A pair of Scripps newspaper chain editors is calling for a "Napsterization" of the news business, criticizing the Associated Press for being too inflexible for today's digital realities.
Spurring their dissatisfaction with the old wire service approach is recent news that the AP plans to charge its member newspapers (most newspapers are members of the AP, which is technically a cooperative) for the right to post AP content online. Typically, members have used this content online the same way they've used it in print, while online-only publications have paid AP for that right.
The Scripps editors suggest the creation of a new peer-to-peer news consortium, in which member newspapers open up their databases to each other, let each other's editors search for stories relevant to their own audiences, and post or print them at will.
Interesting idea, and technically fairly easy to create. Indeed, it's happening already in a way--an aggregation site like Google News, or even our own News.com Extra isn't too far from this collective database, on an informal level.
However, the news-sharing idea only focuses on the issue of news gathering, which is only half the problem. News consumption also needs to be taken into account. What happens when all the sites using the Napster news service post the same big stories, drawn from the same database? What then distinguishes those publications from each other?
Local news is one answer for local newspapers. But this issue of setting yourself apart in a world where the same news stories are instantly available from a thousand sources online will be perhaps the most serious question for the news business for years to come.