Press Associations

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PRESS ASSOCIATIONS, or news agencies, are news bureaus, such as wire services; which include syndication services that that supply text features such as columns and horoscopes, comics, games and puzzles, and print and interactive media. In the United States, the Associated Press (AP), a nonprofit newspaper cooperative of 1,500 member papers, and the privately owned United Press International (UPI) are the leading news agencies. The British-based Reuters (founded in London in 1851) is the world's largest international newsgathering and dissemination agency.

Among syndication services, the Hearst-owned King Features is the world's largest distributor of newspaper comics and text features. Its competitors are many, including Creator's Syndicate and McMeel Anderson Universal. The New York Times, Washington Post, Scripps-Howard News Service, Hearst Corporation, Tribune Media Services, and Gannett Company also offer news services and syndicated features.

Press associations were born out of nineteenth-century New York City's competitive newspaper industry, which found it could offset expenses through shared costs and cooperative newsgathering and reporting. The earliest agency, the Association of Morning Newspapers, was formed in New York City in the 1820s. In 1848, the seeds of the modern Associated Press (AP) were planted when David Hale, publisher of the Journal of Commerce, convinced five other competing papers—including the New York Herald and New York Tribune—to pool their resources. Making the most of the latest technologies, the AP opened the first "overseas" news bureau (in Halifax, Nova Scotia) in 1849 to telegraph news from foreign ships as they arrived. In 1858, the AP received the first transatlantic news cable message; in 1875, the AP leased its own telegraph wire (another first); and in 1899, it tested Marconi's wireless telegraph by reporting on the America's Cup yacht race.

The concept of a wartime correspondent pool was born during the Civil War, as AP reporters provided newspapers large and small with coverage from the war, no matter where it was being waged. After the war, regional Associated Press versions sprang up, including the Western Associated Press, created under the leadership of Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune in 1865. And in 1892, the Associated Press of Illinois was formed, initially to compete with the New York bureau.

The other major press association of the late nineteenth century, the United Press, was formed in 1882 and merged with the New York Associated Press a decade later. In 1900, after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the Associated Press of Illinois "must submit to be controlled by the public," the Illinois branch rechartered itself in New York, and the regional versions joined forces as a nonprofit newspaper cooperative, forming the modern Associated Press.

Flamboyant media mogul William Randolph Hearst founded the International News Service (INS) in 1906 to be an AP competitor. In 1913, recognizing a market for text features and comics—such as the popular "Yellow Kid" (which he'd stolen from competitor Joseph Pulitzer's New York World in 1896)—Hearst launched the Newspaper Feature Service.

The syndicate was incorporated two years later as King Features, renamed for Moses Koenigsberg (literally, "king mountain"), whom Hearst had dispatched on a cross-country mission in 1909 to lay the groundwork for what became the world's most successful syndication service. In 1907, the Scripps-McRae League of newspapers, owned by George Scripps and his brother-in-law, Milton A. McRae, combined three regional press associations into the United Press Association (UP). Scripps-McRae also formed the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) as a syndication service to distribute comics and features. The UP shook things up by offering its services on an unrestricted basis (the AP initially restricted its members from buying news from competitors); it also gave its authors bylines and set up foreign bureaus to reduce reliance on foreign news agencies. The AP and INS eventually followed suit.

During World War I, UP president and manager Roy W. Howard wreaked havoc by prematurely reporting an armistice. But all was soon forgiven; in 1922, Howard partnered with George Scripps's son, Robert P. Scripps, and Scripps-McRae became Scripps-Howard. In 1958, Hearst's INS and Scripps's UP merged to form UPI (United Press International). With its combined resources, UPI offered the first wire service radio network, with correspondents around the world. UPI was purchased in 1992 by Middle East Broadcasting, Ltd.

During the twentieth century, press agencies brought news to the world not only in the form of print journalism reporting, but also with award-winning photojournalism (the AP has won 28 Pulitzer Prizes for photography) and global broadcasting. And as new technologies improve the speed and ease of global reporting, photography, broadcasting, and transmission—as well as new audience demands and competing media—are keeping news agencies and syndicates on their toes. Newsgathering, reporting, and distribution have become easier with secure servers, content management systems, and digital content provider services such as Screaming Media. And Internet users can now read digital versions of local newspapers from any computer, which is reducing the need for global reporting networks. Nevertheless, news organizations such as CNN have bred a generation of news junkies addicted to a constant stream of information, making news agencies and syndicates a necessity despite the wide availability of alternative news sources.


Boyd-Barrett, Oliver, and Terhi Rantanan, eds. The Globalization of News. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1998.

Fenby, Jonathan. The International News Services. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.

Gordon, Gregory, and Ronald E. Cohen. Down to the Wire: UPI's Fight for Survival. New York: McGraw Hill, 1990.

Gramling, Oliver. AP: The Story of News. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1969.

Schwarzlose, Richard Allen. The Nation's Newsbrokers. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1990.


See alsoMass Media ; Newspapers .

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Press Associations

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Press Associations