This has been without doubt the toughest week of my professional life.
On Tuesday the national news agency Australian Associated Press announced that it would close its independent 24/7 newswire, its editorial production business and sell its press release distribution and media intelligence operation.
It affects 500 employees and over 100 contractors.
The newswire closes on June 26, bringing the curtain down on 85 years of impeccable service to Australian media and the corporate sector.
I have had the privilege of being the Editor in Chief for the past 16 years.
It has been AAP’s sad duty to report the closure of many iconic Australian businesses over the years. You always feel empathy for employees in these circumstances, but this week has been deeply personal and I have had a knot in my stomach and tears in my eyes all week. It hurts.
Visiting AAP offices all over the country to debrief staff, you feel the gravity and shocking impact of this decision.
(AAP Image/Steven Saphore)
I have truly amazing reporters, photographers, videographers, data staff and commercial people on our team. Typically stoic, they have accepted their fate with incredible dignity, they are getting on with the job, committed right to the end.
Not 10 minutes after Tuesday’s announcement, they were back on the job, head down and foot forward reporting on interest rates cuts, Coronavirus and the other news of that day.
Staffers refer to the ‘AAP family’. They support each other always.
It’s a much-envied workplace culture.
Beyond my sadness for them and their families, I know they will be okay. These guys are at the top of their game so who wouldn’t want them on their team?
But I am gutted, filled with despair for Australian journalism on the back of Tuesday’s development.
(AAP Image/Dylan Coker)
AAP’s newswire is the impartial, independent source of truth in news.
It’s been AAP at the late-night parliamentary sessions; turning up every day for marathon Royal commissions; first in and last to leave sport match press boxes; often the lone voice at press conferences; and the warriors reporting criminal court proceedings daily.
We play it fair. In all my time, we have not drawn a defamation ruling against us, and have had just one Press Council complaint upheld.
This is remarkable considering we move 350 stories daily at high speed to broadcasters and print and digital publishers around the clock.
Through these networks our words, pictures and videos have a monthly digital audience of 22 million and over 12 million daily newspaper readers.
And yet the general public is not fully aware of who AAP is. We are not about the bylines; AAP is about the story.
The question is, who now fills the void?
The outpouring of support from all over the world for the AAP newswire has been humbling. Neither myself nor our staff have been physically able to keep up with the messages on email, text and social media.
It only says one thing: the newswire will be missed.
There has been a lot of commentary around the rationale of the wire’s shutdown - that the business model of the news agency has suffered because the media customers who subscribe to it have struggled with the impact of global tech platforms.
It’s long been at the centre of political debate and market competition inquiries.
AAP’s demise slashes at heart of media’s critical social function.
Between the stripping of regional journalism and now the national newswire, how much more evidence is required before it’s acknowledged that this broken system needs to be fixed?
Our only hope now is that this becomes the catalyst for meaningful change.
Tony Gillies, Editor in Chief