Expect More TV News from Abroad  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Columns :    THE BUSINESS OF BROADCASTING    
From AJR,   December 1994

Expect More TV News from Abroad   

A new AP service will make it easier to air foreign reports.

By Lou Prato
Lou Prato is a former radio and television news director and a broadcast journalism professor at Penn State University.     


American television audiences are going to be seeing more coverage of international news soon – and not just on traditional network newscasts.

The Associated Press has started APTV, a news video service that not only covers breaking stories worldwide but also helps U.S. stations produce specialized international reports targeted to local viewers.

The AP's prime competitors in global TV news coverage, the long-established Worldwide Television News (WTN) and Reuters, also are beefing up their overseas services. With all three agencies selling their news video to any broadcasting or cable company that wants it, international news will be nearly unavoidable.

The main thrust of the new APTV, like its rivals, is breaking news. Initially, it wants to sign up U.S. stations and networks, including Fox, which has no national newscast. But it also plans to target subscribers outside the country.

"We believe there is a big international market in Europe, Asia and South America," says Jim Williams, the head of the AP's broadcast division and creator of the new TV service. "Our 24-hour [satellite] transponder will enable us to have focused regional coverage for our customers. The 16th story of the day in the U.S. might be the top story for our Asian subscribers."

Although ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN prefer to cover international stories with their own crews, it is neither feasible nor economically viable to base correspondents everywhere in the world. Budget cuts in recent years have forced all but CNN to close bureaus. Thus, correspondents are concentrated in a handful of major news capitals and travel to the hot spots when news events warrant. They've been relying on WTN and Reuters for backup.

WTN, owned primarily by ABC, includes ABC, CBS and CNN among its clients. Reuters, which incorporates the old Visnews service, has NBC and CNN among its customers. But the AP believes it can provide more comprehensive coverage by utilizing its 93 bureaus in 72 countries. APTV is installing TV operations in those bureaus and most will be fully equipped with state-of-the-art TV cameras and editing gear, along with satellite or fiber-optic distribution lines.

"We are setting up our own news gathering structure alongside the existing structure for [the AP's] print, photo and radio operations," says Stephen Claypole, APTV managing director, who was hired from Reuters to oversee the new service. "We will be based in London with 130 full time employees spread across the world and a tribe of stringers and freelance cameramen, up to 400 people at any one time for covering news."

There has been some apprehension among AP staffers that APTV will force its overseas print staffers to lug video cameras everywhere they go. Not so, says Claypole.

"We have to keep in mind that the workload of the AP staff is already heavy and we will not have a situation where we do something that imperils the writing service," he says. "We do anticipate some joint assignments where a couple of people from TV and print go off together. And in circumstances where there is no immediate deadline pressure," staff will be asked to do a number of jobs. That's why some smaller bureaus without full TV capability will have lightweight, inexpensive Sony High-8 cameras available.

To meet the APTV challenge, Reuters is adding TV crews and equipment to many of its 120 print bureaus in 80 countries and will bolster its assistance to local stations. But Reuters officials say they are concerned about overworking its print staff.

"It sounds tempting to give High-8 cameras to your print reporters," says Paul Eedle, senior vice president and editor for Reuters in the United States, "but they're already working hard. Our aim will be to make everyone more flexible. We want to train our text journalists in how to use a camera and transmit a picture and [train] some camera crews in writing stories so that we have the flexibility when needed."

Terry O'Reilly, vice president of WTN for the Americas, says the AP's entry into international TV should be good for journalism, but could have a negative impact on smaller news companies.

"WTN will survive because we're a broadcasting company owned and run by broadcasters and we can do what we have done best for 40 years," O'Reilly says. "History teaches us that diversity in journalism leads us to better journalism. If the AP produces the quality of service it promises, then the public will benefit."

Claypole believes the market for international news will grow by 50 percent in the next five years. "Government deregulation in many countries, particularly Europe, has created new markets," he says. "And there are opportunities beyond traditional broadcasting, such as DBS [Direct Broadcast Satellite]. Add the future of multimedia and the information superhighway that we talk about and one can understand why the AP started this new service." l

###