APME/APPM 2009

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All the news from the conference in St. Louis

11:15 a.m.: Developments at the AP

by Mary Poletti

Associated Press management staff presented some recent developments at the news company in a large session Thursday morning.

Regionalization

VP/Senior Managing Editor Michael Oreskes talked about regionalization and the process AP undertook last year and this year of regionalizing their management. Four regional editors now oversee the East, West, Central, and South regions. The AP is still based in New York City, but the regional editors are now out in the states, “and that’s not an accident,” Oreskes said. They are focused on listening to regional news concerns as well as to “AP’s voracious need for content about the United States for the country and for the whole world.” To describe changes on the regional level, Oreskes turned the podium over to the South regional editor.

Some changes are immediately apparent. Each AP bureau still has its own desk, but “everyone in every AP bureau is now a reporter,” mining beats for stories. Reporting shifts have increased, with the AP’s ability to break overnight news improving with it. Editors on regional desks are closer to AP stories now than the AP had been at the national desks, with their high volume of stories. Content gets to clients now much faster than it did before the regionalization.

Other benefits have taken longer to develop. Chief among them is beat reporting. In the past, beat reporters had often worked with minimal supervision and interaction with editors, and AP bureaus did not sufficiently mine the beat for depth and breadth of stories. Now the AP utilizes border-crossing “beat teams” with a single editor for each beat topic, focusing in depth on specific topics with reporters, photographers, and videographers. A brief video showcased some of the best AP beat and enterprise reporting going on across the country, from creeks full of pollutants to corrupt politicians.

After the video, John O’Connor, the lead AP reporter from Springfield, Ill., who covered Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s fall from political grace, called state reporting “the bread and butter of the AP.” “Regardless of the times, with the resources we have at the AP, there’s always time for enterprise,” he said, describing the ways the AP had enabled him to take extra time to report out the story and obtain key documents exposing various aspects of Blagojevich’s corruption, such as his liberal use of state aircraft.

Difficult photo decisions

AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll introduced an audio slideshow, “Death of a Marine: A photographer’s journal,” documenting the experiences of an AP photographer embedded with a Marine unit in Afghanistan. The story garnered attention because it produced a controversial photo of the fatally wounded Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard.

AP Director of Photography Santiago Lyon explained AP photo staff’s considerable reflection on the photo and its details before deciding that the photo was not gratuitous or excessively graphic, but simply “a harsh image from a harsh environment” that was fit to be distributed. Lyon cited the AP’s “journalistic responsibility to show the truth” in the face of the heat they faced from the fallen Marine’s family, from the government, and from clients who refused to use the photo.

Storytelling

Oreskes returned to the podium to introduce a segment on “New Storytelling” and the AP’s challenge of finding and using new story forms. He cited the Washington feature “Capital Culture,” which focuses on the life of the first family; the AP Economic Stress Index graphic, measuring and showing financial strain on Americans by county; and new approaches to news timelines, which were put into use with two key entertainment stories this year, the death of Michael Jackson and director Roman Polanski’s renewed legal woes.

These efforts, Oreskes said, are the result of collaboration among journalists.

To illustrate storytelling, AP Chicago reporter Sharon Cohen spoke of her story on soldiers deployed in Iraq — “The Long Haul.” Multimedia seemed to her the best way to tell the story and take readers inside “the road to Iraq and back again”: photos, audio, video of funerals, an interactive piece based on a military action report, slideshows, and combinations thereof. As an example, she showed a slideshow telling the story of a 26-year-old Minnesota Army National Guard sergeant who lost both legs after driving over an improvised explosive device (IED) in Fallujah, Iraq.

Conclusion/Q&A

The presentation ended with a time for audience questions and answers with Carroll.

Many questions focused on the hot-button topic of the fallen Marine photo. Many managing editors in the audience said they had chosen not to run the photo. One question revisited the decision to show that photo to the young man’s parents before publication.¬†Another pointed out journalism’s historical use of graphic war photos and asked about the recent push to eliminate “dead body photos” from coverage, which Carroll said had been a pervading governmental view since the Vietnam War. Carroll briefly discussed the political fight the AP faced.

In other news, another question affirmed the quality of AP content but addressed its pricing.

Carroll ended by updating participants on the condition of AP photographer Emilio Morenatti, who was seriously injured during an embed in Afghanistan and lost a leg, and on the safety of AP staff in Baghdad.

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