AP's New Online Service Explained

By: Steve Outing

Last week, The Associated Press announced a few details of its upcoming World Wide Web news programming package, to be available for AP members' use in their online services by early 1996. The AP story announcing the service was somewhat vague, I felt, in explaining what this is all about, so I'll try to paint a clearer picture -- in case you saw the same story I did and were as confused as I was.

In a nutshell, The AP is creating a multimedia service that newspaper online services will subscribe to, receiving an integrated news package that will include text, photos, graphics, animated graphics (eventually), audio and video. The concept is to bring together in one package -- geared for presentation by online services -- the range of content produced by The AP. It will reside on AP servers and be accessed by newspapers' customers -- not the general computer-using public.

The AP will operate a server (or, depending on demand, servers) that will be used by subscribing members to give their customers access to AP multimedia content. Newspapers that subscribe to this service will be able to create links on their Web sites to point customers to live AP materials and -- sometime in 1996 -- an AP archive.

Only customers of AP clients will be able to access the AP content, since the AP server will only allow in readers of the client newspapers' online services. This will be accomplished, most likely, with a CGI script mechanism running on the newspaper server that will send a verification message to the AP server confirming that the user is actually a customer of the client newspaper online service. The scheme is being designed so that computer users coming in from a particular newspaper do not have to enter a separate name and password to get controlled access to AP news.

As an example, if a user of Boston.com, the Boston Globe's new Web service (which is free), wanted to view AP news, the scenario would go something like this (assuming Boston.com purchased the new multimedia service): 1) The user clicks on the AP news link on a Boston.com page. 2) The click sets off a CGI script that sends a verification to the AP server that the user indeed is coming from a subscribing AP member's online service. 3) The user now has access to pages on the AP server. The AP will provide to the newspaper the CGI script necessary to accomplish the necessary user filtering process.

It will be possible to brand the AP pages, such that a visitor to Boston.com who clicks on "AP National News" could see the Boston.com logo at the top of the resulting page on the AP server. Also, the newspaper customer -- when she clicks on an AP news page -- can be transported to the AP server in New York, or the newspaper can mirror the AP site on its own server.

Not all newspapers with online services are expected to sign up for this service, of course, since it won't permit a paper's staff to edit AP copy before it goes online. Publishers still will have the option of paying AP a fee -- as is now the case -- for the right to publish AP materials online, and have the opportunity as resources allow to edit copy before online publication, just as they do with AP content published in print. Previously, AP news and photos have been available for electronic reuse by members, and tailored wires have been provided for commercial databases. The new service does not affect those services.

With the addition of the new multimedia news service next year, newspaper online services will have 3 options for utilizing AP content online:

* Using any AP content that you as an AP member are entitled to receive, without charge, through May 1997.

* Purchasing a formatted AP news feed such as AP Online, a service designed for online services featuring pre-formatted copy and shorter articles. (Newspaper services such as Access Atlanta and the Washington Post's Digital Ink use AP Online, as does Prodigy for its news offering.)

* Using the new multimedia news service, described above.

Pricing for the AP multimedia news service has not been announced. But here's the good news: AP members will be able to use the new multimedia news service for free through September 1996, at which time a pricing scheme will be announced.

Staffing the new AP service in New York will be:

* James Kennedy, director. He is former business news editor at The AP.
* Ruth Gersh, editor. She is former assistant to the editor for The AP.
* Mark Berns, multimedia technology manager. He is director of product development in AP's Communications and Technology Department.
* Hank Ackerman, director of marketing. He has been a general executive in AP's Newspaper Membership Department.

Movin' On

Fred Schecker has left the Kansas City Star, where he was managing editor for electronic media, and moved to Tribune Media Services in Chicago. As executive producer for electronic information services, he has overall editorial responsibility for TMS products including Voice News Network, WebPoint and other Internet services, as well as customized interactive products that TMS manages for Prodigy and America Online.

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This column is written by Steve Outing and underwritten by Editor & Publisher magazine. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at steve@planetarynews.com


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