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The Evolution of Wire Services.

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This paper explores the origin of wire services, major new agencies providing those services, and the evolution of the service over its history. Wire services are necessary for the facilitation of news internationally. The methods of providing news from a wire service, or news agency, to other newspaper, periodical, radio, television, or other communication outlet has evolved throughout history. This paper explores the humble beginnings of wire services and highlights several of the major wire service providers, including Reuters, The Associated Press (AP), United Press International, Agence France Presse (AFP), and Bloomberg.

The Evolution of Wire Services: Then and Now Wire services are integral components of international communication. Also referred to as a news agency, a wire service is an organization “that sends out syndicated news copy to subscribers by wire or by satellite transmission (Mish, 1997).” With origins dating back to the early 1850s (McPhail, 2010), wire services have not always conducted communication transfers with advanced technology like satellite transmissions. From telegraphy to teleprinters to radio, the process of getting news from a wire service to its dependent news and other providers has evolved substantially throughout the years. The conception and continued modernization of wire services can be attributed to various agency titans, including Reuters, The Associated Press (AP), United Press International, Agence France Presse (AFP), and Bloomberg. The tasks of a wire service are significant and costly. Originally, agencies often just provided information and news to various media outlets. Major newspaper and channels, as well as less notable local and national papers, rely heavily on the information gathering power of wire services. However, as competition and costs have increased, some agencies have taken to providing their content via websites, television, radio, and other outlets to maintain viability. According to Read, the delivery of a telegraph on August 6, 1844 from Windsor Castle to the British press announcing the birth of Queen Victoria’s son was the first step in revolutionizing the way news was delivered (1992). Previously, incoming news was often subject to a significant delay, as it had been traditionally delivered by less expeditious methods. To emphasis this extraordinary development, Read provides a stark contrast: Less than thirty years prior, news of Napoleon’s death took nearly two months to reach London (1992). The success of telegraphy quickly took off throughout the United Kingdom.
Reuters. Read’s intensive research into the development of Reuters and its founder, Paul Julius Reuters, details how instrumental the utilization of telegraphy was in the development of wire services. Reuters owned a Berlin-based publishing company before moving to Paris to work for the Havas News Agency (now Agence France Press). As telegraphy began to boom in London, Reuters harnessed the advancement to help facilitate communications between the London and Paris stock exchanges. Grounded in London, Reuters founded a financial news agency by the same name. By 1858, offices throughout Europe were opening, and less than ten years later, Reuters was a publically registered company. One of the most significant accomplishments of the young Reuters Company was the transmittal of President Lincoln’s assassination to Europe (McPhail, 2010).
Reuters Company continued to expand throughout the Far East and America during the 1870s with the ambition of cultivating a worldwide news agency (“Company History”, 2012). In order to reach the ever-growing expanses of the Reuters offices the company utilized radio technology to transmit news in 1925. Reuters underwent two restructurings in 1926 and 1941, becoming a private company, and then transferring ownership to both the British National and Provincial Press and the Press Associations of Australia and New Zealand. Reuters credits the latter restructuring with developing The Reuters Trust Principles, which are credited with the current governance of the company’s dependable and impartial approach to news assemblage and dissemination (“The Trust Principles”, n.d.).
Reuters continued to widen its reach with the 1957 procurement of Scotland television, followed by the acquisition of the local and national newspaper holder, The Kemsley Group, in 1959. McPhail (2010) credits additional expansion to the Stockmaster service and the introduction of the Reuters Monitor, which were instrumental in the transmittal of financial data and news, respectively. The company would continue to revolutionize the wire service industry throughout the 1970s by introducing the Videomaster, which displayed stock and commodity prices digitally to traders at various exchanges. By 1971, the company was utilizing video editing technology, rather than typewriters to transcribe, and introduced the Reuter Monitor Money Rates Service, which facilitated electronic brokerage for the Foreign Exchange. In 1981, Reuters was on the forefront of communication technology once again with video terminal, foreign currency trade capability through the Monitor Dealing Service. Reuters endured yet another restructuring in 1984, becoming publically traded on both the London Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ. Taylor (1997) contributed this change to the movement towards deregulation of wire services and other communication and information based companies throughout the 1980s.. In 1994, the company launched Reuters Financial Television Service. This service allowed Reuters to communicate directly to traders about international events that could possibly affect the nature of the market (“Company History, 2012). In 2008, Reuters Group PLC merged with The Thompson Corporation creating Thomson Reuters, “the world’s leading source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals in the financial, legal, tax and accounting, scientific, healthcare, and media markets (“Thomson Reuters, 2008).” The merger extended operations to six continents and 93 countries, serviced by over 52,000 employees. The chief executive officer for the company, Thomas H. Glocer, said the merger would increase revenue streams that would allow the “insightful, highly relevant and timely” information from Reuters to become further reaching and “available in formats which applications can consume and to which they can add further (2008)”. After the merger, the company was divided into four divisions, including Tax and Accounting, Legal, Intellectual Property and Science, and Financial and Risk. The Financial and Risk division continues to embrace the traditional Reuters by proving news, information, and analytics. As of May 2013, Forbes magazine ranked Thomson Reuters as the 50th most valuable brand in the world (“Thomson Reuters”, 2013). According to McPhail, over half a million analysts, news reporters, and other stakeholders worldwide rely on the company’s variety of databases and visual media. Thomson Reuters continues to be one of the most dynamic wire services in the world.
The Associated Press (AP). Although Reuters is currently said to be the most prolific wire services internationally, The Associated Press is no far behind. Times have changed since AP’s inception in 1846, but the enormous expense of relaying time-sensitive news remains consistent. During this period, dispatches from the Mexican- American War were sent from Mobile to Montgomery, Alabama then to Richmond, Virginia in a laborious and costly effort to beat competitors to the presses (Manning and Wyatt, 2011). The publisher of the New York Sun, Moses Yale Beach, approached four other New York newspapers (The New York Times later joined) to unite in a collaborative financial effort to bring news via pony mail, thus creating the AP. By late 1847, regional networks when established throughout upstate New York and Pennsylvania. This financial collaboration was intimidated, but never with the renowned success of the AP.
Taylor (2012) contends that any successful news agency is predicated by its credibility, a standard AP regards with utmost importance. AP’s diligent journalists devote extensive resources to pursuing urgent news, sometimes even at the expense of their lives (“AP’s History, n.d.). Some 30 journalists have perished in pursuance of breaking stories, the first being Mark Kellogg, who followed Custer into the line of fire at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Former board chairman Frank Batten inferred that the amenity of AP’s more than 3,700 reporters allows for honest and accurate reporting (“AP’s History, n.d.). Broderick and Miller (2007) contend that AP has had a hand in recounting nearly every major news event worldwide.
The “self-proclaimed oldest and largest newsgathering organization” (“AP’s History, n.d.) attributes its longevity to adaptability and innovation. The AP, like Thomson Reuters, took embracing emerging technologies to better serve its subscriber base, which currently comprises of approximately 8,500 distributors worldwide (McPhail, 2010). According to Hau (2008), at least forty percent of daily newspapers rely on the reports and photographs provided by the AP and at least half of the world sees AP content daily (“Frequently Asked Questions”, n.d.). In 1935, AP was able to provide national and international newspapers with photographs by utilizing wire transfers. Shortly following that innovation, AP responded to consumer demand, creating a wire service dedicated solely to sports news (McPhail, 2010). Other significant contributes include the development of a radio network in 1973 and an international video division in 1994 (“AP’s History, n.d).
AP strives to provide journalist quality and objectivity by remaining a non-profit cooperative, comprised of over 1,400 newspaper owners (“FAQ”, n.d.). In 1976, AP elected to create an 18- member board of directors (previously 21 members) to help regulate the pricing policies and standards (Barrett, 1980). The 2000s changed the landscape for news irrevocably. In 2005, AP created a database for instant delivery of news and photographs in various formats. Today, the accessibility of news online has contributed to the decline of print newspapers, once again changing the landscape for wire services. U.S. newspapers generate roughly 30% of AP’s revenues, so as that market continue to decline, the company has taken on more innovative strategies of directly reporting news via APTEN, All New Radio, AP.org, and an AP mobile app. While these attempts are valiant, copyright infringement issues and circulation fluctuations have led to an attempt to capitalize on evolving online advertising strategies. The landscape of wire services is changing at a rapid pace, and without successful diversification (like that of Thomson Reuters) is longevity of this news titan might be in jeopardy.
United Press International. United Press International was founded in 1958 through a merger between publisher E.W. Scripps of United Press and William Randolph Hearst’s International News Service as a response to the Associated Press’s membership requirements (Sterling, 2009). Scripps believed there should be no restriction on the purchaser of content, and sought to provide readily available news, often before competitor Associated Press. UPI focused on creating a signature style including hallmark reports covering the Mexican Revolution, the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Although the quality of the reporting was palpable, UPI’s creditability was compromised by a premature announcement of the end of World War I, which was later contradicted by AP.
After the war, UPI broke into Europe, South America, and the Far East, becoming the first American news agency to do so during the hay-day of Reuters, AP, Havas (AFP), and Berlin-based service Wolff. UPI expanded direct service to Europe and China, serving approximately 1,715 newspapers and radio stations by 1939. By the 1960s, UPI expanded to over 5,000 subscribers, providing the first international radio network. The company went on to provide the first international radio network, despite significant financial restraints caused by heightened technological costs and improved quality content on broadcasts. Former UPI reporter Walter Cronkite recollected fondly of his experience with the agency during WWII.
Another contribution to UPI’s financial distress was the decline of print newspapers in the early 1970s. Given the choice, many of UPI’s subscribers opted for AP, and the company’s revenues continued to decline by nearing $3-4 million a year (Sterling, 2009). UPI’s losses made it more difficult for the agency to stay abreast of new technologies, specifically the use of satellites and computers. In an effort to replenish capital, a board convened and determined to raise subscriber cost and end price negotiations. Despite the agency’s best efforts, the financial situation at UPI became so catastrophic that the Scripps Company sold UPI in June 1982 after failed attempts to find partners. At this point, UPI was servicing approximately 7,000 subscribers in 92 countries. Under new ownership, UPI Radio Network was launched to no avail. Employers were laid off in droves and the agency was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1991. In 1966, UPI was servicing over 30 percent of US newspaper; that percentage was cut nearly in half at the time of the filing.
On the brink of bankruptcy, UPI was saved once again by a group of Saudi investors from the Middle East Broadcasting Center Limited. UPI’s staff comprised of a mere 300 employees serving roughly 2,000 clients in broadcast, newspaper, and internet. The once promising, and profitable, UPI Radio Network was defunct by 1999 and reports were limited to 350 words or less (Sterling, 2009). The plagued UPI switched hands yet again in 2000, now under the leadership of conservative media group News World Communications. Its 157 employees virtually homeless without a brick-and-mortar headquarters, the shell of what was once UPI quit doing what it was formed to do- report breaking news. The current state of business at UPI is not documentable at the present time, but it is undoubtedly a far cry from Scripps’ dream.
Agence France Presse (AFP). Agence France Presse was founded in 1835 by Charles Havas as Agence Havas as Agence de Feuilles Politiques (“AFP in dates”, n.d). Similarly to Reuters, AFP harnessed the use of telegraphy to expand its network from its Paris office to Saint Petersburg and the Bosphorus. Utilization of emerging technologies including the telephone and radio waves allow the company to sustain growth until German occupation in France contributed to the news section of Havas became a nationalized government agency in November of 1940, becoming the French Information Office (OFI). Due to oppression by the French government, Paul-Louis Bret sought out the assistance of Reuters and the British Ministry of Information in 1940 to help disseminate French language news through the Agence Française Indepedante in London. On August 20, 1944, France is liberated from the Vichy regime and changes OFI to AFP to validate a new era in French news agencies (Sterling, 2009). The newly organized AFP strove to restore working relationships and the quality of news gathering characteristic of the Havas era.
By 1957, AFP was providing news in 73 countries with bureaus in France and overseas. In the same year, French Parliament rules that AFP be granted editorial and financial independence, a significant step towards honest journalism. AFP reveled in being the foremost provider of news to the French, even breaking the news of Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 (Sterling, 2009). In 1971, satellite transmissions had taken off and two notable newspapers in the United States, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, were disseminating material from AFP throughout the country. The company launched a radio channel in 1984, followed by photo and new graphics services in 1985 and 1988, respectively. Due to budget constraints, AFP struggled to utilize the internet and watched as competitors, including Reuters, saw profit margins sore. It was not until 1995 that AFP began to gather and disseminate its own news in the United States, having previously relied on the resources of fellow wire service, the Associated Press. After severing ties with AP, AFP started its first internet service providing financials (use by Bloomberg) and later partnered with Nokia to provide multi-lingual sports, news and financials to telephone international subscribers.
Despite political difficulties and financial setbacks, AFP maintains clout as the third largest wire service in the world, trailing AP and Thomson Reuters (McPhail, 2010). AFP’s primary customer is the French government, under which the public corporation has a charter. Sterling (2009) maintains that the charter is one of the primary financial setbacks of the agency. However, AFP is steadfast in its commitment to provide top-notch international services and reporting.
Bloomberg. The youngest of the wire services detailed, Bloomberg LP was founded in 1981 by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Loomis, 2007). Bloomberg LP originated as Innovative Market Systems (IMS), a company funded by a $10-20 million severance package given to Mr. Bloomberg by Salomon Brothers (“Bloomberg L.P.History, n.d.). His goal with IMS was simple: create an information system that would give brokers access to real time data, financials, and analytics on the trading floor. After exchanging 30 percent equity in IMS for $30 million from financial management company Merrill Lynch, Bloomberg expanded to offices in London and Tokyo and renamed the company to Bloomberg in 1987. In the mid-1980s, Bloomberg’s information system effectively digitalized historical data that was previously only available in print, computed analytics, and gave brokers instant access to a wealth of financial information. By the early 1990s, over 8,000 of Bloomberg’s machines were in service worldwide. While writing a piece on Mr. Bloomberg for the Wall Street Journal, writer Matthew Winkler discovered that his paper and the Associated Press were using financials on bonds and stocks from Bloomberg rather than the Federal Reserve (“Bloomberg L.P.History, n.d.). The company introduced “Bloomberg Message” in 1992, an email system for subscribers. Bodine (2004) notes the significance of this feature, as it predated the commonality of email exchanges for daily business interactions.
Bloomberg LP is comprised of various news outlets with its name sake, including professional services, news, television, radio, three magazines, multiple websites and mobile applications, law, and government. Bloomberg’s primary focus remains on their professional services, providing “data, news and analytics through innovative technology, quickly and accurately” to some 315,000 professionals worldwide (“Bloomberg Facts”, n.d). Many of the peripheral divisions are necessary for diversification to provide stakeholders data, news, and analytics beyond the worlds of finance and business.
Conclusion
The progression, quality, and vastness of wire services are attributable to technological advances and news trailblazers. Dissecting the history of Reuters, the Associated Press, United Press International, Bloomberg, and Agence France Presse iterates that journalist neutrality, the embrace of new technologies, and the diversification of services are vital for a successful wire service. Journalist neutrality prevents potential subscriber isolation, as detailed in the decline of United Press International. All of the wire services detailed were quick to embrace emerging technology, from the telegraph to the telephone to the internet. These technologies were essential in providing the speed and reliability necessary for customer satisfaction, relevance, and quality. Perhaps the most important quality of the modern wire services is a stable diversification of services into different mediums with innovative revenue strategies and competitive pricing.

References
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Barrett, O. (1980). The international news agencies. London: Constable.
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