Vol. 6, Issue 7, May 13, 2008
Education for the Otiose
Brainsnap

Associated Press Article Recipe Stolen, Recovered

Following an FBI sting operation three Associated Press employees have been arrested for stealing and trying to sell the secret recipe for AP articles for $1.5 million to its main rival Reuters.

"Our articles are precisely formulated with a secret blend of facts and spices," said AP spokesman Barbara Smialski. "The careful tone and informational content of our articles is a proprietary secret and we are dismayed that some of our employees should stoop to reveal this information to a competing service."

The FBI took action following a tip-off from Reuters, after an employee received a letter from someone claiming to be an employee at the Associated Press, offering detailed, confidential information. Reuters spokesman David Ciarlo said: "We just did what any responsible company would do. Competition can be fierce, but it also needs to be fair."

Over the years, many people have tried to duplicate the AP formula, including various university laboratories. While they have been able to establish certain basic ingredients in the formula, such as the number of words used to express each fact, no one has succeeded in duplicating it exactly.

"There are different flavors added for different subjects," said Horace Greene of the Journalism Institute at Cornell University, "Science articles, for example, have five juicy adjectives added, while political articles only have three. However, the exact manner in which the AP combines all these ingredients remains a mystery."

Three people have now been charged with wire fraud, unlawfully stealing and trying to sell trade secrets of the Associated Press, and will appear before magistrates in July. Some, however, are dismayed that the three failed, asserting that spreading the AP recipe could improve the journalism market overall.

"It's so stale and homogenous," said Greene. "Nine times out of ten you can tell pretty much what the article is going to say, and how it is going to say it, from the headline alone. Bush vetoes tax bill? Well, that will get two bitter comparisons with the Democrats, one Texas-based aphorism, and three run-on sentences. Something something bill would have helped, something something Bush's record, something something Democrats vowing reprisals and/or consequences, something something Texas quip. I mean, that exact article appeared with only slight variations nineteen times over the past eight years. No wonder people are jaded with the news."

Despite attempts to come up with alternative recipes, such as the 'heartland' recipes on CNN ("lots of salt and starch but very little pepper," noted Greene), the 'down-home recipes' of local news outlets ("plenty of stale ingredients that don't always go together") and even the 'energy drink' variant on Fox News ("lots of caffeinated activity and empty factoid calories," said Greene), the AP remains the mainstay of most people's news consumption.

"Sure, it's not haute cuisine, but what are you gonna do," said Grant Marlo, a reader from Maryland. "The AP recipe is like a national treasure or something. Long as I get my three squares a day, I'm not complaining."

"That," said Greene, "is precisely the problem."


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