Sharing our members’ stories via @AP

Social Media Editor Eric Carvin describes how and why The Associated Press is using @AP, our flagship Twitter feed, to highlight stories reported by member news organizations.

AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin (AP Photo).

AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin (AP Photo).

What’s behind the touting of others’ stories via @AP?
AP is a cooperative of news organizations, and a core part of our mission is to provide our members the tools and content they need to succeed. Over the past few years, we’ve built up a significant social media following — especially on Twitter, where the flagship @AP account is approaching 5 million followers — and we’re constantly looking for ways to leverage our online presence to benefit members and customers more directly. This one was a no-brainer: We look for strong member and customer enterprise content, in all formats, and choose some to highlight from @AP. This can give the member a big boost in engagement and clicks, and @AP followers are served a strong piece of content that they might not otherwise know about. It’s win-win.

We obviously didn’t invent the notion of retweeting another news organization — pointing to external content has been key to the Twitter ecosystem going back to the early days. The difference here is that we, as a news cooperative, are in a position to use this practice to benefit members of the AP family in a big way.JS_RT

What are some of the first member stories to be shared via @AP?
The first story we shared under this initiative was a piece by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about an unregulated kickboxing bout that pitted a seasoned athlete against a mentally disabled man who was promised $50 and a medal. It was part of a series by the paper on the dangers of increasingly popular sports such as ultimate fighting and mixed martial arts. We later highlighted a multimedia investigative piece by the Seattle Times examining problems with inmate labor programs in Washington state.

These were both eye-opening pieces that added wonderful texture to the @AP Twitter feed and brought some quality journalism to a new audience. And the members were really pleased to bring additional exposure and engagement to work they’re proud of.

How often will members’ stories be featured on @AP?
Though we’re initially looking to do this a few times a week, we’re open to ramping it up considerably if we find that members are interested in the initiative and benefiting from the tweets.

It’s also worth noting that this is part of a broader effort to bring strong AP member journalism to a wider audience. On the AP mobile app, for example, we’ve featured content and even entire topical sections created by AP members, and we’re always looking for opportunities to do so again. AP members and customers looking to pitch something for us to highlight from Twitter or our mobile app should bring ideas to their AP representative.

We also continue to work on ways we can reconfigure our social and digital strategy to help our members meet their own online news goals. If members have their own ideas about how we can help them succeed online, we’re all ears.

Automated earnings stories multiply

The Associated Press, working with Automated Insights and Zacks Investment Research, is now automatically generating more than 3,000 stories about U.S. corporate earnings each quarter, a tenfold increase over what AP reporters and editors created previously. Here, Assistant Business Editor Philana Patterson, who has been overseeing the rollout of this process in the newsroom, gives an update on AP’s automation efforts that began last summer.

Assistant Business Editor Philana Patterson (AP Photo).

Assistant Business Editor Philana Patterson (AP Photo).

What changes has AP made to the automation process?
Since automation began in July, AP has added a number of enhancements to the stories. Descriptions of businesses have been added and the stories now include forward-looking guidance provided by the companies. We are running smoothly, and always looking for opportunities, along with Zacks and AI, to improve what we are producing with automation.

What has the reaction been?
There has been a great deal of interest about how automation works from both members and readers, and overall the reaction has been incredibly positive. AP members are getting more stories about companies in their markets than ever before. We want this process to be as transparent as possible so we have added an explanation of how earnings automation works. It can be found on Automated Insights’ landing page: http://www.automatedinsights.com/ap/.

That link, and one from Zacks, is provided in the tagline of each story. We’ve also encouraged our members and subscribers to make these links available to readers when using the stories, especially online.

Internally, the reaction has been positive from staff, largely because automation has freed up valuable reporting time and reduced the amount of data-processing type work they had been doing.

How does AP ensure quality control?
Quality control was critical from the outset. We worked with Zacks and AI to make sure that every step of the process would produce stories without errors. When we launched last summer, a fair number of errors were discovered in the testing process. We then worked with Zacks and AI on solutions to ensure they wouldn’t happen again. Today, mistakes are rare. Pretty much the only time we will now have an error is if a number is entered incorrectly into the system at the beginning. Once you set up automation, and go through a rigorous testing process, you reduce the prospect of errors. In fact, we have far fewer errors than we did when we were writing earnings reports manually.

Has automation allowed staff to focus more on reporting?
Absolutely. Like all media, we are working with limited resources and it’s critical that we maximize the time reporters have to do journalism and break news. We estimate the automation of earnings reports has freed up about 20 percent of the time that we had spread throughout the staff in producing earnings reports each quarter. It is enabling us to reconfigure our business breaking news operations to be more in sync with social media and user-generated content, and focus more reporters on higher-end enterprise stories that break news that no one else has. Our goals are to break more business news than our competitors, aim higher on investigative and explanatory journalism and focus more of our work on the general consumer. We’ve got some big projects in the works. Automation is helping us free up resources to do all of these things.

What’s next?
This quarter, we are testing the automation of earnings from Canadian and European companies. We expect to add further enhancements and more companies in future quarters. My colleagues in the sports department are also exploring small-audience sports for automation in order to free staff to report news that fans and consumers do not get on the field or a broadcast. We expect to be talking about automation through the year, including at this year’s SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas.

Update: 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. Previously in this blog, we’ve described what you should expect when working with an AP reporter, photographer or videographer. Here’s that advice again, slightly expanded in light of some questions we’ve been asked:

  • We want to hear and see your story. We’ll work hard to accurately convey what you say, and to provide background that gives the context for your remarks. If there are other points of view besides yours on the subject at hand, we’ll look to obtain those as well and include them in the story.
  • We prefer to talk to you directly. We seek to do all interviews in person or by phone, webcam 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, and to use your name in our story, radio report, video piece or photo caption. We owe it to our readers and viewers to be straight about your identity. We can quote you anonymously in some cases but our rules are quite strict. We won’t quote you anonymously on your opinion, only on matters of fact. We do not grant anonymity unless it is the only way to get information that is essential to the story. We will need to tell our readers why you insisted on anonymity. (We are particularly reluctant to quote anonymously company or government officials whose official duties include speaking to the news media.) 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. (AP reporters are free, however, to double-check facts or quotes with you at their initiative.)
  • We cannot provide a full list of questions in advance of the interview. We may specify some 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 we ask about something you don’t wish to discuss, you can decline to comment and we’ll report that.
  • Once AP publishes its report, contact the reporter or editor if you believe anything is incorrect. We take accuracy very seriously and will correct any errors.

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

AP CEO welcomes DOJ’s revised media guidelines

The Associated Press today welcomed revised guidelines on how the federal government could obtain records from the news media during leak investigations.

Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of The Associated Press, delivers the keynote address at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce annual meeting luncheon in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Pruitt spoke on the subject of "Free Press vs. National Security: The False Choice." (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of The Associated Press, delivers the keynote address at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce annual meeting luncheon in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Pruitt spoke on the subject of “Free Press vs. National Security: The False Choice.” (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

The guidelines, released by the Justice Department, revised steps announced last year in the wake of a public and media industry outcry over the secret seizure of AP phone records in May 2013.

“We are very pleased the Justice Department took our concerns seriously and implemented changes that will strengthen the protection of journalists for years to come,” said AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt.

AP General Counsel Karen Kaiser added: “These revisions advance the law significantly. In particular, the changes eliminate potential ambiguity of what constitutes newsgathering and help provide consistency in how the guidelines are interpreted across investigations and administrations.”

The AP, together with the Newspaper Association of America and the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, played a leading role in advocating for the changes on behalf of a coalition of news organizations.

In 2013, Pruitt had decried the DOJ’s seizure of the AP phone records during a leak investigation, calling the action  “unconstitutional” in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and warning it would have a negative impact on journalism.

AP’s industry leadership in challenging the DOJ and calling for stronger protections for journalists was recognized last year with a First Amendment Award from the Radio Television Digital News Foundation (RTDNF) and the Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s memo spelling out the new guidelines is found on the DOJ’s website.

AP statement on Mueller report

AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll offered the following statement in response to a report from former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, who was hired by the NFL to investigate how the league pursued evidence in the Ray Rice abuse case:

“We have reviewed the report and stand by our original reporting.

“The Mueller team did ask us for source material and other newsgathering information, but we declined. Everything that we report and confirm goes into our stories. We do not offer up reporters’ notes and sources.”

Read the AP news story.

More great saves by AP staffers

Every few weeks we distribute to the AP staff examples of great saves by our staffers who protected us from hoaxes and inaccuracies. Here are some of the latest:

A SUSPECT SNIPER
The video looked like it had been shot on the front lines of Syria’s civil war. It looked so real that the Islamic State group’s official website posted it as a de facto event, which drove up its popularity. The footage opens with a young boy on the ground, apparently shot by a sniper as he attempts to save a nearby girl. The boy gets up after the first apparent gunshot wound and the viewer can hear distinct Syrian voices in the background celebrating the boy’s survival. Then, as he gets up and runs toward the girl again, he is “shot” a second time, a cloud of smoke billowing from his midsection as he falls forward. As impossible as it sounds, he gets up again, takes the young girl by the hand and runs out of view of the camera as more shots are fired at his feet. Millions of YouTube viewers watched and shared the viral content. Some other news organizations picked up the video and treated it as authentic. The AP did not. When the video emerged, Jon Gambrell and Patrick Quinn in Cairo were skeptical. They noted the quality of the footage, the steady camera position, likely on a tripod, and the clear audio. There was a lack of blood and the miraculous nature of the boy’s repeated survival. They decided to avoid the video. After the video had made its rounds, the BBC reported that the dramatic footage was actually shot in Malta, using professional actors, cameras and audio gear. The producers even employed Syrian refugees as the convincing voices in the background. The group that produced the film said they wanted to bring attention to children in war zones and presented it as real because they thought it would get more attention that way.

CALM DOWN, EVERYONE: PELE IS FINE
Soccer great Pele’s health had been hospitalized for treatment of a urinary tract infection. Suddenly, the hospital released an alarming-sounding statement saying the 74-year-old Pele had suffered “clinical instability” and had to be transferred to a “special care unit.” Some news outlets quickly filed stories saying that Pele’s condition had worsened and hinted his life was in danger. AP’s sports writer in Brazil, Tales Azzoni, decided to be careful with the hospital’s badly worded statement, especially because it wasn’t clear enough to allow us to say that Pele’s condition had deteriorated significantly. Azzoni was able to contact one of Pele’s spokesmen and it turned out that the former player was doing just “fine.” After Pele was released from the hospital on Tuesday, doctors confirmed in a news conference that his life was never in danger as suggested by many reports. Pele was eventually transferred to an intensive care unit, but it wasn’t because of any serious complications. Pele had already used his Twitter account to calm fears over his health, and in the news conference he said the illness was “a scare” but he never feared for his life. One of Pele’s agents wrote Azzoni an email saying that she was glad we reported it correctly to “calm everyone down!”

NOT A QUEEN PLOT
With Islamic State militants regularly threatening Western interests, the headlines seemed plausible enough: a plot against Queen Elizabeth II had been foiled in London and the suspects were in custody. It is true that the queen is a terrorist target, in general, and that she prefers light rather than intense security. It was also true that there had been terror-related arrests just days before the Queen was to lead a national ceremony honoring British armed forces members who had died in action. But it wasn’t true that the two things were linked, as one British paper reported, and others quickly followed. The AP held off and instead started to make calls. London’s acting chief of bureau, Greg Katz, contacted British intelligence sources at MI5, who told him that the reports were not true. The arrests, which we reported, may or may not lead to charges, and may or may not have been related to a plot on UK soil.

BEARLY REALISTIC
Caleb Jones at AP’s New York Nerve Center spotted video that had been posted to Facebook by an outdoors group in New York state. In the video, a mountain biker wearing a GoPro camera sees a bear charging toward him. The man speeds off, looking over his shoulder periodically as the bear continues to chase behind him. Finally, he comes to some brush on the trail, hops off his bike and watches as the large bear appears to be spooked away by what sounds like gun shots. The video was dramatic, though Caleb was quick to determine that the video shows a brown bear, not native to New York, and expressed skepticism in his initial email. East Assistant Regional Editor Jeff McMillan concurred that it seemed fishy and suggested that someone on the video team check into it. Video Content Manager Walter Ratliffe spotted other videos on YouTube that appeared to possibly contain source video from which a fake edit might have been made. Social Media Editor Eric Carvin noted that lighting on the image of the bear did not appear to match its surroundings and there were other video artifacts present suggesting an edit. User-generated content specialist Hannah Cushman noted that it seemed highly unlikely that someone would get off his bike in this situation. And finally Walter again checked out the group’s YouTube page and found a more obviously faked video of a puppy ice bucket challenge. The video has gone viral, but AP was quick to determine it is not real.

We salute these staffers for protecting AP’s excellent record for accuracy.

Doubling down on state government coverage

Building on The Associated Press’ unmatched presence in all 50 U.S. statehouses, we are adding to our competitive advantage by creating a team of state government specialists.

As announced today to the AP staff, the specialists will collaborate with statehouse reporters, as well as on their own projects and stories focused on government accountability and strong explanatory reporting. Their over-arching goal will be “to show how state government is impacting the lives of people across the country,” said Brian Carovillano, managing editor for U.S. news.

The California State Assembly met for an organizational session where lawmakers took the oath of office at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Dec.  1, 2014.  Both houses of the Legislature will reconvene after the new year. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

The California State Assembly met for an organizational session where lawmakers took the oath of office at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. Both houses of the Legislature will reconvene after the new year. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Tom Verdin, AP’s administrative correspondent in Sacramento, will assume a new position leading the team of specialists full time. He’s supervised a number of high-impact projects, including AP’s coverage of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

Joining Verdin on the team will be National Writer David Crary, reporters David LiebRyan Foley and Christina Almeida Cassidy, as well as Central Enterprise Editor Tom McCarthy.

The New York-based Crary is an expert on many of the social issues state governments are tackling, from gay rights to abortion and adoption, and he’ll continue to focus on many of those issues. Lieb has owned the state government beat in Missouri. From Chicago, McCarthy has been Lieb’s editor and partner on some of his best recent work, and he will serve as editor for many of the stories the State Government Team produces.

Cassidy has been AP’s state government reporter in Georgia. And Foley, based in Iowa, is among AP’s strongest watchdog reporters.

Here, Carovillano answers a few key questions about today’s announcement:

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

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

How will the state government specialists differ from the AP reporters already assigned to all 50 statehouses and state bureaus?
The team will complement what our excellent state government correspondents do every day across the country and allow us to bring extra reporting firepower in on the most important stories. Let’s say there’s a trend emerging from several statehouses that our folks on the ground identify. The state government team will work with reporters in those states — and with the data team, if necessary — to bring depth and a national perspective to that issue and show how it’s playing out across the country.

They’ll be a resource to our statehouse reporters looking for help broadening the scope of their reporting, and a projects team that will partner with folks in the states to pursue bigger and more ambitious enterprise on the business of state government. And the focus really needs to be on how that impacts peoples’ lives. We don’t cover state government for the state government; we cover it for all the people of the state. The message here is that state government coverage is essential to AP and its members, and we are doubling down on that commitment, which should benefit the entire cooperative.

How else has AP expanded and strengthened state news coverage across the country?
We’ve hired 13 statehouse reporters over the past year. A few of those are new positions; a few filled positions that had been vacant. We are and will remain committed to staffing every statehouse. And we’ll add about 40 additional contract reporters to cover legislative sessions next year, in addition to the permanent staff.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt has identified state news coverage as a companywide priority. What other steps are being taken to bolster AP’s state news franchise?
Well, we have made some hires in key locations. I mentioned the 13 statehouse reporters we’ve hired this year. We’ve also made hires on some essential beats, such as politics, immigration, courts/crime and education. Beyond that, we are really pushing our state bureaus to focus their time and effort on content that is exclusive to AP and that our members and subscribers can’t get anywhere else. That needs to be our guiding principle. We do that exactly as we always have: by developing sources and breaking stories, being fastest on big breaking news, and by providing explanation, analysis and depth on the stories that have the biggest impact on peoples’ lives.

To help the bureaus recommit to this kind of high-value content, we’re setting up centralized operations in each region to handle “shared” news from the cooperative. These are the stories and images we pick up from one member and redistribute to the other members in that state. We’re also going to be putting more resources into social media newsgathering, and especially user-generated content, in each of the four U.S. regions. This lets us be in a lot more places than ever before, but it’s critical that we do it without compromising at all on the AP’s reputation for accuracy and fairness.

New AP tool helps journalists manage data

troy_thibodeaux_headshot

Troy Thibodeaux (AP Photo)

The Associated Press’ data team and developers from civic technology company DataMade have created a new tool to make it easier for journalists to add context to a data set. Here, AP Editor for Interactive Technology Troy Thibodeaux, who conceived and launched the tool called Geomancer, explains its potential:

Why did AP create Geomancer?
AP has been a pioneer in data journalism and is committed to helping journalists use data more efficiently to find and tell important stories. We won a grant last year from the Knight Prototype Fund to build an open-source tool to help journalists make sense of data by mashing it up with other data sets about the same geographic location.

For reporters who work with data, it’s a common and laborious task to look up population or demographic data about the counties or ZIP codes represented in a given data set. Geomancer puts this data just a few clicks away. Our goal is to remove the drudgery from data so reporters can focus on finding the story.

How does it work?
Currently, the Geomancer prototype includes two data sources: the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey (via CensusReporter.org) and federal contracts from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s USASpending.org. It allows users to find data based on 10 geographic levels, including state, county and congressional district. There has already been some community interest in adding new data sets and geographical types.

The Geomancer team has created a working demo (geomancer.io) to show the tool’s potential and simple instructions that any newsroom can follow to install its own Geomancer and build its own warehouse of geography-based data sources. The Geomancer blog at geomancer.ap.org includes links to example data sets for getting started.

What’s next?
We’ll be working to help journalists inside and outside of the AP use Geomancer, and we are excited to see what stories it will help them produce. We’re looking forward to getting feedback from users and will be exploring ways to refine the tool, which is in a beta version.

AP CEO demands answers from DOJ and FBI

Gary Pruitt, President and CEO of The Associated Press, delivers the keynote address at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce annual meeting luncheon in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Pruitt spoke on the subject of "Free Press vs. National Security: The False Choice." (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Gary Pruitt, President and CEO of The Associated Press, delivers the keynote address at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce annual meeting luncheon in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Protesting the FBI’s impersonation of an Associated Press reporter, AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt today demanded answers from Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey.

In a letter addressed to both men, Pruitt likened the FBI’s impersonation during a 2007 investigation to identity theft and said the move seriously threatens the organization’s ability to gather news.

“In stealing our identity, the FBI tarnishes [AP’s] reputation, belittles the value of the free press rights enshrined in our Constitution and endangers AP journalists and other newsgatherers around the world,” Pruitt wrote. “This deception corrodes the most fundamental tenet of a free press – our independence from government control and corollary responsibility to hold government accountable.”

Pruitt added that the 2007 violation is another case of government overreach, as was the Justice Department’s secret seizure of AP phone records, which came to light last year.

Read the AP news story.

AP ‘outraged’ by FBI impersonation

One week after it was reported that the FBI had fabricated an Associated Press story during a 2007 investigation, the bureau’s director has revealed that the agency also impersonated an AP reporter during the probe.

In a letter published today in The New York Times, James B. Comey says: “That technique was proper and appropriate under Justice Department and F.B.I. guidelines at the time.”

As reported by AP, AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll reacted as follows:

“This latest revelation of how the FBI misappropriated the trusted name of The Associated Press doubles our concern and outrage, expressed earlier to Attorney General Eric Holder, about how the agency’s unacceptable tactics undermine AP and the vital distinction between the government and the press.”

In an earlier letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, AP General Counsel Karen Kaiser had decried the FBI’s forging of the AP story.