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Australian Associated Press to shut down after 85 years

CANBERRA, Australia — The national news agency Australian Associated Press said Tuesday it will close in late June, its 85 years in business vanquished by a decline in subscribers and free distribution of news content on digital platforms.

CANBERRA, Australia — The national news agency Australian Associated Press said Tuesday it will close in late June, its 85 years in business vanquished by a decline in subscribers and free distribution of news content on digital platforms.

"The saddest day: AAP closes after 85 years of excellence in journalism. The AAP family will be sorely missed,” AAP Editor-in-Chief Tony Gillies said in a tweet.

Sydney-based AAP was started in 1935 by newspaper publisher Keith Murdoch, father of News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch. It is owned by Australian news organizations News Corp. Australia, Nine Entertainment Co., Seven West Media and Australian Community Media.

The agency is renowned for its fair and impartial reporting and its extraordinary reach across rural and urban Australia. The surprise decision by its owners to close the agency comes amid a brutal consolidation in the industry and raised an outcry both from its staff and from many Australians who view it as a pillar of a free and fair press.

“When you have such an important institution such as AAP coming to an end, ... that is a matter of real concern,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament.

Anthony Albanese, the opposition leader, concurred, saying, “Today is a tragedy for our democracy.”

Australian media organizations face mounting financial pressure, with global digital giants Google and Facebook taking a growing chunk of advertising revenue. The company said it had reached the point where it was “no longer viable to continue.”

“The unprecedented impact of the digital platforms that take other people's content and distribute it for free has led to too many companies choosing to no longer use AAP's professional service,” AAP said in a statement.

AAP's more than 170 journalists will cease operations by June 26. Its Pagemasters editorial production service will close at the end of August, the company said.

The first inkling that most AAP staff had that their jobs were in danger came on Monday with a Nine newspapers' report that noted the weakest advertising market since the global financial crisis in 2008.

AAP management told staff about the closure on Tuesday afternoon.

“We are obviously devastated by the news,” AAP Canberra Bureau Chief Paul Osborne said.

The company made a modest 929,000 Australian dollar ($608,000) profit last year on AU$65,674,000 ($43 million) revenue. Its Australian news coverage is nationwide, with bureaus in every state and territory, that is complemented by alliances with major international news agencies including The Associated Press.

The AP licenses its news text and photo services to AAP for redistribution in the Australian media market and its customers. The AP is also contracted to use AAP text and photos.

Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Australia's journalists’ union, described the decision to close AAP as a “gross abandonment of responsibility by its shareholders -- Australia’s major media outlets.”

“Bean-counters at the top of media organizations might think they can soldier on without AAP, but the reality is it will leave a huge hole in news coverage,” the union’s federal president, Marcus Strom, said in a statement. “Filling those holes will fall to already overburdened newsroom journalists. Or coverage will simply cease to occur,” he said.

There was no indication of any hope of reversing the decision to close the agency. But AAP Melbourne reporter Benita Kolovos described as “heartwarming” the sight of #saveAAP trending on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon.

“I work with the best women and men and hope I will continue to be able to,” Kolovos tweeted. “Impartial journalism is vital to our democracy. Without it, the public will be worse off.”

Her Melbourne colleague Karen Sweeney noted that AAP's top 10 sports stories on Monday were published 1,595 times and top 10 news stories were published 2,514 times.

“That's 4109 blank spaces on websites and newspapers, dead air on radio that would need to be filled without us,” Sweeney tweeted.

Broadcasters, online media and other news organizations still depend heavily on content from news agencies and other print media. But the decline in print media's share of advertising spending has squeezed AAP and other news organizations, with dozens of newspapers closing in the past decade.

Hugh Marks, CEO of Nine Entertainment Co., recently announced the company planned to slash costs by AU$100 million ($65.4 million) in annual costs over three years, focusing on more profitable parts of its business, after its net profit dropped 9% in the first half of the last fiscal year.

While television and radio broadcasters receive some government support, print and online news media businesses generally do not, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission noted in a report in late 2018.

For generations, AAP has been Australian “journalism's first responder," said its chairman, Campbell Reid.

“It is a great loss that professional and researched information provided by AAP is being substituted with the unresearched and often inaccurate information that masquerades as real news on the digital platforms,” said Reid, a 20-year AAP veteran.

“But we are proud of AAP’s achievements over 85 years and know that everyone who worked on the wire gave it their all, in the name of fair, balanced and accurate reporting," he said.

Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press

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