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Evolving as it looks at problem-solving.

WHEN FRANCES MOORE Lappe and Paul Martin Du Bois started the American News Service in 1995, they were uncertain how many clients they would eventually get.

"I was hoping for two or three hundred." recalled ANS publisher Du Bois.

Instead, nearly 1,700 newspapers, TV networks, radio stations and other media outlets ended up using ANS material by this past summer.

Why? ANS editor in chief Lappe said the news service offers stories on a previously "underreported" subject -- namely, the initiatives taken in various communities to try to solve problems in such areas as race relations, education, crime, poverty, health care and the environment.

"Millions of people across America are engaged in constructive, solution-oriented activities that directly address the key issues confronting society," said Lappe. "These people are learning lessons that millions of readers and listeners want to know about."

"There are so many varied, interesting, groundbreaking efforts," agreed ANS managing editor Peter Seares.

Obviously, many client editors believe stories about these problem-solving efforts are newsworthy -- and that publicizing them may spur similar initiatives in their own communities. Also, clients see ANS content as particularly desirable at a time when many Americans feel cynical about various institutions, and when much of the media offers negative, sensationalistic stories.

As Du Bois noted in a letter to potential clients. "Our articles provide a much-needed antidote to the nation's endless headlines about sex and scandals, catastrophes and corruption."

And Seares told E&P, "We're aware of the readership that's tired of if it bleeds, it leads' coverage."

Indeed, while many Americans undoubtedly love tabloid-type news, a Times Mirror poll found that 66% of the public think the media dwell too much on disasters, misdeeds and failures

Du Bois did emphasize that ANS is not syndicating "fluff," but rather substantial stories about "hard earned" local solution initiatives of national interest

Now, two years after its founding, ANS is going through a transition period The news service started in September 1995 with foundation funding, and offered its weekly package of material free to clients. But the intent was always to shift to a fee-based service at some point.

That time came this past August. Since then, ANS has signed about 90 paying subscribers, including the Arizona Republic, Christian Science Monitor, Hartford Courant, Richmond Times-Dispatch, San Diego Union-Tribune, CBS News and CNN. And ANS material also continues to be available via the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service.

A typical ANS weekly package contains two longer stories and a half-dozen shorter ones. At the end of the pieces are names and numbers of various contacts that client editors can use to localize coverage.

"We share our sources," said Du Bois. "We want to help the industry"

ANS also has an editorial hot line featuring more than 15,000 contacts and leads.

The news service's contacts with thousands of organizations throughout the country help it come up with story ideas. Many of the articles are then assigned to a stable of about 25 freelancers, a number of whom have written for major U.S. dailies.

Their pieces are edited and fact-checked at ANS's Brattleboro, Vt., headquarters (14100-654-NEWS) before being delivered to clients via such methods as fax, regular mail or e-mail.

ANS -- which has an advisory council of about 30 media professionals -- also runs an award-winning Web site ( that s updated daily.

In addition, ANS stories will soon be produced as radio briefs under the title of The 60-Second Solution.

ANS also plans to offer more graphics and art, establish new bureaus covering specific subject areas, and, in 1999. open a Washington bureau.

But ANS execs emphasized that the most valuable solution-oriented initiatives and stories usually emerge "bottom up" from various communities rather than "top down" from D.C.
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Title Annotation:Success of the American News Service, which reports how communities solve social problems
Author:Astor, David
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Date:Nov 8, 1997
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