provider are the Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Hartford Courant, Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia.

Under a separate agreement, the Los Angeles Times is expected to retain its AP membership.

Reports from Tribune insiders were confirmed Sunday by Paul Colford, director of media relations for AP. “We’re disappointed by this development but recognize this is a time of transition for these seven Tribune newspapers,” Colford said. “We hope they’ll return to AP as their circumstances change. AP continues to diversify its business to enhance the value of our newsgathering for our 1,400 member newspapers and other news organizations worldwide. The Los Angeles Times has indicated that it plans to stay with AP. The Times has been a great partner in innovation and developing new AP services for many years.”

Long considered the gold standard of wire services with a worldwide staff of 3,700, including 2,300 gathering news in more than 100 countries, AP is operated as a not-for-profit cooperative, owned by its member newspapers.

While the move represents a historic break for the Tribune and a loss for readers, it was not unexpected. As far back as 2008, shortly after Sam Zell took over as CEO, Tribune Co. began signaling intentions to sever its deal with AP (which then reportedly was costing close to $9 million a year). In 2010, the company sharply cut back on its use of AP after signing a multiyear agreement to subscribe to Reuters America, a less expensive competing service owned by Thomson Reuters.

The Tribune reported there was “at present no plan” to drop AP in 2010. "We decided there was value in maintaining our membership and to continue to get AP content," Tribune editor Gerry Kern told Phil Rosenthal at the time. "We want to see how this [new arrangement] develops and how it evolves further."

Although he acknowledged a significant cost savings with Reuters America (by one estimate a difference of $5 million a year), Kern said the change was needed to provide flexibility in sharing content with other papers through the Tribune’s Media on Demand service. “Sam Zell has nothing to do with this,” Kern told media analyst Ken Doctor in 2010. “This was my project. I’ve been thinking about this for years.”

Tribune Co. is expected to emerge soon from its four-year bankruptcy, which began a year after Zell gained control through a leveraged buyout.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)