About Tom Kent

Deputy managing editor and standards editor of The Associated Press, responsible for accuracy and balance across all AP news services. Frequent contributor to forums and conferences on newsroom ethics and organization. Adjunct professor at the School of International Affairs and Journalism School of Columbia University. Former AP correspondent or bureau chief in Russia, Iran, Belgium, Australia and the United States. Graduate of Yale University. Languages: French, Russian, Spanish. @tjrkent

Interviewing and photographing young people

Questions often arise about interviewing and photographing children and teenagers.

Should we seek a parent’s permission to interview a child? To show a child in a photo or video? Does this change in urgent news situations? Are there special anonymity rules for quoting children?

As a result, we’ve come up with some best practices for AP staff. We consider them best practices rather than firm rules because situations vary so much, and because some countries have strong laws and traditions on the matter. We expect these practices will continue to evolve.

The guidelines were prepared by AP National Writer Martha Irvine, who often writes about, films and photographs young people. She sought advice from many AP colleagues.

More on AP’s style on Pvt. Chelsea Manning

Yesterday the AP announced that we will use Pvt. Chelsea Manning to refer to the soldier convicted in the WikiLeaks case, rather than Pvt. Bradley Manning. We also will use female pronouns for Manning.

Our decision brought several questions from readers. In particular, readers asked if we were giving in to a pseudonym by accepting “Chelsea Manning” (middle name Elizabeth) or if we should have waited for Manning to do a legal change of name. Others questioned the whole idea of referring to Manning as a woman in the absence of sex-change surgery.

Our basic guidance on transgender people has been in the AP Stylebook for years. It applies to all people, not just celebrities or public figures. It says, “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”

Our guidance does not require sex-change surgery in order to present oneself as a member of the other sex. Manning is clearly presenting herself as a woman, so female pronouns apply.

But what about the name?

We often do use legal names as a guideline. But AP style is not ultimately determined by court or government action. We refer to many entertainment and sports figures by the names they’re commonly known by, whatever their legal names may be.

We do oppose pseudonyms, but that policy is based on the fact that most pseudonyms are used to conceal a person’s true identity. In the Manning case, there’s no question what person we’re talking about.

Manning’s case also does not involve a spur-of-the-moment change. An army psychiatrist testified at trial that Manning was diagnosed with gender-identity disorder in Iraq in 2010. On the basis of this testimony, the photograph of Manning as a woman and the private’s own signed statement, it seems clear that Manning’s new identity, including the name Chelsea, is a real thing to her.

When Chaz Bono, the child of Sonny and Cher, underwent a gender transformation from female to male, AP began referring to him as Chaz in 2009. His formal name change came only in 2010.

While the Stylebook doesn’t directly address name changes in transgender situations, it accepts “nicknames” such as Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson. The spirit of the Stylebook entry is that, after consideration, AP can call people what they wish to be called. Manning’s self-identification as Chelsea seems to merit at least the same consideration.

What to expect when you’re interviewed by AP

Sometimes people ask about the “ground rules” when they’re being interviewed or photographed by AP. Here’s what you should expect when working with an AP reporter, photographer or videographer:
_ We want to hear and see your story. We’ll try hard to accurately convey what you say, and to provide background that gives the context for your remarks.
_ We prefer to talk to you directly. We seek to do all interviews in person or by phone, Skype or similar. Sometimes we may ask questions by email. But our story will then characterize our exchange as an email conversation, not an interview.
_ We want to interview you on the record, with your name in our story, radio report, TV piece or photo caption. We can grant anonymity in some cases but our rules are quite strict. Generally we bar any anonymous expressions of opinion, and do not grant anonymity unless it is the only way to get information that is essential to the story. We also weigh the risk to the source if he or she is quoted on the record. If you wish to say something on an anonymous basis, be clear with the reporter; we may not be able to use it unless you’re willing to have your name attached to it. Also, if we quote you anonymously in a story, we cannot quote you on the record, elsewhere in the story, as refusing to comment.
_ We almost never obscure a face in photos or video. On rare occasions we can take photos and video from an angle that does not identify the person. Any such issues should be discussed with the photographer or videographer.
_ We cannot show you our story, or the images we’ve taken, before publication. We also cannot allow interviewees to review or edit before publication the quotes they give in interviews. (AP reporters are free to, at their own initiative, check a quote with a newsmaker during or after an interview to make sure it is correct.)
_ We cannot provide a full list of questions in advance. We may specify some general areas we intend to ask about, but we always reserve the right to ask about something else.
_ We cannot agree not to ask about specific topics. If you decline to comment, we’ll report that.
_ If you feel your comments were rendered inaccurately, contact the reporter or editor. We will correct the story if appropriate.

For more on AP’s editorial standards, see the AP Statement of News Values and Principles.

Journalism as we know it …

Is journalism as we know it on its last legs?

In journalism conferences and blogs, the last-leg school has been gaining currency in the past few months. Its proponents argue that the basic transmission of information has become something almost anyone can do. This information, they say, is seen by everyone — long before journalistic gatekeepers can try to control it. The bottom line: If there’s anything left for journalists to do, it’s to attempt to add value by analyzing and retelling what everyone has seen already.

I’m not convinced that all journalism will, or should, go this way. Traditional journalism — and I include in that category some terrific journalism startups — still have a lot to recommend them. I’ve shared some thoughts on this issue in The Huffington Post.

Was the overthrow of Egypt’s government a coup?

UPDATED ON MONDAY:

When the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist government last Wednesday, placing him under house arrest, AP took a wait-and-see approach to use of the word “coup.” We initially recommended that our staff not describe the events as a coup because of what appeared to be wide public support of the army’s action — and the fact that the overthrow resembled a popular revolt as much as a classic military coup.

However, the military’s subsequent actions — jailing the leaders of the Morsi regime, arresting members of his political party and cracking down on the pro-Morsi media — have made the takeover seem more than a simple response to public pressure in that first night. Violent clashes between pro-Morsi groups and those supporting his ouster, and the dissolution of parliament by the military-installed president, laid bare deep conflicts in Egypt that are likely to continue.

“Coup” now seems to be an accurate term for what transpired, by the AP Stylebook’s main reference dictionary. Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, defines a coup as “the sudden, forcible overthrow of a ruler, government, etc., sometimes with violence, by a small group of people already having some political or military authority.”

Therefore we’ll now use the word coup to describe the military intervention. But we’re asking our writers to add some qualifying explanation nonetheless. For example, we might refer to “an overthrow by military force — spurred by a popular revolt against the Islamist-dominated government, whose adherents resisted the coup.”

In a headline, coup is acceptable. However, stories should, for completeness, point out that the coup/takeover followed a series of widespread national protests.


Our Wednesday blog entry:

Here’s a story we put out today on the use of the word “coup” in connection with the Egypt story. As we explain in the last paragraph, the AP is, for the time being, avoiding that word in our descriptions of of what has happened. (We will use the word of course, in quoting those who do use it.)

Was the overthrow of Egypt’s Islamist government on Wednesday a coup?
Much hangs on the exact words used to describe what happened.
If the U.S. government determines the Egyptian military carried out a coup, it could affect the $1.5 billion in economic and military assistance Washington gives Egypt each year.
“U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree,” U.S. Sen. Patrick Lahey, a key decision-maker on U.S. foreign aid, said Wednesday. He said his foreign assistance committee “will review future aid to the Egyptian government as we wait for a clearer picture.”
In Egypt, too, the legitimacy of the military’s action hangs on how it is publicly viewed. In an English-language tweet, deposed President Mohammed Morsi said the military had staged a “full coup.” The military rejected the term, saying in a statement it never engages in coups but “always stands by the will and aspirations of the glorious Egyptian people for change and reform.”
The usual Arabic term for a military coup is “inqilab askari.” Inqilab literally means overturning; askari means military.
“Coup” comes from the French “coup d’etat,” or “stroke of state.” Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines it as the “sudden, forcible overthrow of a ruler, government, etc., sometimes with violence, by a small group of people already having some political or military authority.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language also speaks of a “small group.”
Egypt’s military overthrew an elected government after giving Morsi and his political opponents first seven days, then 48 hours to work out their own differences. Egypt’s top military officers could also be defined as a “small group,” but they acted after millions of citizens across the country demonstrated for Morsi’s removal. The military’s statement said its move was “an interaction with the pulse of the Egyptian street.”
The military installed a civilian government, not putting generals directly in power.
So far, The Associated Press is not characterizing the overthrow as a “coup,” using purely descriptive terms like “the overthrow of Morsi by the military.”
___
Associated Press reporters Donna Cassata in Washington and Lee Keath in Cairo contributed to this story.

Rowhani or Rouhani? AP adjusts its spelling for Iran’s president-elect

AP stories about the Iranian presidential election referred to one of the leading candidates as Hasan Rowhani, the spelling we’ve long used for this Iranian politician and former nuclear negotiator.

However, after he became president-elect, we noted that some publications have been spelling his name Rouhani. So we asked officials working with him what he prefers. Although both spellings are legitimate transliterations from Persian, “Rouhani” is the English rendering preferred by the president-elect himself, according to two officials working for him — one with his campaign, and the other at the Center for Strategic Research, where he still works. It is also the spelling used in the name of his website, http://www.rouhani.ir.

The AP Stylebook says we should “follow the individual’s preference for an English spelling if it can be determined.” Therefore, the AP is switching from Rowhani to Rouhani.

Rouhani is scheduled to become president Aug. 3.

Perhaps the greatest variety of English spellings for a world leader were those applied to the former Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi. Spellings of his name included Qaddafi, Qazzafi, Qadhdhafi, Qaththafi, Gadhdhafi, Khadafy. Even Libyan officials could offer no recommended spelling. Although the AP long used Khadafy, it eventually shifted to Gadhafi, based on the name’s pronunciation in Arabic and the spelling Gadhafi used in a series of English-language letters to American schoolchildren.

Whistle-blower or leaker?

With two secret-spilling stories in the news — NSA/ Edward Snowden and Wikileaks/Bradley Manning — we reviewed for our staff today our use of the term “whistle-blower” (hyphenated, per the AP Stylebook).

You can look it up: A whistle-blower is a person who exposes wrongdoing. It’s not a person who simply asserts that what he has uncovered is illegal or immoral. Whether the actions exposed by Snowden and Manning constitute wrongdoing is hotly contested, so we should not call them whistle-blowers on our own at this point. (Of course, we can quote other people who call them whistle-blowers.)

A better term to use on our own is “leakers.” Or, in our general effort to avoid labels and instead describe behavior, we can simply write what they did: they leaked or exposed or revealed classified information.

Sometimes whether a person is a whistle-blower can be established only after the revelations have sunk in, depending on what wrongdoing is confirmed or how public opinion eventually develops.

AP Social Media Guidelines update, including newsgathering in sensitive situations

From AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin and Standards Editor Tom Kent:

When there’s been a mass killing, a natural disaster or a breaking event in a war zone, AP journalists need to use every tool at their disposal to get the story — and, when possible, the images.

As always, we need to work quickly. But when potential sources of newsworthy tips, witness accounts and amateur content are in dangerous or otherwise sensitive situations, it’s critical that we make smart and ethical newsgathering decisions.

Today, we’re releasing the latest version of our social media guidelines for AP employees, and a key update is a new set of guidance on how (and whether) to use social networks to get information and amateur content from people who are in danger, or who have suffered a significant personal  loss. That newsgathering guidance is an abbreviated version of a broader set of tips recently written for AP staff by AP social media experts Eric Carvin and Fergus Bell, in collaboration with other editors.

Here are some of the other updates in the new version of the guidelines. (Note that some updates are simply additions to the document; some of these are policies already in effect that are just being formally added to the guidelines now.)

  • Staffers are advised to avoid spreading unconfirmed rumors through tweets and posts.
  • A new section explains how staffers can use personal sites and blogs to share a portfolio of work they’ve done for AP.
  • New guidance offers tips on how to handle breaking news that surfaces first on a public figure’s social media account.

Do you have thoughts or questions about the latest version of our guidelines? Feel free to reach out to Eric Carvin or Tom Kent on Twitter, or drop an email to AP at standards@ap.org.

Should we use the term “Obamacare”?

The other day, a reader told us that the term “Obamacare” has been “used by opponents to encourage hostility and partisanship.” He said AP shouldn’t use the term when referring to the U.S. Affordable Care Act.

In fact, it’s a little more complicated. While opponents of the legislation have often used “Obamacare” derisively, Obama himself, and some of his supporters, have used it. They apparently don’t consider it derogatory.

But given the various views of the term, we’ve advised our editors to allow the word mainly whenwe’re  quoting someone who uses it — not on our own. On the rare occasions we use it ourselves, we should say something like “also known as ‘Obamacare,’ ” with quotes around the word.

 

April Fools’ Day “pranks”?

At April Fools’ time, we’re sometimes asked how we feel about people planting “prank stories” in the media. We don’t find such pranks very amusing. Some people may be trying to be funny, but we also encounter hoaxes calculated to accomplish political or financial ends. Our task is to produce a news report that people can believe in. False material – however intended – undermines our mission. Each year our staff takes extra measures to be vigilant as April Fools’ Day nears, though we know well that hoaxes can be perpetrated at any time. We would not consider someone who attempts to perpetrate an April Fools’ hoax to be a reliable source for anything in the future, April Fools’ Day or not.