NewsRight regroups as CEO David Westin steps down

David Westin is leaving NewsRight, a start-up digital news licensing agency for the newspaper industry, at the end of this month, as the slow-to-develop venture continues to struggle for liftoff.

Westin, former president of ABC News, told me in a phone interview that his departure was a matter of timing, rather than any disagreement with the boards of NewsRight or The Associated Press, which developed the company and with 28 news organization partners, retains the biggest ownership share.

But he acknowledged that after having announced an agreement in March with Moreover Technologies, which sells news summaries to big companies, NewsRight has yet to land a second client. “Our approach to the marketplace was not working,” he said, and most of the last four months have been spent retooling it.

With a simplified agreement and lower prices, Westin said, NewsRight “is in very active negotiations with 15 potential customers” and will likely sign a number of them later this year.

Westin will remain as an adviser and be succeeded as interim CEO by Sri Kasi, AP’s former general counsel. Kasi directed three years of development while the agency was housed within the news service, and was named COO when NewsRight was spun off as a separate company last summer.

Westin, whose memoir on his years in television, “Exit Interview,” was published in May, said he had always intended to stay for only a limited period of a year or so.

But progress has been slow, he conceded. NewsRight entered a field with established players like Copyright Clearance Center. It has broad but not complete participation of major newspaper companies as investor partners. Also, several of the largest companies have not made their content available.

As I wrote in January, NewsRight does not pre-empt other licensing agreements, and the biggest aggregators and biggest content producers may choose simply to continue to strike their own deals.

In a lengthy post Friday, industry analyst Ken Doctor wrote that “the company’s achievements have been distinctly underwhelming.” Doctor speculated that the investors might balk if another round of capitalization is needed.

I asked AP for comment beyond the pleasantries of NewsRight’s press release Friday but have not received a response.

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