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AP content far from untouchable

When it comes to national and world news, I understand a regional newspaper such as the Mail Tribune necessarily relies on news and services such as the Associated Press. And it seems likely, through subscription terms and practical limits, the Mail Tribune doesn’t usually edit the headline or the content of a story derived from the news service. So if I find fault with an AP headline, my quarrel is with AP, not the Mail Tribune — correct? Are there any circumstances in which the Mail Tribune would edit an AP headline or story?

— Dudley, Medford

We’re so encouraged to see such a thoughtful inquiry into our processes as a newspaper, Dudley, so thanks for the question.

The answer, however, is far from what you’d think.

Justin Umberson, editor of the Mail Tribune and the Ashland Tidings, said that he and other change AP headlines and content frequently.

“We edit them all the time, Umberson said, “to fit space, because we have a more creative headline. And the AP makes mistakes that we fix.”

When a newspaper such as the Mail Tribune or Ashland Tidings pays for content coming through the AP wire, it essentially becomes that newsroom’s to handle as it sees fit. That includes not only editing the headline, but also cutting the story for space, correcting errors, standardizing style, or combining local reporting with the wire report.

“We can treat it like we would treat any one of our freelancers or reporters’ (stories),” Umberson said.

When members of the SEIU Local 503 reached a tentative agreement with Oregon universities that prevented a strike this September, for example, we ran a story that combined wire reporting with reporting from our staff. Search “Two year deal prevents university strike” on mailtribune.com to see for yourself.

Mail Tribune and Ashland Tidings content is also picked up on the AP Wire and distributed to other papers that can use it as they choose. Our investigation into the death toll on Highway 199, for example, was picked up by the Oregonian/OregonLive in September.

Editors changed the headline, by the way.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.