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.

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

AP announces political team for 2016

U.S. Political Editor David Scott announced The Associated Press’ political reporting lineup in a memo to staff today:

Colleagues,

The past two weeks have been a strong marker, lest there be any doubt, that the campaign for president in 2016 is here, now. So today, Sally and I are thrilled to announce an addition to the U.S. political team, and some other changes, that will help us break the biggest news and report the sharpest enterprise from now until Election Day.

Lisa Lerer (Photo courtesy Lisa Lerer)

Lisa Lerer (Photo courtesy Lisa Lerer)

First, the addition: Lisa Lerer will join AP as a political reporter focused on Hillary Clinton. Lisa, now a correspondent at Bloomberg Politics, will be based in Washington, but will spend time in New York and on the trail with the presumptive Democratic front runner. It’s a place Lisa knows well, having covered Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012 and the Republican field in 2008. Since then, she has written primarily on domestic policy from the White House for Bloomberg News and BusinessWeek magazine, and appeared on Bloomberg television.

Lisa is a strong source reporter, knowledgeable about campaigns and donors — and also knowledgeable about governing. She has a good eye for fresh and interesting angles.

Next up, a shift we had planned for later this year, but are excited to make now: our White House correspondent, Julie Pace, will broaden her focus to include campaign coverage along with her normal White House coverage, bringing strong sourcing skills and political acumen to the team.

Julie Pace (AP photo).

Julie Pace (AP photo).

Lisa joins the AP early next month. Julie has already begun to split her time between the campaign and the White House. She will retain her title and a strong news portfolio at the White House.

It goes without saying: We do anticipate other reporters will be drawn into our political coverage as the campaign progresses.

Meanwhile, from his base in Iowa, Tom Beaumont is now responsible for our coverage of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Phil Elliott is focused on the Republicans in the Senate seeking the GOP’s 2016 nomination. For the next few months, Cal Woodward will also be working closely with me and the political team as an editor.

These changes make our already strong team stronger. Ken Thomas remains focused on national Democrats, and Steve Peoples on the national Republican Party. In New Jersey, Jill Colvin is on point for Chris Christie and all 2016 news in New York City. Nick Riccardi covers politics in the West and Bill Barrow in the South, as before.

Jesse Holland remains our lead voice on race, ethnicity and voters, and Emily Swanson on polling. The report benefits each day from the work of our team on Capitol Hill, led by Donna Cassata. And, of course, AP’s corps of statehouse reporters has already proved highly valuable on the trail.

In photos, we are pleased to have recently welcomed Andrew Harnik, an experienced campaign and political photographer, to AP’s team of Pulitzer Prize-winning campaign photographers who will cover the 2016 race both in Washington and on the trail.

And AP’s Washington-based U.S. video operation is already gearing up to produce the coverage of candidates and issues that will explain to television and digital video audiences — worldwide — where the race for the White House stands hour by hour.

Please join me in welcoming Lisa.

Best,

David

Where to find AP at SXSW Interactive

The Associated Press is joining thousands of digital and creative professionals from around the world converging at the 2015 SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, which runs March 13 through 17.  Here’s where you’ll find AP:

Saturday, March 14

Social Media: Breaking News or Fixing News?

AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin (AP Photo).

AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin (AP Photo).

  • AP Social Media Editor and Online News Association board member Eric Carvin (@EricCarvin) joins a panel on the impact of social media on the news ecosystem. The hour-long session presented by The Knight Foundation also features Kai Ryssdal, host of “Marketplace”; Michael Roston, social media editor at The New York Times; and Alison Lichter, the Wall Street Journal’s social media editor. The session will take place from 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Austin, Zilker Ballroom. Follow the conversation on Twitter with hashtags: #sxsw #breaking.
  • AP is sponsoring a photo booth at the popular SXSW event, “The Awesomest Journalism Party Ever. V.” The event is from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. and RSVP is required.

Sunday, March 15

When robots write the news, what will humans do?

Lou Ferrara, vice president and managing editor

Lou Ferrara, vice president and managing editor (AP Photo).

  • When AP announced it would use technology from Automated Insights to automate corporate earnings stories the reaction was dramatic, and many wondered: what will happen to human journalists? AP Vice President and Managing Editor Lou Ferrara (@LouFerrara) will discuss why AP decided to automate some business and sports news content, the impact of automation on the news business and how journalists have adapted to the change. He’ll be joined by Robbie Allen, CEO of Automated Insights. The session will take place from 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Austin, Texas Ballroom 4-7. Follow the conversation on Twitter using hashtags: #sxsw #newsrobots.

AP journalists will also be providing news coverage of SXSW interactive, film and music. Follow business writer Mae Anderson (@maetron) and Music Editor Mesfin Fekadu (@MusicMesfin) for updates.

Dig into data journalism with AP

The Associated Press will be sharing expertise and learning from other data journalists from around the country at a computer-assisted reporting conference put on by NICAR and Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE). The annual event runs today through March 8 in Atlanta.

AP Editor for Interactive Technology Troy Thibodeaux (AP Photo)

AP Editor for Interactive Technology Troy Thibodeaux (AP Photo)

“Every year we pick up tools and techniques that become essential to our data journalism toolkit. And every year, I personally steal a few teaching ideas that help me bring the material back to the broader AP,” said AP Editor for Interactive Technology Troy Thibodeaux. “All this, and we get to compare notes and ask questions of the people in other news organizations whose work most inspires and challenges us.”

Here’s some of the hands-on training AP is providing:

THURSDAY, MARCH 5

FRIDAY, MARCH 6

SATURDAY, MARCH 7

  • Getting started with SQLite
    This workshop led by Thibodeaux will provide an introduction to the world of SQL (Structured Query Language), “the lingua franca of relational databases.”

Setting the standards for journalists’ safety

The Associated Press has joined 25 other news organizations and journalism groups in endorsing an unprecedented set of safety standards designed to protect freelance reporters on dangerous assignments.

A document spelling out the safety guidelines, titled “A Call for Global Safety Principles and Practices,” will be discussed this evening by leaders of the organizations during a gathering at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York sponsored by the school’s Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma.

Photographer Visar Kryeziu, left, covers riots in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. Thousands of protesters clashed with police for hours in the city's streets, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. More than 80 people, including over 50 policemen, were injured, while 160 were detained. (Photo by Petrit Rrahmani)

AP photographer Visar Kryeziu, left, covers riots in Kosovo’s capital Pristina, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. (Photo by Petrit Rrahmani)

Among the seven international safety standards for reporters working in perilous regions, the document says, “We encourage all journalists to complete a recognized news industry first aid course, to carry a suitable first-aid kit and continue their training to stay up-to-date on standards of care and safety both physical and psychological. Before undertaking an assignment in such zones, journalists should seek adequate medical insurance covering them in a conflict zone or area of infectious disease.”

In addition, the document says, “Journalists in active war zones should be aware of the need and importance of having protective ballistic clothing, including armored jackets and helmets.”

Also included in the seven standards for news organizations making assignments in hot zones are these:

  • “News organizations and editors should endeavor to treat journalists and freelancers they use on a regular basis in a similar manner to the way they treat staffers when it comes to issues of safety training, first aid and other safety equipment, and responsibility in the event of injury or kidnap.”
  • “News organizations should not make an assignment with a freelancer in a conflict zone or dangerous environment unless the news organization is prepared to take the same responsibility for the freelancer’s well-being in the event of kidnap or injury as it would a staffer. News organizations have a moral responsibility to support journalists to whom they give assignments in dangerous areas, as long as the freelancer complies with the rules and instructions of the news organization.”

“Over the last two years, killings, imprisonments and abductions of journalists have reached historic highs,” the document notes. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 61 were killed in 2014 and 73 in 2013.

“As journalists from AP face ever-increasing risk to gather the news that the world needs, it is vitally necessary to put in place best practices to keep them as safe as possible to do their jobs,” said AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll. “We have embraced the values represented by these practices, and we believe they will help set the standard for the industry to protect journalists and ultimately to save lives.’’

AP Senior Managing Editor for International News John Daniszewski (AP Photo).

AP Senior Managing Editor for International News John Daniszewski (AP Photo).

A preamble to the new guidelines was a meeting of foreign news editors last September in Chicago hosted by John Daniszewski, AP’s senior managing editor for international news. “Foreign editors were asking what we could do to strengthen the commitment to safety, especially for freelancers and local journalists, after the horrific killings of journalists in 2014,” Daniszewski said, “and we were concerned that some of the newer organizations did not have organized standards and rules for protecting the journalists that they sent on assignment.”

Reuters investigative reporter David Rohde, who attended the Chicago meeting, shared the results with his colleagues. Reuters Editor in Chief Stephen J. Adler had already launched similar discussions. Steve Coll, dean of Columbia’s journalism school, and Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center, also had concerns, which led to other meetings.

As a result, the resulting guidelines were drafted by an international group of freelancers, foreign correspondents, press advocates and news executives.

Daniszewski added: “We are proud of the AP’s deep and ongoing commitment to safety and security of journalists and hope the values represented in these best practices can serve as a guide for all news organizations.”

Besides AP and Reuters, the 26 signatories include the British Broadcasting Corp., Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, the Miami Herald, GlobalPost, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Overseas Press Club, USA Today and Reporters Without Borders.

A video of this evening’s discussion is expected to be available within a few days on the Dart Center’s website.