The impact of Gannett dropping AP

Associated Press teletype image, via Wikimedia Commons

Dave Busiek spent 43 years in Iowa radio and TV newsrooms, the last 30 years as news director at KCCI-TV in Des Moines. He writes the Substack newsletter Dave Busiek on Media, where this essay first appeared.

Another brick fell out of the wall of traditional newspaper coverage when Gannett announced it will drop Associated Press coverage next week. Gannett is the nation’s largest chain of local newspapers, including the Des Moines Register and USA Today.

You can read background in several places, like the New York Times story or directly from an Associated Press story. The goal of this column is to discuss what it all means for news consumers. It will impact not only newspaper readers, but also radio news listeners and TV news viewers across the country.

The AP has always been a media cooperative. Dues-paying members get to use content from other dues-paying members, making them all stronger.

For example, in Iowa, a small-town newspaper or radio station that belongs to the AP would benefit from the Register’s coverage of state capital news in Des Moines, where the small outlet would not be able to afford its own correspondent. Likewise, the Register would benefit when a big story happened in rural Iowa. A fire that kills a family in Carroll or Burlington would be covered by the local newspaper or news station there. The AP in Des Moines would pick up the story, put it on the statewide wire, and make the information available to all AP members.

Register insiders have complained for years that they got the short end of the stick in this deal. The Register produces a lot of content that other outlets with smaller staffs get to use without investing in more reporters. But that’s just part of the agreement of being in a news cooperative. One day you’re a contributor and the next you a recipient.


The AP is not cheap. When I did newsroom budgets for 30 years, it was one of the most expensive items other than staff. I understand how the accountants at Gannett may have seen cutting the AP as a way to save significant dollars.

Whenever I heard about a media owner dropping AP coverage, I would think that is a bottom-line owner who’s not serious about real news coverage. The AP wire is foundational to any newsroom.

Gannett told me in a written statement, “This decision enables us to invest further in our newsrooms and leverage our incredible USA TODAY network of more than 200 newsrooms across the nation as well as USA TODAY to reach and engage more readers, viewers and listeners.” If some of those savings are used to hire more reporters at local papers, that’s a good thing. The question is how much will be invested and how much will be pulled to the bottom line to make Gannett’s earnings look stronger.

Running a newsroom without AP seems to me like trying to run a footrace with blinders on. The AP wire alerts news staffers to all kinds of things that are happening, not only around Iowa but across the globe. I still remember the day when the old noisy AP ticker machines would ring with a series of bells on a big news story. The bigger the news flash, the bigger the story. In the early 80s, I recall being surprised to hear the AP ticker ring ten times the day Reagan was shot outside the Washington Hilton. That was not a local story, but with Reagan’s ties to Iowa, our staff immediately jumped into gear to get reaction from all the Iowans who knew him.

Today, that news will burst into local newsrooms from social media or a push alert long before the AP sends it out, so maybe it’s not such a great loss.


Register coverage will definitely change. It has newspapers across the country and it can use coverage of stories from those papers. I looked at last Sunday’s Register and counted three AP stories in the front section. In the Nation and World Extra that comes with the digital e-newspaper, nearly every story was from the AP. The Sunday Sports Extra attributed every single story to AP. We’ll have to see how the USA TODAY network compares to AP’s coverage. Gannett has inked a deal with Reuters for international coverage.

It’s a big financial loss for the AP, which is also losing the McClatchy newspaper chain. The AP says although it’s disappointing, it’s not as big of a financial hit as in years past. Roughly 10 percent of AP revenue comes from newspaper fees. The AP has diversified, providing news content to many online providers.

Still, it’s curious that Gannett is cutting off the AP next week when its contract runs through the end of the year. It might be a negotiation ploy, but the announcement had an air of finality to it.

Bottom line: Many smaller Iowa newsrooms will miss having Register content to use. And the Register may find itself cut off from important stories happening around the state, especially breaking news stories. That will be a loss for consumers of all media, making it incumbent on them to diversify where they get their news, so they stay informed.

(The cooperative nature of the AP wire in Iowa caused a funny story years ago. On our station’s noon newscast one day, we ran a story we got off the AP wire about a big fire at a hog confinement operation in rural Iowa that killed 8,000 boars. The local fire chief saw the story, called the newsroom and asked where we got the information because it was way wrong. We cited the AP story, which had gotten details from a local radio reporter. The fire chief said, “That radio guy must have been half-asleep when I talked to him. I didn’t say the fire killed 8,000 boars. I said it killed eight sows and boars!”)

About the Author(s)

Dave Busiek

  • Goodbye Register

    Today’s Register is a shadow of the Register 20 years ago. It has become an advertisement leaflet for Big Ag and Mac Mansions, sparkled with incoherent progressive nuggets. Readers have voted with their feet, the circulation dropped even at their current rock bottom subscription price. Dropping AP is one more nail in the coffin.

    Except for the Gazette and a few blogs like that of Laura Belin, Iowa is becoming a news desert. A place where citizens are tricked by big companies and special interests, vote against their interests, receive substandard info and education, and ultimately lose their humanity, bits by bits.

  • newspapers going the way of the telegraph

    Does anyone subscribe to newspapers anymore? They are going the way of the telegraph. Enjoy reading Bleeding Heartland and other blogs.

  • Lee Enterprises

    Lee owns the local paper in Mason City. Last week they published a ‘story’ about an incident in North Iowa that originally was published by The Iowa Standard. There was no input from local reporters and no explanation why they used an article from a far right site.

  • R & T

    There are advantages to age. I can remember the Register and Tribune and Sunday’s big peach. I was in the building on the corner at 715 Locust when the presses rolled. Close your eyes and it’s all still there. I remember when Yepsen came and left to be a college professor and returned to moderate Iowa Press. Now I subscribe to the e-version which jumped from $10+ to $15+ a month of so ago. I do look forward to the Sunday opinion page.

  • This is today's Register

    A few select headlines from today’s online front page of the Register:

    “Friday starts with wintry mix, poor road conditions to start a weekend of winter weather”
    “When is Good Friday?”
    “How to watch Iowa, Iowa State and UNI teams at 2024 NCAA Wrestling Championships”
    “What Iowa town is home to the best minor league baseball park in the country?”
    “Smash Park adds new food and drink, ax-throwing, darts and revamped pickleball courts”
    “Your new favorite cocktail is waiting at these 7 bars for National Cocktail Day”
    “How do you play the Mega Millions?”

    Indeed they do not need AP news.

  • Karl! You forgot one!

    Karl M is right on with their criticism of the Register. You could power a small town with the energy generated by the great Register newspaper men and women of old spinning in their graves over the current state of the Reg.

    However, Karl forgot about the excellent work done by the people at Iowa Capitol Dispatch, who are a great source of news on the goings on of our state government. I fear that’s who the Register is going to take advantage of now that they pulled out of the AP.

  • And probably a few more

    Of course the Capitol Dispatch. I never understood their ‘creative commons’ business model but they have stars like Randy Evans.
    Another worthy voice is Art Cullen, from the Storm Lake Times Pilot. He writes editorials with irony and deep knowledge of how Iowa works. He received a Pulitzer prize a few years ago.

  • As a newspaper addict since grade school...

    …I keep hoping that newspapers will survive. So far, I’ve been extremely underwhelmed by the other options for local news coverage, especially coverage of municipalities and counties. And I currently subscribe to three papers.

    But at what point does a declining newspaper that is suffering under Gannett ownership no longer deserve support? I know there are still some good staffers and good reporting at the REGISTER. But the downhill slide has been steep enough that I have been considering whether to end my subscription. This AP news does not help.