Can Publish2 Change the Way Newspapers Share Content?

By: Shawn Moynihan

When Publish2 announced in late May its goal to help newspapers save money by using its content-sharing platform instead of paying for Associated Press content, a spate of dramatic, David-and-Goliath headlines followed. But as Publish2 CEO Scott Karp explains, his company’s goal is not — as some have boldly suggested — to kill the AP.

“Absolutely not,” says Karp. “The AP remains one of the most valued sources of reporting around the world.” Rather, he adds, what Publish2 does do is target the news conglomerate’s role in the distribution of content: “The goal is to take out the middleman, create distribution relationships directly.”

Publish2’s News Exchange platform allows news organizations to go to and create a content-sharing account, peruse other news orgs and decide whose content they’d like to start using (with the proper clearances, of course), and share their own original content with whomever they select.

“Each news organization can create its own newswire, and they own the rights to all that content and can distribute that in any way they choose,” Karp explains.

While content sharing is nothing new, a scalable, user-friendly technology built specifically for that purpose has to date remained elusive. Many papers that currently share stories and art in certain regions of the U.S. still do so mostly via e-mails of story budgets. Publish2 looks to clear that hurdle by giving editors the keys to pull in stories from their sharing partners and publish them as part of their existing workflow.

The platform offers multiple options to connect News Exchange to newspapers’ print publishing systems, to automatically import and export content. Newsrooms can send content to Publish2 using Web feeds, or Publish2 can import files via FTP. Newsrooms can export content from Publish2 using password-protected feeds or receive files via FTP. There are also manual upload and download options.

“It’s got great potential,” says Ryan Pitts, senior editor for digital media at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., one of the sites where the system is in beta testing. “Sharing content is something we already do, so something that makes it easier that’s not outside our current workflow is great for us. It’s another tool in our toolbox.”

New users, Pitts says, can share their outgoing newswires — a feed of sports content, for example — and full-text RSS feeds for other papers to use. His paper has subscribed to Techcrunch, a blog devoted to news on technology start-ups, and Internet news blog Mashable, along with other feeds, but hasn’t used any of their content in print or online just yet. “In the same way that we pipe AP content or McClatchy content, we have to ingest [others’ content] and get it into our front-end system,” says Pitts. “They’re providing the network, and making it easier.”

While the Associated Press had no official position on Publish2, Paul Colford, its director of media relations, told E&P, “There is always room for another idea.”

In terms of how Publish2 will make money, the immediate goal, as Karp explains, is to build up a large network — “The larger it is the more value there is to it,” he says. For now, the platform is free for all to use. At some point down the line, newspapers will be charged a licensing fee to use it, the cost of which will be equivalent to a percentage of the savings a particular paper sees by using more content via the network and less from the AP.

“It’s not something we’re going to impose on anyone until they actually realize cost savings,” says Karp.

Publish2’s second business goal is to charge a transaction fee to news organizations using the platform that are selling content to others. Once a pay system is put in place, news organizations will set their own prices (if they wish to charge at all) or can continue to barter with other news orgs.

Will the News Exchange catch on, in a follow-the-leader industry that relies so much on success stories elsewhere for newspapers to try something new? Karp thinks so. He points out that Publish2 isn’t actually a new brand; its previous incarnation, which enabled journalists to curate links across newsrooms, won the inaugural Gannett Foundation Award for technical innovation in 2009. Many of the top 200 newspapers in the country, he says, are already familiar with the company’s technology, so he’s tapping into an existing user base.

“We know folks in all of these newsrooms,” he adds, “so we’re doing demos for people we already know.”

One newspaper already taking advantage of the platform’s possibilities is The Daily Telegram in Adrian, Mich., which on June 6 became the first paper to run content in the print edition that it discovered using News Exchange. On its business page, the paper ran a pair of stories from AOL’s that were made available free for use, with attribution.

But if newspapers are supposed to use content they discover via Publish2 instead of AP copy, what kind of quality controls are in place? Karp says that pushers of PR and marketing copy are kept out, and in the end, newsrooms will be the ones who decide what’s good and what isn’t. A tracking system will allow editors to see which newswires each newsroom is subscribing to, as a way to help validate news sources.

“We won’t be making a quality judgment,” he says. “That’s ultimately a judgment that editors will make.”

This story first appeared in E&P’s July print edition. To subscribe, go here.

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