The Australian Associated Press (AAP) newswire service is set to close in June, after 85 years of operation, resulting in 500 job losses including 180 journalists and a top roster of Australian photojournalists.
The closure has been attributed to the shifting media landscape, with AAP blaming its clients using Google and Facebook as a cheap alternative for content generation.
‘We’ve seen a lot of cutbacks, closures, a reduction in news coverage by the traditional media companies across Australia; across the rest of the world,’ AAP chief executive, Bruce Davidson.
‘Newsagencies have endured [a tough environment] for quite a long time, but we are now in a situation where too many of our customers are not wanting to pay for our content. Too many of our customers are relying on what is on Google, what’s out there on Facebook in terms of their content generation.
‘Our business model is not viable in the future, given the changes in the revenue mix.’
AAP is majority owned by Nine Fairfax and News Corp Australia. AAP chairman, Campbell Reid, apparently informed staff that the co-owners were no longer willing to subsidise the newswire service, as it also provides breaking news content to competitors.
The Guardian Australia, for instance, highlighted its reliance on AAP’s photographic archive following the closure announcement.
On the other side of the coin – and from a photographic perspective – both Fairfax and News Corp are major clients of Getty Images, a competitor to AAP Photos. Maybe throwing more support behind AAP Photos, and less to Getty, would have made some difference.
AAP Photos has employed some of Australia’s finest photojournalists and sports photographers, including Dean Lewins, Dan Himbrechts, Lukas Coch, Darren England, Dan Peled, Dave Hunt, David Mariuz, Michael Dodge, Scott Barbour, and Vince Caligiuri.
Regular contributors also included Craig Golding, Brendan Thorne and Daniel Pocket.
Just last August AAP expanded its photography department by appointing Neil Bennett, former News Corp national photo mangager, to the top executive photography job, along with hiring Dodge, Barbour, and Caligiuri. It was all systems go back then, with AAP boasting about assembling a ‘dream team’ of sports photographers.
Spare a thought for those photographers who just six months ago accepted the new roles offered to them at AAP in good faith.
At the time we wrote: ‘The numbers of photography job losses at Fairfax and News Corp is pretty significant – in the hundreds. If there is a silver lining it’s that the reliance on news wire services allows companies like AAP, and probably Getty, to build a stronger photography department’.
A testament to the strength of AAP photographers is their success at the Nikon-Walkley Awards. In 2019, Golding won the Sport Photographer for his photo series, Invictus Games; In 2018, Lewins won the Press Photographer of the Year award for a portfolio of news and sports images, while Coch won Photo of the Year for his image, Linda Burney Airborne.
One of AAP’s editorial strengths (and perhaps financial weaknesses) is, unlike a major media publication, it does not have to please advertisers, maximise clicks, or grind a political axe. It just had to generate balanced news content to clients. That lack of agenda is partly why those award-winning AAP photographers will be most sorely missed.
And how long will it be, with the main competitor now closed down (ironically by its main editorial clients), until the multinational, ‘multi-agenda’d’ Getty Images lifts its rates for photojournalism?