22 years a slave: AP takes readers on emotional journey home

The Associated Press today published a gripping tale of the life of Myint Naing, one of hundreds of former slaves rescued and returned home after a yearlong AP investigation exposed extreme labor abuses in Southeast Asia’s seafood industry.

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, center, hugs his niece Kyi Wai Hnin, right, and nephew Kyaw Min Tun following his return to his village in Mon State, Myanmar. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, center, hugs his niece Kyi Wai Hnin, right, and nephew Kyaw Min Tun following his return to his village in Mon State, Myanmar. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia’s seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

AP documented how slave-caught fish was shipped from Indonesia to Thailand. It can then be exported to the United States and find its way to the supply chains of supermarkets and distributors, including Wal-Mart, Sysco and Kroger, and pet food brands, such as Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. The companies have all said they strongly condemn labor abuse and are taking steps to prevent it.

To highlight the human side of the story, Indonesia-based reporter Margie Mason, who has worked as an AP correspondent in Asia for the past 12 years, sought the assistance of her colleagues and interviewed more than 340 former slaves.

“We had a unique opportunity because the Indonesian government was providing shelter to hundreds of newly rescued Burmese, Cambodian and Laotian former slaves. We knew that once they went home they would scatter and it would be very hard to follow up,” Mason said. “We typed up questionnaires in three languages, asking everything from what boats they were on to whether they were beaten or witnessed anyone being killed. I, along with my colleagues Robin McDowell and Esther Htusan, have interviewed more than 70 men face-to-face.”

AP reporter Margie Mason (AP Photo).

AP reporter Margie Mason (AP Photo).

Choosing a single story to tell, among many heartbreaking ones, was the biggest challenge.

“Most of these men had not been in touch with their families for years and had no idea what they would find when they got home. The story had to be strong enough to stand on its own regardless of the ending,” Mason said. “Myint’s story is like a movie. The Thai seafood industry stole 22 years of his life. He thought he was never going home. He had no idea if his family was still in his old village or if his mother was even alive. So, to have such an amazing reunion just a day after he got back, was really incredible.”

International Enterprise Editor Mary Rajkumar, who was the editor on the investigation, added: “These stories really show why in-depth international journalism matters, and why it’s so important to keep doing it. In this day and age, it’s remarkable that journalism helped to free hundreds of slaves. But it’s  also a humbling reminder of how much more we need to do.”

AP’s initial report generated significant interest around the world and AP reporters described what they found to numerous media outlets, including HuffingtonPostLive’s “World Brief,PRI’s “The World,” NPR’s “Morning Edition,” the PBS NewsHour podcast “Shortwave,” and WNYC’s “The Leonard Lopate Show.”

Read the AP story and explore the interactive report, which features video of Myint’s emotional reunion.

Down-to-earth reasons for that heavenly glow

Is that a halo over President Barack Obama?

It sure looks like one, especially to critics of Obama and The Associated Press, who have complained in blogs and on Twitter that AP photographers sometimes give the president a heavenly glow. The criticism was seen and heard repeatedly this week after AP distributed photos showing presidential candidate Ted Cruz with a gun, seen in a wall poster, juxtaposed so that the pistol was pointed at his head.

The out-of-focus presidential seal looks to some like a halo, as seen here. So AP photographers often shoot with a greater depth of field or a slightly different angle so it is clear the glow around the President Barack Obama's head is the seal of his office. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The out-of-focus presidential seal looks to some like a halo, as seen here. So AP photographers often shoot with a greater depth of field or a slightly different angle so it is clear the glow around the President Barack Obama’s head is the seal of his office. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Concerns have been raised about a glow or halo around the president since George W. Bush held office, as seen in this frame with the presidential seal behind him. The out-of-focus seal is simply a tool to separate the subject from the background so he is not seen speaking in a sea of black. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Concerns have been raised about a glow or halo around the president since George W. Bush held office, as seen in this frame with the presidential seal behind him. The out-of-focus seal is simply a tool to separate the subject from the background so he is not seen speaking in a sea of black. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

“The halo issue has been around for over a decade,” said J. David Ake, AP Washington’s assistant chief of bureau for photography. “We received the same complaints when we photographed President George W. Bush with the presidential seal behind him. It’s never been our photographers’ goal to give the president a heavenly glow. The out-of-focus presidential seal is simply a tool to separate the subject from the background so he is not speaking in a sea of black. We’ve heard the concerns, however, and we now make the same picture with greater depth of field or a slightly different angle so it’s clear it’s the seal of office behind the president.”

Ake added: “To eliminate the halo effect, we’ve talked about just shooting the subjects really tight, so nothing is seen around their heads, but that leaves the image with no context or sense of location at all. We do shoot all situations wide and move wide shots to AP’s member news organizations and subscribers as a matter of course, so they have a choice and a sense of the location and setup. But not everyone wants a wide image, especially for mobile use, so to give our customers a choice we also shoot and move tighter images, which is often when the halo issue often arises.”

The halo is sometimes caused by the backlights hung by event organizers. Still photographers often work directly in front of and below the subject in a security area known as the buffer zone. When looking up from that area, so-called rim light, which is caused by the backlights wrapping around the subject, can be particularly difficult for photographers to avoid. So they use it to make the subject pop from the dark background or because it makes for an interesting image.

“The use of rim light to surround the subject is a equal opportunity technique,” Ake said. “If it’s there and it’s all we have to make the image more than just a plain headshot of someone speaking, we’re likely to take advantage of it.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington, Tuesday, March 10, 2015. The out-of-focus logo of the organization is used to help give a sense of context. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington, Tuesday, March 10, 2015. The out-of-focus logo of the organization is used to help give a sense of context. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The backlights set up by event organizers to highlight the subject during a speech are often used by photographers as a tool to make the images interesting. Photographers are often asked to work between the subject and the audience in an area known as a buffer zone. The position can mean the photographers are looking up at the speaker and into the backlights. The so-called rim light caused by the backlights helps them separate the subject from the dark background, as seen in this image of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, speaking to local residents during the Scott County Republican Party's Ronald Reagan Dinner, Monday, Nov. 14, 2011, in Bettendorf, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The backlights set up by event organizers to highlight the subject during a speech are often used by photographers as a tool to make the images interesting. Photographers are often asked to work between the subject and the audience in an area known as a buffer zone. The position can mean the photographers are looking up at the speaker and into the backlights. The so-called rim light caused by the backlights helps them separate the subject from the dark background, as seen in this image of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, speaking to local residents during the Scott County Republican Party’s Ronald Reagan Dinner, Monday, Nov. 14, 2011, in Bettendorf, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

AP images of Vietnam War go on public display in Hanoi

Associated Press photos documenting the Vietnam War have gone on public display in Hanoi after a preview and reception highlighting the impact of the images at the time of their release.

“AP presented these images of what was really going on in the war,” company President and CEO Gary Pruitt said at the Thursday reception, attended by government officials, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius, other Hanoi-based diplomats and local media representatives. “It was through that lens that people around the world gained a better understanding of the conflict.” 

President and CEO of the Associated Press Gary Pruitt, right, meets with Vietnam's President Truong Tan Sang, left, ahead of the opening of an exhibit of AP's wartime photographs, Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Hanoi, Vietnam. The exhibit "Vietnam: The Real War," a collection of 58 photographs taken by the AP opens to the public Friday, June 12, 2015, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt, right, meets with Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang before the opening of an exhibit of AP’s wartime photographs, Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Hanoi, Vietnam. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

The photos “gave the whole world a full picture of what was going on in Vietnam,” President Truong Tan Sang told AP. “I believe these photos made an enormous contribution to bringing the war in Vietnam to an end.”

They include Malcolm Browne‘s image of a Buddhist monk set aflame in protest, Nick Ut‘s picture of young girl running naked and in pain after being scorched by napalm and Eddie Adams‘ stark frame showing a South Vietnamese general executing a suspected Viet Cong officer with a pistol shot to the head.

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 1968, file photo, South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the National Police, fires his pistol into the head of suspected Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem (also known as Bay Lop) on a Saigon street, early in the Tet Offensive. "Vietnam: The Real War," a collection of 58 photographs taken by the AP opens to the public Friday, June 12, 2015, in Hanoi, (AP Photo/Eddie Adams, File)

FILE – In this Feb. 1, 1968, file photo, South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the National Police, fires his pistol into the head of suspected Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem (also known as Bay Lop) on a Saigon street. It’s among the AP images now on display in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams, File)

“Vietnam: The Real War,” a total of 58 black-and-white photos, opened to the public on Friday, also drawing a large number of Vietnamese media. The selection is drawn from a book of the same name, AP’s photo history of the war, published in 2013.

The exhibit will run through June 26 at Hanoi’s Exhibition Hall, after previous displays in New York and London.

A guest looks at photographs taken by Horst Faas during the opening reception of The Associated Press photo exhibit, Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Hanoi, Vietnam.  The exhibit "Vietnam: The Real War," a collection of 58 photographs taken by AP photographers during the Vietnam War that ended 40-years ago, opens to the public Friday, June 12, 2015, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

A guest looks at photographs taken by Horst Faas during the opening reception of The Associated Press photo exhibit, Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Hanoi, Vietnam. The exhibit “Vietnam: The Real War,” a collection of 58 photographs taken by AP photographers during the Vietnam War that ended 40-years ago, opens to the public Friday, June 12, 2015, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Seen from left to right, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius, Canadian Ambassador David Devine, AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt and AP photographer Nick Ut chat June 11 at the opening reception in Hanoi, Vietnam, for AP's photo exhibit. Ut's iconic "Napalm Girl" image is among those on display. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Seen from left to right, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius, Canadian Ambassador David Devine, AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt and AP photographer Nick Ut chat June 11 at the opening reception in Hanoi, Vietnam, for AP’s photo exhibit. Ut’s iconic “Napalm Girl” image is among those on display. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Guests and members of the public view photos from the Vietnam War on display at an exhibit Friday, June 12, 2015, in Hanoi, Vietnam. "Vietnam: The Real War," a collection of 58 photographs taken by the Associated Press, opens to the public Friday, marking a homecoming that officials say is historic and an emblem of changing times. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Guests and members of the public view photos from the Vietnam War on display at an exhibit Friday, June 12, 2015, in Hanoi, Vietnam. “Vietnam: The Real War,” a collection of 58 photographs taken by the Associated Press, opens to the public Friday, marking a homecoming that officials say is historic and an emblem of changing times. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

AP photographer Nick Ut addresses visitors at the opening of exhibit in Hanoi of AP's Vietnam War images on Friday, June 12. (AP photo/Ted Anthony)

AP photographer Nick Ut addresses visitors at the opening of exhibit in Hanoi of AP’s Vietnam War images on Friday, June 12. (AP photo/Ted Anthony)

Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang talks to the media in front of "Napalm Girl," the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo taken by Nick Ut, during his visit on Monday, June 15, to an exhibit of AP's Vietnam War photos in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen)

Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang talks to the media in front of “Napalm Girl,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo taken by Nick Ut, during his visit on Monday, June 15, to an exhibit of AP’s Vietnam War photos in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen)

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.

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).

A search of records reveals questionable ties of police chiefs

In this memo to staff, Managing Editor for U.S. News Brian Carovillano explains how a statehouse reporter’s aggressive pursuit of public documents uncovered a story that had immediate impact in cities across the country:

Iowa City-based Ryan Foley, a member of the State Government Team, was working with Minnesota Statehouse reporter Brian Bakst on a story about the high cost of police body cameras and video storage fees when he spotted the outlines of an accountability thread.

In this Feb. 19, 2015 file photo, Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for Taser International, demonstrates one of the company's body cameras for The Associated Press during a company-sponsored conference hosted by Taser at the California Highway Patrol Headquarters in Sacramento, Calif. Officials in Salt Lake City and Fort Worth, Texas, said they are reviewing their ethics policies after The Associated Press reported on how their police chiefs were closely linked to the company that won contracts to supply officers with body cameras. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In this Feb. 19, 2015, file photo, Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for Taser International, demonstrates one of the company’s body cameras for The Associated Press during a company-sponsored conference hosted by Taser at the California Highway Patrol Headquarters in Sacramento, California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Taser, one of the biggest players in the fast-growing body camera market, had questionable financial ties to the police chiefs who held sway over their cities’ decision on whether to spend significant taxpayer dollars on such gear. Foley flagged it to the attention of his editors and outlined an initial coverage plan, then was given time to dig.

Through aggressive use of public records and persistence in following up, Foley broke the story that Taser, the stun-gun maker, was indeed forging financial ties with police chiefs as a way to win lucrative city contracts in the body camera market. Here’s how it works: Taser covers the expenses for police chiefs to pitch its products at company events across the country and has hired recently retired chiefs as consultants just months after they pushed for approval of Taser contracts.

Foley’s story quickly prompted officials in Fort Worth, Texas, and Salt Lake City to launch reviews of their ethics policies: “What you’re seeing is the Fourth Estate in action,” Salt Lake City spokesman Art Raymond told Foley for his follow-up story. Tom Cowan, chairman of the ethics committee for the Texas police chiefs association, told Foley that his story had prompted the group to examine the former Fort Worth chief’s actions as a likely violation of its ethics code: “It’s caused a lot of entities to rethink this,” he said.

Foley read company literature and financial documents to identify individuals, filed records requests in the cities where they served and pursued comments from his main subjects over several weeks. In Fort Worth, city officials resisted efforts to release some documents and even appealed to the Texas Attorney General’s office, an effort that remains ongoing. Foley did get some of what he requested and turned that into a sidebar that exposed an incriminating email exchange between the city’s former police chief and a Taser sales rep: “I have the votes,” the chief triumphantly declared after persuading the city to approve a rushed $2.7 million contract to help Taser meet a quarterly sales goal. The chief retired shortly afterward and is now in negotiations to get a consulting job with Taser that will take him to Australia and other overseas destinations to promote the company’s products.

Foley also revealed that the current Salt Lake City police chief, who had done extensive promotional work for Taser, had bypassed the normal city budgeting rules to buy 295 Taser body cameras without the City Council’s knowledge. Emphasizing the significance of the beat, a reporter for a Salt Lake City TV station emailed Ryan a congratulatory note after his story ran, saying, “I had heard rumors about this unhealthy relationship more than a year ago but couldn’t pin anything down; glad you busted this out.”

In addition to prompting immediate action in several cities, Foley’s story landed in the top 10 on AP Mobile on a heavy news day. It also made the front pages of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Salt Lake Tribune.

For spotting an important thread and aggressively pursuing public records for a story with immediate real-world impact, Foley wins this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

Q&A: AP Travel Editor Beth Harpaz

Beth Harpaz oversees The Associated Press’ global coverage of travel, keeping it practical, on-trend and authoritative. Here, she previews a number of new columns debuting this month and explains why AP offers the best “travel perks”:

AP Travel Editor Beth Harpaz (AP Photo).

AP Travel Editor Beth Harpaz (AP Photo).

AP serves diverse group of news organizations scattered across the map. What do their editors look for when it comes to travel coverage?
There’s so much content online these days, but AP Travel is different from what’s out there. No. 1, we don’t take free trips, so you can trust what we write. No. 2, we can provide a comprehensive guide to a destination in 800 words, so you don’t have to slog through a million websites. No. 3, our stories all have input from local staffers that have local expertise. And No. 4, we’re always on top of the news, writing about the latest attractions, events and exhibits, not just the evergreen content in out-of-date guidebooks.

What new columns do you have planned and how do they reflect current travel trends?
We’re launching four new columns this month:

  • NEIGHBORHOODS will look at an interesting place to spend a few hours. The column was inspired by a British visitor in NYC who told me, “I don’t want to be a tourist. I just want to hang out in a real neighborhood.”
  • SERENITY NOW will look at beautiful, peaceful places, whether it’s a trail or beach in the great outdoors, or a garden, church or scenic view in a quiet corner of a city.
  • BLEISURE BITS refers to “business-leisure” _ ideas for time-crunched business travelers to sneak away from meetings for a quick outing: an interesting attraction, a morning run in a local park or unique shopping expedition.
  • ESSENTIALS will offer a comprehensive guide to a destination in 800 words with four sections: Classic Attractions, What’s New, Tips and Hanging Out.

So what’s the best “bleisure” trip you’ve ever taken?
I went to a conference in Tampa, Florida, that ended on a Friday night. So I booked my return for Saturday afternoon and spent the morning at Anna Maria Island, a beautiful local beach.

AP Travel Editor Beth Harpaz visits with monkeys on a trip to the Columbia Amazon. (Photo courtesy Beth Harpaz).

AP Travel Editor Beth Harpaz visits with monkeys on a trip to the Colombian Amazon. (Photo courtesy Beth Harpaz).

How does AP leverage its footprint in every state and around the world for travel coverage?
Many AP travel stories are written by people who live in the places they’re writing about, so they are truly experts. And when we run stories by reporters who merely visited a place on vacation, I consult with the local bureau to make sure we’re getting things right. I also get a lot of press releases claiming new trends, and I count on local bureaus or beat reporters, like our airlines team, to tell me whether something is hooey or worth pursuing.

What tops your list of places to visit this year?
I’m on a geeky quest to visit all 50 states. Last year I knocked off Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, loving everything from the Cowboy Museum to the Tallgrass Prairie. This year I’m headed to Indiana to the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Wisconsin for the cheese tour. I cannot WAIT! Only four states left after that – Idaho, Montana, Mississippi and North Dakota.

What’s the best perk of your job?
AP is like a big family. When I’m traveling, I can reach out to our bureau wherever I’m going and ask, “Hey, where should I eat? What should I do? What’s a cool neighborhood?” It’s like having a cousin in every city!

Harpaz came to the AP after stints at the Staten Island Advance and The Record of Bergen County, N.J. She covered everything from Hillary Clinton to 9/11 before becoming AP Travel editor in 2004. She’s a lifelong New Yorker and volunteers as a Big Apple Greeter, taking tourists to interesting neighborhoods in Brooklyn. She’s also the author of three books. Join the 75,000 others who follow her on Twitter @AP_Travel

Persistence and source work pay on big political story

In a note to staff, Managing Editor for U.S. News Brian Carovillano explains how a reporter who cultivated sources on the statehouse beat kept AP ahead on a story that resonated beyond state borders:

In early January, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber was sworn in for an unprecedented fourth term. Last week, he announced his resignation — a swift and spectacular fall that was adroitly chronicled by Salem, Oregon, correspondent Jonathan J. Cooper.

In this Jan. 12, 2015 file photo, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber escorts his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, onto the House floor before he is sworn in for an unprecedented fourth term as Governor in Salem, Ore. Kitzhaber announced his resignation Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, amid allegations Hayes used her relationship with him to enrich herself. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, file)

In this Jan. 12, 2015 file photo, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber escorts his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, onto the House floor before he is sworn in for an unprecedented fourth term as Governor in Salem, Ore. Kitzhaber announced his resignation Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, amid allegations Hayes used her relationship with him to enrich herself. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, file)

Allegations that Kitzhaber’s fiancee had used their relationship to win contracts for her consulting business had swirled around the governor for months. On Monday, the state attorney general announced a criminal investigation. On Tuesday, Kitzhaber asked Oregon’s secretary of state, Kate Brown, to return from a conference in Washington, D.C. That fueled rumors he might step down because, under the state’s constitution, she would succeed him. But after meeting with Brown, Kitzhaber said he had no intention of quitting. Brown then released a statement suggesting Kitzhaber was unstable.

On Thursday, Cooper got a scoop when he reported Kitzhaber had in fact decided to leave the state’s top job, but then changed his mind. Cooper’s sources were three people in the governor’s inner circle. Cooper, through his previous beat reporting on the disastrous rollout of Oregon’s health insurance website, had developed deep and reliable sources at the Capitol who trusted him to get his facts straight. As Kitzhaber faced growing pressure to step down, people within the administration turned to Cooper to let him know the governor had convened his aides on Sunday, Feb. 8, to say he planned to step down, but then he changed his mind.

On Friday, Cooper, again citing sources, reported that Kitzhaber had reversed course again and would indeed resign. About a half-hour later the governor announced he would leave. But Cooper’s long day and week wasn’t over. On Friday night, working yet another source, Cooper obtained a copy of a federal subpoena that confirmed federal agents were probing the influence peddling-scandal.

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is sworn in as Oregon Governor by Oregon Chief Justice Thomas A. Balmer in Salem, Ore., Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015.  John Kitzhaber, elected to an unprecedented fourth term last year, announced last week that he would step down amid allegations his fiancee used her relationship with him to enrich herself.  (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is sworn in as Oregon Governor by Oregon Chief Justice Thomas A. Balmer in Salem, Ore., Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. John Kitzhaber, elected to an unprecedented fourth term last year, announced last week that he would step down amid allegations his fiancee used her relationship with him to enrich herself. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Statehouse reporting is a cornerstone of our strategy for U.S. News and is one of the key things that sets AP apart from the competition. But just being in every statehouse isn’t enough. Cooper’s work shows how an enterprising and well-sourced reporter can help set the news agenda on even the most competitive and spectacular stories. His Friday story about the resignation and federal investigation was the lead story on Yahoo News and MSN, and The New York Times cited AP when it referred to the subpoenas. The biggest TV stations in the Northwest led their noon newscasts citing AP’s NewsAlert that Kitzhaber would announce his resignation.

For his persistence and source work on a huge political story that captured the nation’s attention, Cooper will receive this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

From Hollywood to Hong Kong: AP covers the world of entertainment

Global Entertainment and Lifestyles Editor Nekesa Mumbi Moody oversees text and visual journalists based in New York, London, Hong Kong, Nashville and Los Angeles. Her staff covers movies, music, television, video games, fashion, food, travel and events including the Emmys, Grammys and Fashion Week. Ahead of the 87th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 22, the well-wired reporter and editor pulls back the curtain on AP’s entertainment operation and explains how her team plans to cover entertainment’s biggest night:

Entertainment producer Nicole Evatt (left) and Global Entertainment and Lifestlyes Editor Nekesa Moody cover the 2014 Academy Awards in Los Angeles (AP Photo).

Entertainment producer Nicole Evatt (left) and Global Entertainment and Lifestlyes Editor Nekesa Moody cover the 2014 Academy Awards in Los Angeles (AP Photo).

What’s the biggest challenge of covering an event like the Oscars?
The biggest challenge is to cover it broadly while also trying to eke out unique and exclusive content for our members. We do that through great interviews, interesting stories ahead of the event and getting different storylines from a red carpet that is overflowing with media.

For example, film writer Jake Coyle wrote a critical analysis about the dearth of racial diversity among nominees once again, while Sandy Cohen looked at the gains being made by black female directors in the wake of “Selma” director Ava DuVernay’s success. These are just a couple of the stories that have been highlights of our Oscar prep. Coyle also took a smart look at how the timing of a film’s release affects nominations and film writer Lindsey Bahr examined how playing someone with an affliction seems to give an actor a leg up in the race. We don’t just rely on our entertainment team: AP writers around the world have contributed to key enterprise leading up to the big day.

How does AP approach entertainment coverage differently than other media outlets?
We’ve been covering entertainment for decades, but our approach has certainly evolved. Today, we have entertainment staff around the globe and are even quicker with our coverage and approach from a multiformat angle, including our video team. We have an additional boost from Invision, our celebrity commercial photo agency. Because of our worldwide reach, the AP has a unique ability to cover events like no other, and because of its varied membership, we report on a wide and diverse swath of entertainment. But what continues to make us stand out is our high standard of journalism.

How does AP manage to land major scoops on such highly competitive beats?
Our journalism speaks for itself, and we’ve developed great sources who, in turn, have come to us as a trusted and reliable place to break news, such as Whitney Houston’s death, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s nuptials, and more recently, word that Harper Lee was finally releasing a second book. We have excellent journalists who carefully cultivate their beats to land such scoops, and the reputation of AP helps in securing them because the industry knows that we are trusted and have worldwide reach that is second to none.

You started your career covering state news in the Albany, New York, bureau. How did that experience prepare you for covering entertainment?
I also covered college and high school sports and just general spot news. What it taught me was to keep a laser focus on the news of the story and not get caught up in the spin. I also was able to take the basics of covering news and apply it to celebrity reporting. At the end of the day, people want to read an entertaining story, but they want to be informed and learn something that they didn’t know before. That’s my goal when it comes to entertainment reporting.

Who has been the most interesting person you’ve ever interviewed?
Prince. I’ve interviewed him three times, most recently last fall at Paisley Park. Each time I could not record it, and he didn’t want me to take notes for part of it the last time. I spent hours with him but wished for more because he was so smart and had so much knowledge. I could do dozens of stories on him and wish I could!

The AP’s live coverage of the red carpet and Governors Ball after-party will be hosted by entertainment correspondent XiXi Yang. It will begin at 5:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 22.

Learn more about AP entertainment coverage, which is also available via AP Mobile, the award-winning mobile app. Download the app on iTunes or Google Play.

Follow Moody (@nekesamumbi) and her team (@APEntertainment) on Twitter.