CEO Emma Cowdroy on AAP 2.0, Media Diversity, revenue streams, and NCA’s newswire

Emma Cowdroy facebook aap

• “We’ve been doing the same thing for 85 years, we are a really trusted source in the Australian media landscape”

Last year, AAP Newswire came dangerously close to closing down for good, but at the eleventh hour AAP was sold to a consortium of investors and philanthropists. Whilst the company still faced job losses, the change in ownership meant that the newswire continued to operate.

Mediaweek spoke to Emma Cowdroy, CEO of AAP about what 2021 looks like for the newswire, appearing at the Senate inquiry into media diversity, and the launch of News Corp’s NCA newswire.

AAP 2.0

Cowdroy says that despite a rough 2020, AAP is doing well.

“We’ve done a pretty amazing job, even though we’ve obviously had editorial cuts. We’re down to 75 editorial staff from what was around 140, but we’re still managing to put out 220 stories a day. The data we have that we’re following quite closely shows that a lot of those, if not all of those stories are being picked up and run by our subscribers. 

“The usage stats we have are significantly higher than they were under AAP 1.0. That shows that we’ve got the service side, the actual newswire side, we’ve got that all down pat and we’ve got that going really well.”

Of those 220 stories AAP puts out per day, Cowdroy says that the most important stories they provide are the ones that allow small and medium media organisations to compete in the Australian media landscape.

“The areas that differentiate us – the stuff that our customers have said that they really rely on, and that’s across the board from regional customers to metropolitan customers – is our courts reporting and our sports reporting. Those were areas where we were really loath to make any adjustments to the service.

“Equally our political reporting, our national and state-level political coverage is really important, especially for regional customers who aren’t in a position to go and set up newsrooms in every capital city or in parliament house. That’s what newswires are traditionally set up to do.”

The Age staff members protesting the reported closure of AAP Newswire, 2020

Funding AAP Into the Future

Cowdroy says there are three main pillars of support for AAP.

“The first one is the commercial revenue that we’ve always had, and even without Nine and News [Corp] we’ve managed to keep or transfer 90% of our customer contracts… which is a really great endorsement of AAP, the service, and the new structure.

“The other area we’ve got is the philanthropic funding, and I guess that’s an area where we see some things that we might be doing differently in the future. We’re looking at the potential for philanthropically funded desks, where we provide a specialty or a specialised reporter that can work on an area that might have been a casualty of newsroom cuts over the last few years.

“The third area is government funding that we have been calling for throughout the various inquiries that we’ve appeared at over the last couple of months.”

Cowdroy says that if the government funding were to go ahead, it would be primarily used for journalist salaries and freelance salaries.

Appearing at the Media Diversity Inquiry

Cowdroy recently appeared in front of the Senate as part of the inquiry into media diversity. She says it was important to speak about how much impact newswires have on Australian media.

“For the first time in AAP’s history, the newswire was expressly referenced in the terms of reference of the Media Diversity Inquiry. It’s really interesting because often the wires have been structurally hidden. People don’t necessarily know how important we are and what we do, and so it was critical for us to show that we’re an essential pillar of media diversity in Australia. 

“It was our opportunity to show that to have a plurality of voices in the media landscape, a newswire is really critical to enable that to occur. It was the first time we’ve been able to be actually addressed, and you only have to look at the number of submissions that also spoke about our really critical role to see just how important it is that we have an independent national newswire.”

NCA Newswire

News Corp launched their own internal newswire last year, known as the NCA Newswire. A non-compete period with AAP was put in place, but the period has since expired and the service hasn’t been made public. News Corp also appeared at the Inquiry.

Cowdroy says that despite the release of the NCA Newswire, the independence of AAP is what their customers value.

“News Corp’s NCA newswire as they said in the inquiry is not independent and – to quote, Campbell Reid said – ‘we don’t pretend it is’. It’s really important to have an independent national newswire where all media outlets can take our objective, unbiased, accurate service and they can then use that to overlay their own commentary, opinion, and their own view on top of that.

“My view is that I would be surprised if many of our customers would be interested in taking a self-avowedly non-independent news wire, I just can’t see them wanting to take from a third-party source. So as the independent national newswire I feel really confident that our customers know our product. We’ve been doing the same thing for 85 years, we are a really trusted source in the Australian media landscape and I think our service actually speaks for itself.”

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