AP decides not to LOL
The Associated Press almost shared a page with LOLcats.
Pet Holdings Inc., which owns a network of blogs that post pictures of felines with silly captions, and videos of men getting hit in the groin on its Fail Blog, had been wrapped in rather lengthy negotiations with the Associated Press until this week.
The talks began to stall when lawyers for the I Can Has Cheezburger proprietor were worried about wording in the contract. The Associated Press finally axed the project on concerns over "journalistic integrity," Pet Holdings Chief Ben Huh said in an interview Monday.
For the prestigious wire service to even consider associating itself with a business that makes a living from fan-made cat pictures may have seemed unthinkable a decade ago.
While the 164-year-old news organization struggles internally over how many toes it should dip into the Internet waters, it is steadily reinventing itself for the Web.
The changes take place in the face of declining print circulations for some of its longest-standing partners and their not-idle threats to rescind subscriptions that can fetch millions of dollars.
CNN canceled its Associated Press subscription in June after a 30-year relationship.
Tribune Co., which owns news outlets including the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, says it's evaluating alternatives. The company hasn't made a decision whether to end its current contract, Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman said.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press is seeing more of the news and multimedia packages produced by its hundreds of reporters show up online.
"There's definitely a shift to digital use," said Sue Cross, the Associated Press' senior vice president of partner relations. "The online growth continues."
However, "it's not so much a shift away from print and TV," Cross told The Times. That's because newspaper organizations' websites are among the Associated Press' most prominent online subscribers.
But "pure digital," such as Yahoo, Google, AOL and the Huffington Post (and Pet Holdings, had the deal gone through), have "grown substantially in the last 10 years," Cross said. Google subscribes to wire content from 11 news agencies, a spokesman for the search giant said.
The Associated Press is treating the Web differently from any other medium. The nonprofit, New York-based organization never produced its own AP newspaper, cable channel or radio station, but it does host its stories, videos and podcasts on AP.org, accompanied by ads.
The organization also offers a free iPhone application, called AP Mobile. Reviewers on the App Store complain that the software is overloaded with ads. The Associated Press recently posted a job opening for a director of mobile.
"The AP, it's fair to say, is less print-centric, and more digital- and mobile-focused," Cross said.
Of course, the rules online aren't as black-and-white as traditional news organizations are used to.
The Associated Press asked news aggregator Drudge Retort in 2008 to remove links to its stories -- a practice most site owners would relish. The news organization quickly backtracked.
It then set rules for bloggers to use pieces of its content, sparking further backlash. TechCrunch has waged an ongoing war against Associated Press policies, first banning AP content from its blog and then reproducing an AP story in its entirety.
For months, Huh's Pet Holdings had been discussing deals with the Associated Press, Getty Images and Corbis Images to subscribe to their photo feeds.
Hoping to play nicer with content owners and encourage more timely posts, the idea was to ask users to add funny captions to the high-quality celebrity and political pictures supplied by wire services. It wasn't necessarily a strategic business move -- Huh said he didn't expect to make money from the venture.
The 3-year-old Pet Holdings company found that wire services tend to dislike when images and captions -- editorial content -- are mucked with. But Getty eventually signed on, and its pictures are being used by some 20 site moderators on Huh's ROFL Razzi and Pundit Kitchen blogs. Corbis is still discussing.
The Associated Press refused to take part.
"They felt that allowing the unwashed masses to [alter image captions] would be against their journalistic integrity," Huh said in a phone interview Monday.
Strangely, gossip blogger Perez Hilton occasionally posts Associated Press photos that he's digitally doodled on. (Hilton didn't reply to a request for comment.)
A Pet Holdings spokeswoman joked in an e-mail: "Sometimes the 'don’t ask' policy works well!"
[Corrected, 4:46 p.m. A previous version incorrectly named the news aggregator as the Drudge Report.]
-- Mark Milian
Image credit: Kristyn Pomranz and Katherine Steinberg / For The Times