AP at the Arab Media Summit

Several AP people took part in last week’s Arab Media Summit in Dubai, a large annual gathering of journalists and news executives from across the Arab world. This year there was substantial interest in user-generated content — how we verify the accuracy of photos and video we find on social networks.

AP Standards Editor Tom Kent talks at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

My talk at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Of course, some news organizations devote little attention to such verification, but most of those we talked to in Dubai understood its importance. News media have to be better than relayers of “whatever’s out there”; viewers look to us to vet what’s true and what’s not. And, ultimately, the truth will win out: false or deceptively labeled images are usually quickly discovered, and the reputations of news organizations that use them are tarnished.

In my presentation, I showed a number of photos that turned out to be false, or labeled in order to mislead. They included a fake photo of the Statue of Liberty with Superstorm Sandy whirling around it and a fake video supposedly showing a young boy pulling a little girl to safety from an attack in Syria.

Our Beirut bureau chief, Zeina Karam, and AP Dubai business writer Aya Batrawy gave a separate session on reporting on the Middle East. Karam spoke about the challenges of reporting on the Syrian civil war while not being able to be in Syria outside of government-controlled territory. Batrawy, who recently filed several stories from Saudi Arabia, said she’s often asked if it’s a hindrance or a help to be a woman journalist in that country. She said being a woman has given her a great advantage because she has access to half the population of women that often male journalists are barred from approaching.

John Daniszewski, AP senior vice president for international news and a speaker last year, joined the AP team at the forum, along with staffers from AP’s commercial operations in London.

AP general counsel urges lawmakers to strengthen FOIA

Associated Press General Counsel Karen Kaiser today urged lawmakers to enact bipartisan legislation now before the U.S. Senate to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act and make it work better.

Karen Kaiser, general counsel at The Associated Press, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 6, 2015, before the Senate Judiciary hearing on open records laws. Kaiser testified that despite promises of greater transparency by the Obama administration, most agencies are not abiding by their legal obligations under open records laws. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Karen Kaiser, general counsel at The Associated Press, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 6, 2015, before the Senate Judiciary hearing on open records laws. Kaiser testified that despite promises of greater transparency by the Obama administration, most agencies are not abiding by their legal obligations under open records laws. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In testimony delivered to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in Washington, Kaiser detailed the many problems journalists and the public face when seeking access to public documents.

“Non-responsiveness is the norm. The reflex of most agencies is to withhold information, not to release, and often there is no recourse for a requester other than pursuing costly litigation,” Kaiser said. “This is a broken system that needs reform. Simply stated, government agencies should not be able to avoid the transparency requirements of the law in such continuing and brazen ways.”

Kaiser, who spoke on behalf of AP and The Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI), a coalition of media associations promoting open government, said the legislation would “result in a more informed citizenry and a more transparent and accountable government.”

Kaiser said the legislation is critical to:

  • improving efficiencies for FOIA requesters.
  • reducing the troubling backlog of cases.
  • driving agencies to decisions that better align with FOIA’s goals.
  • ensuring government operates from a presumption of openness in most cases.

AP is a leading and aggressive advocate for transparency in government. As detailed in the news organization’s 2014 annual report, requesting public records and fighting for access around the world have long been AP priorities. AP journalists file many hundreds of requests each year for government records and other information under FOIA and state open records statutes, many of which resulted in important stories that the public would otherwise not have known.

Last week, AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll detailed some recent government access challenges, on NPR’s “On the Media,” and in March AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt wrote a column published in newspapers across the country that explained how the government is undermining “right to know” laws.

AP and other news organizations seek Freddie Gray report

Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts announces that the department's investigation into the death of Freddie Gray was turned over to the State's Attorney's office a day early at a news conference, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Baltimore. Standing at right is Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis.  Batts did not give details of the report or take questions. He said the department dedicated more than 30 detectives to working on the case and report. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts announces that the department’s investigation into the death of Freddie Gray was turned over to the State’s Attorney’s office a day early at a news conference, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Baltimore. Standing at right is Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis. Batts did not give details of the report or take questions. He said the department dedicated more than 30 detectives to working on the case and report. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A coalition of news organizations, including The Associated Press, has called on the Baltimore Police Department to release immediately its report on the death of Freddie Gray that it has submitted to the Maryland state’s attorney.

The coalition argues that “release of the document would … only serve the public interest.”

See the letter sent to the police department.

Vietnam photos of Henri Huet displayed in France

Henri Huet, one of the most admired photojournalists of the Vietnam War, is being remembered in an exhibit of his work in France.

“Henri Huet: Vietnam 1965-1971” opened last week and will remain on view until May 8 at the Bidouane Tower in St. Malo, the historic walled city on the coast of Brittany, a region where the Vietnamese-born photographer passed much of his childhood.

In six years with The Associated Press, Huet covered more combat than any other photojournalist in Vietnam, sharing danger and hardship with U.S, and South Vietnamese troops.

His work reflected an artist’s appreciation of the landscape of his native country and the plight of its people caught in war.

The risks caught up with Huet in 1967 when he was severely wounded by artillery at Con Thien, a U.S. Marine outpost in northern South Vietnam, and spent months recuperating from leg injuries in a New York hospital. He returned to Vietnam in mid-1968, but a year later AP, worried about his safety, transferred him to Tokyo, an assignment he regarded as unwelcome exile.

Huet was recalled to Vietnam in 1970 to cover the war in Cambodia and Saigon forces’ invasion of Laos in early 1971. During the latter operation, on Feb. 10, 1971, he was killed, at age 43, in the shoot-down of a South Vietnamese Air Force helicopter.

Many of Huet’s photos appear in “Vietnam: The Real War,” AP’s photo history of the conflict that was published in 2013. His work is also represented in a London exhibition of AP’s Vietnam images, on view to May 31 at the headquarters of The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way.

En francais: Exposition photographique d’Henri Huet

Expanding state coverage through ‘Shared News Desk’

Reinforcing AP’s long-standing commitment to state news coverage, we’ve hired more than a dozen journalists over the past year to leverage the power of AP’s cooperative and expand our state reports.

AP Managing Editor for U.S. News Brian Carovillano (AP Photo/Santos Chaparro)

AP Managing Editor for U.S. News Brian Carovillano (AP Photo/Santos Chaparro)

A “Shared News Desk,” which began at the Central region desk in Chicago as a pilot project last July, will begin operating at AP’s three other U.S. regional news desks, in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Phoenix, on April 20. The desk makes two important improvements to our state reports. It frees AP journalists to produce more original reporting and increases the number of state news stories on the wire.

The move dovetails with the creation earlier this year of a state government team focused on accountability and explanatory reporting across the country.

Here, Brian Carovillano, managing editor for U.S. news, explains the new initiative and how it’s already paying dividends for members and bolstering AP’s domestic news operation.

What does the Shared News Desk do?
The goal is simple: Get more content onto state wires at key times for AP members. To accomplish this, each desk identifies the best stories from members of the AP news cooperative in their region, rewrites those stories and distributes them in time for the morning rush.

What types of content do Shared News Desks produce?
Their output augments AP’s strong original reporting from every state. The Shared News Desk produces briefs and longer stories for print, online and radio and TV broadcasts. They also compile packages of feature stories shared by AP members that move in advance so other members can use them. The desks will ensure a steady flow of fresh stories for crucial drive-time broadcasts and morning online traffic.

The desks strive to find a mix of stories from both print and broadcast members and a diversity of datelines in a given state. They focus on surfacing the types of stories customers in each state have told AP that they most value.

For example, before the Shared News Desk, the news editor in Kansas City spent three hours per week preparing the weekly Member Exchange packages for Kansas and Missouri. The Shared News Desk now handles this responsibility. Its launch nearly coincided with the racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, enabling the Missouri team to focus more time on one of the top stories in the world.

In Texas, the Dallas bureau created an additional reporting shift thanks to time freed up by the Shared News Desk. And when the first U.S. Ebola patient was identified in Texas, the Dallas bureau was able to dedicate more reporting power to that top global story because the Shared News Desk was helping out on other Texas stories.

How much content will the desks produce?
The first Shared News Desk in Chicago has produced up to 1,200 stories per month, or 15-20 percent of AP’s total monthly text output in the 14-state region. A significant plus for AP members and subscribers is that more than half these items move before 4 a.m., a big increase over the amount of news previously available to them during those hours. This addresses a frequent request for more early-morning content.

With the Shared News Desk in operation, the state bureaus in the Central region have generated about 400 additional original AP stories in an average month than they did previously.

What has the response been?
The response has been quite positive. Members in the Central region where the desk has been up and running for nearly a year have noticed a difference and have told AP they appreciate the infusion of state stories arriving early in the day. We plan to build on this success and make our state reports even more timely and useful for our members across the country.

White House reporter takes top honors for deadline reporting

Most of the White House Press Corps had departed for the evening, but AP’s Josh Lederman was one of a few still at work inside at 8 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2014 when he heard a commotion outside the doors of the briefing room. Secret Service agents were shouting at people to get inside, saying the building was on lockdown.

AP White House reporter Josh Lederman (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

AP White House reporter Josh Lederman (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Lederman rushed to the press office, where officials were not yet aware that there had been an incident. A few seconds later, agents stormed in with weapons drawn and began evacuating White House staffers into the basement. Lederman was sent there too, along with the White House communications director and a senior adviser to President Barack Obama.

After a few minutes of chaos, Lederman and the White House staffers were hurried out through a side door into the street, where the Secret Service had blocked off the perimeter of the campus. A uniformed agent rushing by said that someone had jumped the fence. Using his iPhone, Lederman wrote a quick, brief story that hit the AP wire at 8:17 p.m.

Then he kept reporting.

His story, written under deadline pressure on one of the most competitive beats in Washington, earned Lederman the prestigious Merriman Smith Memorial Award from the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA), which announced its annual honors on Tuesday.

“Lederman was also resourceful enough to use social media to locate an official source for comment on a Friday night, when official Washington normally rolls up the sidewalks, to confirm his hunch that the breach was more serious than it was being portrayed,” the judges said. “Lederman’s quick thinking and ability to turn around a story with nuance in a short time frame made this report stand out.”

Lederman will accept his award on April 25, at the WHCA’s annual dinner in Washington. AP was also honored in 2013, when Chief White House Correspondent Julie Pace won the Merriman Smith award for an on-deadline story explaining Obama’s path to re-election.

“We’re thrilled Josh has won the Merriman Smith award. He’s done a terrific job covering both spot news and also developing expertise on environmental stories and national security stories,” said Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee. “He’s a real building block for our bureau going forward and we’re really proud of him.”

AP White House reporter Josh Lederman appears on Fox News.

AP White House reporter Josh Lederman appears on Fox News.

Lederman, 29, has been on the White House beat since 2013 and focuses on domestic and foreign policy, as well as electoral politics and Vice President Joe Biden. He previously reported for AP in Jerusalem and covered Gov. Chris Christie and state politics in New Jersey, and reported for The Hill newspaper.

A native of Tucson, Arizona, Lederman has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from The George Washington University. He makes regular appearances on national television and radio, including on NPR, Fox News, BBC America and other outlets.

Led by Pace, AP’s White House team also includes Jim Kuhnhenn, Nedra Pickler and Darlene Superville.

Follow @AP_Politics on Twitter.

Is it news or a spoiler?

Jon Hamm arrives at The Black And Red Ball In Celebration Of The Final Seven Episodes Of "Mad Men" on Wednesday, March 25, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Jon Hamm arrives at The Black And Red Ball In Celebration Of The Final Seven Episodes Of “Mad Men” on Wednesday, March 25, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

A few weeks ago, when the Grammy Awards aired, we sent alerts on the top winners to our subscribers around the world, users of the AP mobile app and our social media followers. This brought us a fierce message from one app user, who said the show hadn’t yet been broadcast on the U.S. West Coast and we’d spoiled the excitement for him.

As a global news organization, there’s no way we can hold up breaking news from events millions of people are watching, like the Grammys, just because not everyone has seen it yet.

But on occasion, we do make efforts to avoid spoilers. Take coverage of TV series like a “Mad Men” finale or the outcome of a competition show such as “The Voice,” whose air times vary depending on time zones. We keep results out of the headlines and trust viewers won’t go further if they don’t want to know the outcome.

There’s also the increasingly common situation where a whole season of shows, like “House of Cards,” is released at once.

Some people will binge-watch them all immediately. But most will view a few at a time, and it’s reasonable not to be in their faces with plot twists they may not want to know about. In such cases, too, we avoid putting any potential spoiler in headlines, and we warn readers within our stories before we talk about a surprise that happens in a later episode.

We also avoid spoiler material in reviews. When we review a play that’s a detective story, we don’t reveal whodunit.

It comes down to trying to tread a line between covering breaking entertainment news as it happens and respecting the suspense many enjoy around the content of entertainment programs themselves.

Award to AP bureau chief for ‘rich content’ on the crises in West Africa

Krista Larson chats with orphans she interviewed at a Catholic church sheltering more than 800 Muslims in Carnot, Central African Republic who had fled sectarian violence. (AP Photo/Steve Niko)

Krista Larson chats with orphans she interviewed at a Catholic church sheltering more than 800 Muslims in Carnot, Central African Republic who had fled sectarian violence. (AP Photo/Steve Niko)

Krista Larson, West Africa bureau chief for The Associated Press, has won the Deborah Howell Award for Nondeadline Writing from the American Society of News Editors, which announced its annual honors for distinguished reporting and photography today.

Larson, who put herself at risk to chronicle the lives of abandoned orphans, left on their own after family members died of Ebola, also covered the ethnic war in the Central African Republic.

In a first-person report from the Ebola zone in Liberia, Larson wrote about her own fear of the disease and the challenges of covering the health crisis: “The world needs to know what’s happening here: Ebola is obliterating entire neighborhoods, leaving orphaned children with no one to lean on but a tree.”

“These stories had a high degree of difficulty and personal risk, were beautifully written and delivered rich content and context on the depth of the crises in West Africa,” the ASNE judges said. “These types of stories can often seem distant to readers, but the writer made the stories compelling with her depth of reporting and the humanity she brought to her storytelling.”

John Daniszewski, senior managing editor for international news at AP, said: “Krista has a passion to tell stories from West Africa that bring alive to a wider audience the threads of success, sadness and humanity running through the lives of the people of the region, always showing empathy and respect for the dignity of those she covers. We are very pleased that her wonderful work has been recognized in this way.”

Larson, 36, began her AP career as an intern in the Paris bureau in 2001, and worked as a reporter for the news cooperative in Vermont and New Jersey. She was also an editor on the AP’s national and international desks in New York. She has been working in Africa since 2008, first as a supervisory editor at the AP’s Africa regional desk in Johannesburg. In 2012, she became a correspondent based in Dakar, Senegal, and was named bureau chief in 2014.

A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she graduated from Northwestern University and has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern.

See the full list of winners

Honoring the courage of women photojournalists

FILE - In this April 7, 2005 file photo, Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus poses in Rome. Niedringhaus, 48, was killed and an AP reporter was wounded on April 4, 2014, when an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan. At least 60 journalists around the world were killed in 2014 while on the job or because of their work, and 44 percent of them were targeted for murder, the Committee to Protect Journalists says. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

In this April 7, 2005 file photo, Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus poses in Rome. Niedringhaus, 48, was killed and an AP reporter was wounded on April 4, 2014, when an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) named freelance photographer Heidi Levine as the inaugural winner of the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award. The award was created to honor the courage and dedication of Pulitzer Prize-winning AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus, who was killed in Afghanistan in April 2014.

Levine won for her work in Gaza. “Her courage and commitment to the story in Gaza is unwavering. She documents tragic events under dire circumstances while displaying a depth of compassion for the people she encounters,” the jury said in its selection statement.

Niedringhaus joined the AP in 2002, and while based in Geneva worked throughout the Middle East as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan. She was part of the AP team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for coverage of Iraq. She also covered nine Olympic Games and other sports events around the world.

“It is encouraging to see Anja’s legacy honored through the amazing and courageous work of Heidi Levine, this year’s inaugural winner,” said Santiago Lyon, vice president and director of photography at AP. “Heidi thoroughly embodies Anja’s spirit and courage.”

The award will be presented to Levine at a ceremony June 25 in Berlin. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation provided funding for the $20,000 prize.

AP photographer Rebecca Blackwell received an Honorable Mention for her coverage of the Central African Republic.

Read the AP news story.

AP investigative reporter offers tips for seeking public records

The Associated Press is committed to fighting for access to information the public has a right to know. AP journalists across the country routinely file Freedom of Information Act requests to uncover critical information that the government would have preferred to keep secret. Washington investigative reporter Jack Gillum recently broke the story that Hillary Clinton used a private email server at her home, and he mined information on Instagram to track Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock’s spending. Gillum frequently draws from records requests to report exclusives. Here, he explains why they should be part of every journalist’s toolkit:

Investigative reporter Jack Gillum (AP photo).

Investigative reporter Jack Gillum (AP photo).

How important to your work are the Freedom of Information Act and open records statutes in the states?
Public records requests have been invaluable in my reporting. FOIA requests to U.S. agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration recently uncovered that the government knew local police in Ferguson, Missouri, put in place flight restrictions to keep the news media away during demonstrations following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Other requests can illuminate how government officials conduct their affairs, such as when we found senior U.S. officials using alternative email accounts – raising questions about their obligations to turn over documents to lawmakers and the public.

My request for 911 tapes made during the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings — the subject of a lengthy legal fight — revealed how public safety officials responded to one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. The records didn’t come easy, with one state prosecutor opposing their release and telling a judge that neither I nor the AP represented the public. The judge ultimately sided with the AP.

How often do you file FOIA requests?
I usually file at least one request a week. That doesn’t include the countless records requests other AP journalists file with governments in the United States and around the world.

What challenges do you encounter in the process?
The federal FOIA is chock full of delays, leaving journalists to wait for information long after the news value of those documents has passed. The U.S. State Department, the defendant in a new FOIA lawsuit by the AP seeking documents about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has an average wait time of nearly a year and a half for certain requests.

Public records laws can vary from state to state. Some laws are antiquated and don’t properly address electronic records, leading to excessive charges (25 cents per page) just to view a public official’s emails or her schedules. Other agencies — state, federal or municipal — simply can’t or won’t perform adequate searches, especially with regard to databases and other forms of digital communications.

What advice do you have for other journalists who are learning to navigate the system?
Even if you’re not a lawyer, become an expert on your state’s freedom-of-information laws. Be prepared to fight any denial; don’t “file and forget” the request. And file requests often — not just when you need information on a big, breaking story. After all, governments produce a lot of material that could be newsworthy and important for the public to see.

Become familiar with electronic records and how they’re stored, especially since documents in manila folders are becoming less commonplace. Ask for database “record layouts” – a virtual map of a database that can reveal what information is being kept – and request other forms of electronic communication besides email (like text messages, chat transcripts or Twitter direct messages).