Q&A: How AP counts the vote

As votes in the U.S. midterm elections roll in across the country on Nov. 4, it’s The Associated Press that will be counting the results through the evening. The news industry and the public turn to AP, a not-for-profit cooperative, to provide fast and reliable results on national, state and local races and key ballot measures.

Here, Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee, explains why AP plays such a critical role for both the public and the press.

AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee (AP Photo).

AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee (AP Photo).

How does AP count the vote?
On election night, AP assigns stringers in nearly every county in the U.S., and in towns and cities in New England, to gather vote tallies from county clerks and other officials. They phone in the results to AP vote tabulation centers, where an AP election worker enters the results. Web teams check for election results on county and state sites, and the AP also processes direct feeds of election results in some states from secretaries of state, and from some counties. The returns are filtered through myriad checks and verifications before being transmitted to AP members and customers, and ultimately the public. The results are updated throughout the evening.

AP’s vote count operation, headed by Director of Election Tabulations and Research Don Rehill, is considered by many news organizations to be the definitive source of race results. In fact, formal government announcements of results often don’t come for weeks after an election.

AP election workers count the vote on election night, Nov. 4, 2012 (AP Photo).

AP election workers count the vote on election night, Nov. 4, 2012 (AP Photo).

Who makes the call?
Experienced journalists in each state are responsible for calling races. They’ve got on-the-ground knowledge that no other national news organization can match, as well as detailed data on voting history and demographics. The race callers in each state are assisted by experts in AP’s Washington bureau who examine exit poll numbers and votes as they are counted. A “decision desk” in Washington, overseen by myself and Political Editor David Scott, and headed by David Pace, AP news editor for special projects and elections, has final signoff on all high-profile calls.

When do you make the call?
In states with exit polls, we call top-of-the ticket races at poll close only if we’re confident the leader’s margin is sufficient to overcome any potential error in the exit poll, which is conducted by Edison Research for AP and the broadcast members that make up the National Election Pool (NEP).

In races that we can’t call at poll close, we make the call when we’re convinced that the trailing candidate can’t catch the leader, given the size of the outstanding vote and the voting history of those counties. We never make a call if the margin between the top two candidates is less than the threshold when a state would require a recount.

This is a key detail: AP does not call any race until all the polls in that jurisdiction have closed.

Does speed trump accuracy in the social media age?
Speed has always been important in elections, but AP values accuracy above all else. We’re proud of our long history and well-earned reputation of being the gold standard for election calls. For example, in 2012, AP called 4,653 contested races with a remarkable accuracy rate of 99.9 percent.

Calling races, from the national level to state legislatures, is a vital function AP provides to members and customers. Being able to accurately and quickly call those statewide and state-level races is critical to their ability to provide strong election night coverage for their audiences around the world.

Where can I find AP’s election coverage?
Member newspapers, websites, national and local broadcasters and major portals all carry AP election results, as well as text stories, photos, videos and interactives. The AP Mobile news app features election coverage from AP as well as member newspapers. Our reporting and statistics also drive conversations on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Does AP tweet results?
The AP and our individual journalists share information that’s already been reported on the wire on Twitter and Facebook, but we don’t break news there. We’re going to share our calls in all races for U.S. Senate and governor from @AP and @AP_Politics on Twitter, but in a way that ensures the calls reach our members and customers first.

Advisory on Ebola coverage

In an advisory to editors at member and customer news organizations, The Associated Press outlined the careful steps it is taking in covering the Ebola story.

EDITORS:

We’re increasingly hearing reports of “suspected” cases of Ebola in the United States and Europe. The AP has exercised caution in reporting these cases and will continue to do so.

Most of these suspected cases turn out to be negative. Our bureaus monitor them, but we have not been moving stories or imagery simply because a doctor suspects Ebola and routine precautions are taken while the patient is tested. To report such a case, we look for a solid source saying Ebola is suspected and some sense the case has caused serious disruption or reaction. Are buildings being closed and substantial numbers of people being evacuated or isolated? Is a plane being diverted? Is the suspected case closely related to another, confirmed Ebola case?

When we do report a suspected case, we will seek to keep our stories brief and in perspective.

The AP

Vetting and coping with violent imagery

From his base in London, International Social Media Editor Fergus Bell leads The Associated Press’ efforts to source and verify user-generated content so that the AP can publish that content across formats.

International Social Media and UGC Editor Fergus Bell (AP Photo).

International Social Media and UGC Editor Fergus Bell (AP Photo).

In a recent Q&A with the Global Editors Network, Bell discussed how AP journalists handle the daily monitoring of violent and graphic imagery when searching for and vetting UGC from conflict areas such as Iraq and Syria.

Bell, who is spearheading an industrywide working group around ethics and user-generated content, underscored the many factors AP weighs when deciding whether to make graphic imagery available to members and customers around the world.

“We never use more than we absolutely need to in order to illustrate the story and we also consider the implications for relatives, and whether we are giving a platform to the people creating this. All of those things are taken into consideration,” he said.

For example, AP last week distributed a video that had been posted online by militants that purportedly shows the Islamic State group fighting in Northern Syria near the town of Kobani on the Turkish border. Because of the proximity to Islamic State group forces we know that the footage itself must have been filmed by militants, Bell said. As is AP’s practice, the source of the video is clearly labeled and AP journalists with expertise in the region were involved in confirming its authenticity.

Some guidance on Ebola and enterovirus coverage

Yesterday we distributed some guidance to our staff on coverage of Ebola and enterovirus, two diseases much in the news.

On Ebola, we said that since the United States now has its first diagnosis of the virus, we’re likely to hear increasingly of “suspected cases” in the U.S. and elsewhere. We should exercise caution over these reports.

Often the fact of an unconfirmed case isn’t worth a story at all. On several occasions already, in the U.S. and abroad, we have decided not to report suspected cases. We’ve just stayed in touch with authorities to monitor the situation.

Considerations in writing about a suspected case might be whether the report has caused serious disruption or public reaction. And, of course, we’d have to have information on the case from a solid source. We should also know how many suspected cases in the country or region involved have turned out, in fact, not to be Ebola.

In the United States, the CDC has — as of now — received about 100 inquiries from states about illnesses that initially were suspected to be Ebola, but after taking travel histories and doing some other work, were determined not to be. Of 15 people who actually underwent testing, only one _ the Dallas patient _ has tested positive.

On enterovirus, currently being reported in parts of the United States, the extent of the outbreak of enterovirus 68 is not clear. As our medical writers have pointed out, it’s not a disease that must be reported, and only very sick patients may be tested for it. Almost all victims are children. Four people infected with the virus have died, but it’s not clear what role the illness played in their deaths.

The germ is not new. It was first identified in 1962 and has caused clusters of illness before, including in Georgia and Pennsylvania in 2009 and Arizona in 2010. It’s possible the bug spread in previous years as much as it has this year, but was never distinguished from illness caused by other germs.

Here is a Q&A we ran Friday on enterovirus. It’s by Mike Stobbe, one of our experts on communicable diseases.

A style note: AP normally does not capitalize the names of diseases, like enterovirus. But when a disease is known by the name of a person or geographical area, we capitalize the proper noun: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Ebola virus (from the Ebola River in Congo).

Q&A: The changing market for video news

The Associated Press today released a report looking at the news market in the Middle East and North Africa and suggesting ways it needs to evolve, particularly when it comes to video. The report is the latest in a series of Deloitte studies for AP into video news consumption globally. (The first covered Europe and the second covered Asia.)

Here, Sue Brooks, director of international products and platforms for AP, explains why the market for video news has never been stronger.

What have been the most striking findings of the reports?

The big “ah-ha” moment for me was the realization that news junkies see video as an essential part of their daily news fix. Although there are a lot of variations in the data across markets, consumers were consistent in their demand for more high-quality online video content – and this is especially true of consumers who are interested in the news, generally.

Sue Brooks

Sue Brooks

The research shows that this group is more likely to access a story if it has an accompanying video, and that video consumers have a higher dwell time on news content each day. When we asked why, people told us it was because video helps bring a story to life and improve their understanding of it. For example, in the Middle East, a massive 83 percent of consumers find this to be the case.

This overwhelming demand for video presents a number of opportunities for us and our customers. It also highlights how critical it is for the industry to adapt. In Europe, more than a quarter of respondents said they’d go elsewhere if video wasn’t available at their preferred news source.

How and why has demand for video news changed?

Video news stopped being the sole preserve of terrestrial and satellite broadcasters quite some time ago and online and mobile video news are now the norm; in fact many of our video customers are now newspapers.

It’s clear that the need for video has continued to grow and has achieved ever-greater importance. We expect this will continue with the spread of smartphones and strong growth in tablets, as well as steadily increasing broadband speeds via fixed and mobile connections.

How is AP helping its customers evolve to satisfy this demand?

The primary goal of the research is to help our customers understand the changes in consumer demand, but it has also given us insight into what we need to do to help our customers meet the challenges facing them.

We are at the forefront of change and, of course, our customers need us to keep our products and services relevant. That’s why in 2012 we launched AP Video Hub. We needed to address the increase in demand from online publishers for video news with a service that was compelling and easy to use. These customers saw video as another critical element of their storytelling tool box, but before 2012 it was difficult for non-broadcasters to access and use AP video easily.

Since the launch of AP Video Hub, the platform has gone from strength to strength and we recently announced our Content Partner Offer, which allows third-party content to be sold via the platform. The first partner to go live was Newsflare, an online video news community for user-generated video, which adds a new dimension to the site and meets an increasing demand for this type of content.

We also launched a new video service in the Middle East earlier this year to meet the insatiable demand for news in the region, offering customers more unique video content centered on the news that matters most to consumers there. Our Deloitte research showed that, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, Middle East consumers value trusted news sources – particularly when it comes to video. We want to ensure that our customers are in a position to provide their own customers exactly what they need.

8 ways the Obama administration is blocking information

The fight for access to public information has never been harder, Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee said recently at a joint meeting of the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors and the Associated Press Photo Managers. The problem extends across the entire federal government and is now trickling down to state and local governments.

AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee (AP Photo).

AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee (AP Photo).

Here is Buzbee’s list of eight ways the Obama administration is making it hard for journalists to find information and cover the news:

1) As the United States ramps up its fight against Islamic militants, the public can’t see any of it. News organizations can’t shoot photos or video of bombers as they take off — there are no embeds. In fact, the administration won’t even say what country the S. bombers fly from.

2) The White House once fought to get cameramen, photographers and reporters into meetings the president had with foreign leaders overseas. That access has become much rarer. Think about the message that sends other nations about how the world’s leading democracy deals with the media:  Keep them out and let them use handout photos.

3) Guantanamo: The big important 9/11 trial is finally coming up. But we aren’t allowed to see most court filings in real time — even of nonclassified material. So at hearings, we can’t follow what’s happening. We don’t know what prosecutors are asking for, or what defense attorneys are arguing.

4) Information about Guantanamo that was routinely released under President George W. Bush is now kept secret. The military won’t release the number of prisoners on hunger strike or the number of assaults on guards. Photo and video coverage is virtually nonexistent.

5) Day-to-day intimidation of sources is chilling. AP’s transportation reporter’s sources say that if they are caught talking to her, they will be fired. Even if they just give her facts, about safety, for example. Government press officials say their orders are to squelch anything controversial or that makes the administration look bad.

6) One of the media — and public’s — most important legal tools, the Freedom of Information Act, is under siege. Requests for information under FOIA have become slow and expensive. Many federal agencies simply don’t respond at all in a timely manner, forcing news organizations to sue each time to force action.

7) The administration uses FOIAs as a tip service to uncover what news organizations are pursuing. Requests are now routinely forwarded to political appointees. At the agency that oversees the new health care law, for example, political appointees now handle the FOIA requests.

8) The administration is trying to control the information that state and local officials can give out. The FBI has directed local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology the police departments use to sweep up cellphone data. In some cases, federal officials have formally intervened in state open records cases, arguing for secrecy.

AP announces new political reporting lineup

U.S. Political Editor David Scott announced the AP’s new political reporting lineup in a memo to staff today:

All,

Please join me in welcoming Steve Peoples as he joins the Washington bureau this month as a political reporter focused on the Republican Party and its candidates for president in 2016.

Steve Peoples (AP Photo).

Steve Peoples (AP Photo).

“Joining” might seem like the wrong verb, since Steve has been a part of the AP’s political team — covering this crucial beat — for some time. From his base in Boston, and his second home at the many Marriotts of New Hampshire, Peoples turned his role as our northeast political reporter into a job whose scope reached far beyond New England.

For months during the last presidential campaign, Peoples was a fixture in the living rooms and coffee shops where the New Hampshire primary is won and lost. He sat in diners with Jon Huntsman’s family and rode mountain bikes with Ron Paul. He turned those intimate moments into a depth of sourcing that allowed him to excel as our reporter on the Mitt Romney campaign.

In recent months, even as he continued covering GOP contenders, Steve took it upon himself to keep the AP’s political reporting team organized and on point, leading story discussion meetings and organizing coverage of key moments of the off-campaign year. His assistance has been invaluable to me as I get up to speed in Washington.

With this move, AP will now field quite the political reporting lineup — a team that’s ready for the upcoming presidential election, which as we all know is well underway.

Ken Thomas and Julie Pace (AP Photo).

Ken Thomas and Julie Pace (AP Photo).

Leading off are Steve and Ken Thomas, our reporter on the national Democratic Party and, therefore, Hillary Rodham Clinton. As the campaign gains momentum, they’ll increasingly be joined by Julie Pace and members of the White House team. There is no better place for AP’s White House Correspondent to prepare to lead AP’s coverage of the next president than out in the country as voters make the choice of who will next sit in the Oval Office.

Who might they be writing about this time next year? Still to be determined, although we have some clues. We know for certain the campaign will start in Iowa, where Tom Beaumont will tell the story, joined as the campaign moves along by political reporters Nick Riccardi in Denver, Bill Barrow in Atlanta, Mike Mishak in Miami and Jill Colvin in New Jersey. And they’re backed with Washington’s Phil Elliott on money and media, Jesse Holland on race, ethnicity and voters, and Chuck Babington on the intersection of politics, the campaign and Congress. All guided by the intel provided by polling chief Jenn Agiesta, and assisted by Donna Cassata, Dave Espo and all the member of our team on the Hill.

And then there are all the beat reporters in Washington whose expertise on policy so often makes the AP’s political report something truly distinct. And all the political reporters AP has in every statehouse, which gives AP — and therefore its members and customers — a reach that no one can match.

And that’s just the text team. We’re already working on exciting ideas on how we’ll carry out our political story telling in video for 2016. For now, I’m thrilled to welcome Steve to Washington and so excited to be working with him, this team and our staff in U.S. news to tell the story of another chapter in the grand American experiment.

From Washington,

David

Learn more about AP’s national politics team and follow @AP_Politics on Twitter.

AP team interviews Iraq’s new prime minister

The Associated Press is the first foreign media organization to interview Haider al-Abadi, who was officially named Iraq’s prime minister on Sept. 8.

In the all-formats interview conducted today in Baghdad, the prime minister “strongly rejected the idea of the U.S. or other nations sending ground forces to his country to help fight the Islamic State group,” according to the AP account. He said that foreign troops are “out of the question.”

Read the AP news story by Baghdad Bureau Chief Vivian Salama and reporter Qassim Abdul-Zahra.

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. Iraq’s new prime minister says foreign ground troops are neither necessary nor wanted in his country’s fight against the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. Iraq’s new prime minister says foreign ground troops are neither necessary nor wanted in his country’s fight against the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Q&A: How AP stays ahead in the mobile space

The Associated Press has released a new version of AP Mobile, its award-winning news app, to offer full support for Apple’s new operating system, iOS 8, and the hotly anticipated iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Here, Michael Boord, director of mobile products, explains how AP is staying ahead in the mobile space:

Director of Mobile Products Michael Boord (AP Photo).

Director of Mobile Products Michael Boord (AP Photo).

How is AP Mobile optimized for iOS 8 and the new iPhone?
From a user perspective, the app won’t look much different, but our developers have been working for months making backend changes that should make the app perform better than ever. We’ve also made some enhancements to the sharing features, so users can more easily post stories on social media. Users will notice a new “Big Story” carousel on their home screen to more prominently surface the major developing stories AP is covering around the world, from the Ebola outbreak to the entertainment awards season.

What content can users find on AP Mobile?
The app features the best of AP’s journalism in every format, including breaking news alerts, hourly radio updates, stunning images, interactive graphics and video reports. It’s customizable, so users can choose what news categories they want, from sports and entertainment to politics or local news.

MOBILEHow does AP Mobile showcase local content?
Users pick which local publications they want to see from our more than 1,100 contributing partners. We’re also working closely with AP members to showcase their work on the app’s tiled-based home screen. For example, we recently featured reporting from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and content from the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. These were stories of national interest and we helped our users discover content they might not otherwise see.

Who’s reading AP Mobile?
Since its launch in 2008, AP Mobile has been downloaded over 14 million times and is consistently among the highest-rated news apps in the app stores. We tend to see spikes in the number of downloads when breaking news happens, and we find it gratifying that people turn to AP for fast, accurate information. Even the White House press secretary told CNN he uses the app to stay up to date.

What’s next?
Because we’ve already optimized for iO8, we are well-positioned for substantial updates in the future. We’re hoping to roll out some new content features in November and are continuing to look for unique ways to surface compelling, authoritative local content.

Download AP Mobile from the Apple iTunes or Google Play app stores.

Now we say ‘the Islamic State group’ instead of ISIL

Back in June we talked in this blog about AP’s preferred abbreviation for the fast-growing Islamic militant group in Iraq and Syria, known variously at the time as ISIL and ISIS. We explained why our preference was ISIL.

Things then changed with ISIL’s decision in July to rebrand itself as the “Islamic State.” In a recent story, we explained that AP now refers to the organization as “the Islamic State group” (not simply “the Islamic State”) and the reason for this approach.

The story is below:

By VIVIAN SALAMA
Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) — Propaganda has been one of the core strategies of the Sunni militant group in Syria and Iraq that today calls itself the Islamic State — and its name is very much a part of that.

In July, the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced its rebranding. He declared that the territory under his control would be part of a caliphate, or an Islamic state, shortening its name from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL — the acronym used by the Obama administration and the British Foreign Office to this day. The Levant can refer to all countries bordering on the eastern Mediterranean, from Greece to Egypt.

Different translations for the name of the al-Qaida splinter group have emerged since the early days of its existence.

Some have chosen to call it the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The final word in Arabic — al-Sham — can be translated as Levant, Syria, or as Damascus.

Arab governments have long refrained from using Islamic State, instead referring to it by the Arabic acronym for its full original name, Daesh — short for Dawlat al-Islamiyah f’al-Iraq w Belaad al-Sham.

Kurdish citizens who live in Lebanon hold Arabic placards that read, "To be Yazidi means love, accord and peace" and "No to killing the Yazidi sect by Daesh" during a demonstration against the Islamic State group, in front of the UN building, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Monday Sept. 15, 2014. An activist group and a Kurdish official say heavy clashes are taking place in northeastern Syria, with Kurdish fighters capturing about a dozen villages from Islamic militants. Kurdish fighters and members of the Islamic State group have been fighting each other for more than a year in northern Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Kurdish citizens who live in Lebanon hold Arabic placards that read, “To be Yazidi means love, accord and peace” and “No to killing the Yazidi sect by Daesh” during a demonstration against the Islamic State group, in front of the UN building, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Monday Sept. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Several residents in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which fell to the extremist group in June, told The Associated Press that the militants threatened to cut the tongue of anyone who publicly used the acronym Daesh, instead of referring to the group by its full name, saying it shows defiance and disrespect. The residents spoke anonymously out of fear for their safety.

The inconsistency, while confusing for some, has not deterred the group’s growing exposure on social media, with so many hashtags, posts and tweets ultimately directing readers and viewers to their news. Despite being associated to about a half-dozen names and acronyms, the group’s brutal objectives are becoming increasingly clear.

Prior to the group’s self-declared rebranding in July, The Associated Press opted to refer to it as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, believing it was the most accurate translation.

The AP now uses phrases like “the Islamic State group,” or “fighters from the Islamic State group,” to avoid phrasing that sounds like they could be fighting for an internationally recognized state.

“The word ‘state’ implies a system of administration and governance,” said David L. Phillips, the director of Peace-Building and Rights Program at Columbia University. “It’s not a term that would be used to characterize a terrorist group or militia that is merely rolling up territory.”

“Part of their strategy is to establish administration over lands that they control so that they demonstrate that they are more than just a fighting force,” Phillips added. Equally problematic is the use of the word “Islamic” in its name, with some calling it blasphemous.

On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius referred to the group as Daesh, calling them “butchers” who do not represent Islam or a state. He urged others to do the same.

Egypt’s top Islamic authority, Grand Mufti Ibrahim Negm, last month called on the international community to refer to the group as “al-Qaida separatists” and not the Islamic State.

“Their savage acts don’t coincide with the name of Islam,” said Sunni cleric Hameed Marouf Hameed, an official with Iraq’s Sunni religious endowment. “They incite hatred, violence and killing and these acts have no place in any real Islamic state.”

___

Associated Press reporters Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad, Angela Charlton in Paris and Greg Katz in London contributed to this report.