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You may have heard of the Associated Press, Scripps-Howard or Reuters, but what are these organizations, really? They are examples of a news wire, or news organization. The term came into being in the days of the telegraph, when suddenly, newspapers across the country could communicate news to each other at heretofore unknown speeds! It refers to the telegraph wires, and is still a part of newspaper lingo today.
A news wire is composed of editors and journalists who cover stories for that particular company. Unlike a newspaper, a wire organization does not have its own product. There is not an Associated Press newspaper, for example. However, almost every newspaper all over the world is a member of the Associated Press. The AP, like Reuters and other wire services, supplies stories, photographs and graphics to newspapers.
One great benefit of organizations like the AP is that they have reporters who cover events that local reporters cannot. Most newspapers could not afford to send a reporter overseas to cover a war or economic summit, but the AP has employees all over who do just that. For most newspapers, the news wire is the "official" source. Nothing is "official" until AP or another wire picks up the story.
Most newspapers are equipped with either satellite or Internet access, and this is how a news wire moves its stories. The wire reporter covers the event and writes about it, then the story is filed and edited. After that, it is submitted electronically to member newspapers, who can choose to print the story or not.
The process also works in reverse. A reporter for a local newspaper covers an interesting event and sends it to AP, where the story is picked up and possibly sent to the national wire. Local television stations work their news in much the same way. Because a wire reporter works for his organization and not for a particular newspaper, his coverage is considered more unbiased than a local reporter's coverage.
Other public relations firms that release stories for a sector of the population, such as business, may set up a consortium of reporters to write business stories about a particular industry and will send them to newspapers and television stations. This is another example of a news wire.
Newspapers and television stations pay a subscription fee to have the news wire send them articles and photographs. These stories cover every spectrum: news, economics, lifestyle features, cooking, and so on. Editors rely heavily on these sources to fill holes on a slow day for local news, as well as for national stories they could not otherwise access.
It's interesting - I worked in the news industry for many years, largely considering news wire stories for publication on a newspaper website. With the growth of the internet as an information distribution system, it's becoming more and more apparent which papers depend heavily on wire content and which do a higher percentage of original content. Why should I go to my local newspaper's site, for example, if the content there is 99% the same as that on any other site, because it's all from the wire?
In addition, I know a lot of newspapers that are considering dropping news wire coverage all together. The AP, for example, really raised the prices they wanted to charge newspapers to use wire stories online, and as a declining industry, many newspapers simply can't afford it, especially when it doesn't add a great deal of additional value to the site. It's all becoming an unfortunate vicious circle.