Reuters Retreats Two Years on NewsML

This past weekend, most of the stories about the online news industry focused on Associated Press President & CEO Tom Curley‘s keynote speech at the annual conference of the Online News Association. Though it was good to hear that the AP has finally realized that there’s a seismic environmental change underway in media, Curley’s speech was about AP intentions, not AP accomplishments. The American wire service has accomplished little with new media during the past ten years.

A story that was under-reported weekend was Reuters‘ postponed deployment of NewsML. The British wire service (disclaimer: where I worked during most of 1989 to 1993) is approximately half a decade ahead of the AP in new media. Reuters began serving online news site in 1994, years before AP did. Reuters has migrated its worldwide communications network from its proprietary satellites and cables system onto the Internet. And Reuters has been instrumental in developing the worldwide news communications standard known as NewsML, an Open Standard version of XML for news organizations.

Agence France Press> (AFP), the Italian news agency ANSA, the Belgian news agency Belga, the Swiss news agency SDA/ATS, United Press International (UPI), the Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association, The Irish Times of Dublin, The Wall Street Journal Online, PR Newswire, and Business Wire have also been instrumental in developing NewsML

Unfortunately, Reuters has announced that it’s postponing deployment of its own NewsML front-end system, called News2Web, by two years, until 2006. As The Guardian reported on Friday

    David Schlesinger, global managing editor of Reuters’ news operation, told staff in an email that the News2Web project would be delayed. He said progress had been made on the web-based product, but acknowledged that the group’s news staff were aware of technical hitches with the project. Staff trials of the new product, designed to make the entire editorial process web-based, are understood to have been negative.

    “As many in editorial know too well, we have had significantly less success getting the front end of the system right; we don’t yet have the new desktop in a state ready to roll out to journalists,” said Mr Schlesinger.

    News2Web was targeted for launch at the end of this year and was seen as a flag bearer for Reuters’ strategy of putting its entire business online.

    A Reuters spokeswoman said delays in the development of News2Web meant it would not be available in the group’s main product for City professionals, 3000 Xtra. While Reuters is much more than a news service, its news feed is still an important component of the trading and financial information screens it sells to banks and brokerages.

    “It makes no sense to roll it out in the newsroom until it’s in the main product,” said the spokeswoman.

    She would not disclose the cost of the News2Web programme but some Reuters staff believe the project is significantly over budget. There are fears among news staff that deeper job cuts will be made before Christmas to ensure that Fast Forward stays on track and cost savings targets are not affected by the budget overrun of News2Web.

Though the AP’s Curley talked about “atomized” news and “My Personalized News”, a wire service must output such content in a structured XML protocol, namely NewsML. Despite this delay, Reuters is far ahead of the AP in actually implementing that.