A news agency is a local, national, international, or technical organization that gathers and distributes news for newspapers, periodicals, websites, and broadcasters. It can take a variety of forms. In some large cities, newspapers, radio, and television stations have joined forces to obtain news coverage about law enforcement, courts, and governments. National agencies may gather and distribute stock-market quotations, sports results, and election news. Some agencies include worldwide news. Some news agencies include news interpretation, special columns, news photographs, and audio and video recordings for radio and internet broadcast.
Several news services specialize in a category. For example, well over 100 U.S. agencies focus on a topic. Some major agencies are Science Service, Religious News Service, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and News Election Service.
In other countries, specialized news agencies include Swiss Katholische Internationale Presseagentur, reporting news of interest to Roman Catholics, and Star News Agency of Pakistan, supplying news of Muslim interest in English and Urdu.
One of the first news agencies, The Association of Morning Newspapers, began in New York in the 1820s, gathering news reports from Europe. Other local news agencies soon sprang up, and by 1856 many New York City papers organized the General News Association.
In the 1870s another cooperative news agency, the New York Associated Press, emerged. It sold copy to daily papers throughout the country. Another agency, the United Press, began in 1882. These organizations merged. The Associated Press of Illinois formed. In Europe three international agencies developed: Agence Havas of Paris (1835); the Reuters Telegram Company of London (1851), known simply as Reuters; and the Continental Telegraphen Compagnie of Berlin (1849), known as the Wolff Agency. Beginning as financial-data services for bankers, they extended coverage to world news. By 1866 national news agencies were taking shape in many European countries, covering and selling news locally.
After the Associated Press of Illinois signed contracts with worldwide networks, the United Press went under in 1897. In 1900 the Associated Press of Illinois, desiring to restrict its membership, reincorporated in New York state in 1915, thereafter known as the Associated Press (AP). However, a 1945 Supreme Court decision ended membership exclusion.
In 1906 William Randolph Hearst founded the International News Service (INS). The United Press Association, usually called United Press (UP) (no connection to the earlier organization), affiliated with the Scripps-Howard newspapers and sold news to others.
By the 1930s AP, UP, and INS had grown steadily, and foreign operations freed them of dependence on the European agencies. This reflected national viewpoints in political news. In 1958 INS merged with UP, forming United Press International (UPI). Since the 1980s, UPI has had a series of owners and undergone extensive downsizing. Many other agencies have reduced the number of employees since the late 1990s, the rise of the internet forced news agencies to adjust newspaper publishing and broadcasting changes.
After World War II many agencies, including Reuters, AP, and Agence France-Presse (the renamed Agence Havas) became cooperatives, owned by member publishers. In 2008 Reuters was acquired by the Thomson Corp. and became Thomson Reuters. The same year, Cable News Network (CNN) began offering a wire service to newspapers.
Government ownership of news agencies began in the early 1900s. In 1904 the Russian government founded the St. Petersburg (later Petrograd) Telegraph Agency. In 1918, Soviet Russia founded Rosta, the Russian Telegraph Agency, by merging the telegraph agency with the government press bureau. In 1925 Rosta became the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS), renamed in 1992 the Information Telegraph Agency of Russia.
In 1915, Germany, to broadcast war propaganda, established a service called Transocean. The New China News Agency (Xinhua) founded in 1931 as the Red China News Agency maintains official news and financial service wires, publishes dozens of newspapers and magazines, has its own advertising and public relations firms, and runs a school of journalism. Since 1990 independent news agencies have appeared in Eastern Europe, including Interfax in Russia and A.M. Pres in Romania.
From 1915 until the 1940s, news agencies in the United States transmitted most copy over telephone wires to teletypewriters in newspaper offices. The late 1940s, however, brought the introduction of Teletypesetter machines, which allowed the stories from the agencies, in the form of perforated paper tape, to be fed into typesetting, or linotype, machines, without human operators. In using Teletypesetters to save labor, publishers ceded to the agencies some of their editing prerogative, thereby standardizing usage and writing style in newspaper stories. Newspapers moved from linotype to photocomposition in the late 1960s to 1970s, and information today is transmitted by satellite service or the internet. Newspapers reconstruct the information in their own format. Most news agencies also offer photographs, news analyses, and special features. For radio and television stations they transmit news-broadcast scripts, video, and programming. Since the advent of computer technology, many news services have an online presence, also available for mobile phones and other devices.
The three largest news agencies are Agence France-Press, Reuters, and the Associated Press (the largest in the US, now 177 years old). Associated Press has journalists in nearly 100 countries and in all 50 US states. An estimated four billion people see AP news each day. The Associated Press issued guidelines in August 2023 on artificial intelligence, noting that the tool cannot be used to create publishable content and images for the news service. Nevertheless, AP encourages news journalists to become conversant with the technology.
AP is one of a handful of news organizations that have begun to set rules on how to integrate news technology tools like ChatGPT into their work. The influential Associated Press Stylebook advises journalists on how to cover news assisted by artificial intelligence; the Stylebook will contain a chapter on ChatGPT and the terminology it uses. “Our goal is to give people a good way to understand how we can do a little experimentation but also be safe,” said Amanda Barrett, vice president of news standards and inclusion at AP.
The Poynter Institute, saying it was a “transformational moment,” urged news organizations to create standards for AI’s use and share the policies with readers and viewers. “Generative AI can create text, images, audio, and video on command, but isn’t yet fully capable of distinguishing between fact and fiction,” AP notes on its website. “As a result, material produced by artificial intelligence should be vetted carefully, just like material from any other news source. Similarly, a photo, video, or audio item generated by AI should not be used, unless the altered material is itself the subject of a story."
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