Q&A: AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch

As food editor, J.M. Hirsch keeps The Associated Press’ global coverage of cooking and eating relevant, accessible and authoritative. He’s also the expert behind the popular food chapter of the AP Stylebook. Here, he explains what coverage AP served up to Lifestyles subscribers for the holidays and what to watch for in the new year.

AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch (AP Photo).

AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch (AP Photo).

What are the highlights of AP’s holiday coverage?
For AP’s food team, the holidays start in July. That’s when we start dreaming up delicious things for an entire season of holidays. From the usual treats at Halloween through three weeks of Thanksgiving offerings then right on through Hanukkah, holiday cookies and entertaining, Christmas and New Year’s. By the time the real holidays roll around, we’re pretty burned out.

Still, we had some delicious stuff this year. I loved Tyler Florence’s spatchcocked turkey, and I even served Yotam Ottolenghi’s roasted sweet potatoes glazed with orange bitters at my own Thanksgiving dinner. And if you’re looking for a last-minute project with the kids, it’s hard to beat Dorie Greenspan’s flawless take on sugar cookies.

Is it hot cocoa or hot chocolate?
All depends on how you make it. Hot cocoa is made using cocoa powder, while hot chocolate is made using melted chocolate. This was one of the fun things we covered in an AP Stylebook Twitter chat in November. All sorts of holiday food style terms. Even kicked up a little kerfuffle when I told folks our style is “baking sheet,” not cookie sheet (because it’s used for more than just cookies). And I’m hoping to add plenty of new food terms to the 2015 Stylebook (which comes out in May), including the difference between bruschetta and crostini, as well as why “preheating” an oven is nonsense.

Oh, and I’ll share my secret for the best hot cocoa/chocolate. I use both cocoa and melted chocolate. Heat 1 cup of whole milk (this is not the time to cut the fat) in a small saucepan, stirring frequently. Whisk in a few tablespoons of cocoa powder and at least 1/3 cup of semisweet chocolate chips. When the chips have melted, hit it with a tiny pinch of salt. Best. Cocoa. Ever.

FoodNetwork

Food Network star Aarti Sequeira (Photo courtesy Food Network).

AP introduced a number of celebrity food columns this year. What has the response been?
We have such a great lineup of celebrity food columnists. AP’s subscribers have really loved the fresh, authoritative voices they bring to our content. Sara Moulton’s KitchenWise gives home cooks the basic skills they need to feel confident in the kitchen; Elizabeth Karmel’s The American Table wows with all things Southern and barbecue; Melissa d’Arabian’s The Healthy Plate shows us how to eat better (and save some cash); and my Cooking on Deadline column continues to show busy families how to get big flavors on the table fast.

I’m also excited that in January we are launching a new column by Food Network star Aarti Sequeira. The column, called World’s Fare, will offer up weeknight-friendly takes on global cuisines. She’ll show us how easy it can be to liven up our cooking by using widely available ingredients from the grocer’s international aisle.

What food trends will AP be watching in 2015?
In the restaurant world, pop-ups will continue to change the landscape. Bigger names are getting into the game because it lets chefs take risks and try new things without committing to a space or concept. Scott Conant did this in New York in the fall as a test run of a new place he’s working on. We’re going to see a lot more of this.

We’ll also see more influence from the science side of cooking. It used to be mostly limited to avant garde chefs _ the so-called molecular gastronomy side of things _ but this year we saw more of the tips, techniques and ingredients showing up in more mainstream eaters and cookbooks. We won’t all cook sous vide, but we all can learn something from this approach, and people are catching on to that.

Hirsch is also the author of three cookbooks, including “Beating the Lunch Box Blues.” Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

A scoop that surprised the experts

The following memo to AP staff from Senior Managing Editor Mike Oreskes describes how an environmental exclusive came together through the reporting of a European correspondent, joined by AP colleagues in Asia:

A scoop tells readers something they didn’t know. AP’s Karl Ritter went further and broke news so exclusive that even experts in the field were surprised. His story, this week’s Beat of the Week, disclosed how $1 billion in climate-change financing under a U.N.-led program was being used to build coal-fired power plants in Indonesia.

In this Oct. 18 , 2014 photo, fishing boat passes near a fired coal power plant on the river in Cirebon. The coal-fired power plant in Cirebon came online two years ago despite years of protests from environmentalists and villagers who say the plant is polluting coastal waters, killing off fish and crabs.  (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

In this Oct. 18 , 2014 photo, fishing boat passes near a fired coal power plant on the river in Cirebon. The coal-fired power plant in Cirebon came online two years ago despite years of protests from environmentalists and villagers who say the plant is polluting coastal waters, killing off fish and crabs. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

The story broke as key players in the climate change community were gathering for a summit in Peru, and they reacted with surprise and concern. Coal, after all, is a major source of carbon pollution.

Even U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres acknowledged she was unaware that Japan was building coal plants with climate money, until she saw AP’s story. “There is no argument for that,” she told Ritter. “Unabated coal has no room in the future energy system.”

Ritter, the AP’s bureau chief in Stockholm, started with a simple goal. “I wanted to investigate where climate finance money was going because there didn’t seem to be any accountability in the UN system,” he says.

He began by turning to a non-governmental organization that tries to keep track of the scores of channels of climate finance, which is money flowing from rich to poor countries as a way to tackle global warming. Searching the group’s database, he found that Japan had provided funding for the biggest projects so far.

Turning next to the U.N. climate secretariat, he located an annex listing Japanese climate finance projects reported to the UN in 2010-2012. That’s where he spotted the “thermal” power plants in Indonesia.

When he realized they were coal-fired power plants, he thought there must be some mistake. He went back to the NGO and asked if they had any idea how coal plants could get on the list. They, too, thought there must be a mistake: “That can’t be right,” the NGO representative said.

“That’s when I realized we had a story,” Ritter says. “If even NGOs dedicated to tracking climate finance didn’t know about these plants, how would anyone else?”

He started researching the plants in question and found reports from Indonesia saying villagers near the Cirebon plant had protested, in vain, plans to build it.

Margie Mason in Jakarta then led a cross-format team that went to Cirebon in September. Villagers told her that since the plant was built in 2012 their catches of crab, mussels and shrimp had dwindled. Plant officials denied any environmental problems, though they acknowledged there may have been some inconvenience to local fishermen.

Next, Ritter needed Japan’s response. How did officials there justify counting Cirebon and two other plants in Indonesia as climate finance at a time when other developed countries were restricting public money for such projects, precisely because of their high emissions?

Yuri Kageyama and Ken Moritsugu pressed reluctant Japanese officials for comment. In the week before the climate conference in Lima, Moritsugu secured interviews with Japanese officials who not only defended the plants but said Japan will keep counting such projects as climate finance in the UN climate negotiations.

The story played prominently on abcnews.com, MSN News and Huffington Post, among others. Newsweek did its own piece on AP’s scoop.

The scoop rippled through the U.N. climate talks. Environmental groups at the talks demanded that  the Green Climate Fund exclude coal. Climate activists staged a protest against Japan’s coal funding at the conference venue. And the U.N. climate secretariat called a news conference to showcase its efforts to improve the rules governing climate finance.

“We need to define what is climate finance and what is not,”  said Seyni Nafo on the U.N. climate agency’s Standing Committee on Finance.

For a scoop that informed us all and really got the attention of the experts, Ritter wins Beat of the Week and this week’s $500 prize.

Editorials criticize FBI’s impersonation

The FBI’s recent admission that it fabricated an Associated Press story and impersonated an AP reporter during an investigation of bomb threats in the Seattle area continues to generate criticism of the agency’s actions.

USAT1“Catching potential bombers obviously is a good thing, but there are ways to do it without making news operations look like government shills,” USA Today said in an editorial today. “When journalists contact potential sources — whether by phone, e-mail or in person — they need people to trust that they are in fact reporters, not undercover cops.”

WashingtonPost“What was wrong about the Seattle operation was the potential damage to the credibility of the Associated Press by the creation of a false news account by the government and by the impersonation of a reporter,” a Washington Post editorial argued. “The technique threatens to undermine all reporters — not just those from the AP — who seek information from sources and represent themselves truthfully as independent journalists.”

Reuters media columnist Jack Shafer wrote: “Whenever police officers masquerade as journalists, they introduce doubt into the public’s mind about whether the next person purporting to be a journalist is actually a police officer or the stories in the news are really bait set by police.”

In Pennsylvania, The Scranton Times-Tribune Editorial Board said this: “Democracy works only with an independent press that is not controlled by the government. The nation’s Founding Fathers knew that. That’s why, right there in the First Amendment, it says that Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, of the press.

“It doesn’t include a specific prohibition against government agencies impersonating reporters. Perhaps the founders believed that their successors would have the good sense not to jeopardize the independence of the press.

“Recently, however, the FBI has decided to impersonate the press, thus diminishing the press’ separation from the government.”

In an opposing view published by USA Today, former FBI Assistant Director Ronald T. Hosko, now president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, said the FBI “takes seriously its use of sensitive operations,” adding that in the Seattle investigation “no law was broken, no policy was avoided, nothing was traded away with an ‘ends justify the means’ calculus.”

Meanwhile, AP is awaiting a reply to President and CEO Gary Pruitt’s Nov. 10 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey in which he asked who authorized the investigative tactics in 2007 and sought “assurances that this won’t happen again.”

Editorials also have appeared in The New York Times, The Denver Post, The Seattle Times, The Arizona Republic, The Spokesman-Review (in Spokane, Washington), The Repository (in Canton, Ohio) and other newspapers.

Election Day effort continues into Wednesday

Though all the votes have been cast in the U.S. midterm elections, the importance of uncounted ballots looms large in some tight contests as AP journalists and race callers continued today to analyze Election Day results. Highlighting the remaining tasks, AP issued an advisory to its customers in the wee hours of this morning:

Hours later, only the Colorado and Connecticut gubernatorial races had additionally been called.

In all, AP tabulated results for more than 4,500 races last night, and our definitive race calls were cited by our members and customers around the world, from newspapers to major portals to national broadcasters. AP’s vote count also drove conversations on Twitter and Facebook.

U.S. Political Editor David Scott analyzes election results at AP's Washington bureau on Nov. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Eric Carvin).

U.S. Political Editor David Scott analyzes election results at AP’s Washington bureau on Nov. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Eric Carvin).

“I’m always awed to see the AP’s race-calling operation in action and last night was no exception,” said Sally Buzbee, AP’s Washington bureau chief. “The team spends election night watching the vote come in, discussing what the numbers mean and what’s yet to be determined. Our members and customers rely on us on election night to get it first, but first get it right, and we’re thrilled to have delivered for them.”

This mini-documentary produced in AP’s Washington bureau using 15-second Instagram videos gives a peek at how the night unfolded in the newsroom.

Election workers at AP headquarters in New York receive vote tallies from stringers across the U.S. (AP Photo/Emily Leshner)

Election workers at AP headquarters in New York receive vote tallies from stringers across the U.S. (AP Photo/Emily Leshner)

Q&A: How AP counts the vote

As votes in the U.S. midterm elections roll in across the country on Nov. 4, it’s The Associated Press that will be counting the results through the evening. The news industry and the public turn to AP, a not-for-profit cooperative, to provide fast and reliable results on national, state and local races and key ballot measures.

Here, Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee, explains why AP plays such a critical role for both the public and the press.

AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee (AP Photo).

AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee (AP Photo).

How does AP count the vote?
On election night, AP assigns stringers in nearly every county in the U.S., and in towns and cities in New England, to gather vote tallies from county clerks and other officials. They phone in the results to AP vote tabulation centers, where an AP election worker enters the results. Web teams check for election results on county and state sites, and the AP also processes direct feeds of election results in some states from secretaries of state, and from some counties. The returns are filtered through myriad checks and verifications before being transmitted to AP members and customers, and ultimately the public. The results are updated throughout the evening.

AP’s vote count operation, headed by Director of Election Tabulations and Research Don Rehill, is considered by many news organizations to be the definitive source of race results. In fact, formal government announcements of results often don’t come for weeks after an election.

AP election workers count the vote on election night, Nov. 4, 2012 (AP Photo).

AP election workers count the vote on election night, Nov. 4, 2012 (AP Photo).

Who makes the call?
Experienced journalists in each state are responsible for calling races. They’ve got on-the-ground knowledge that no other national news organization can match, as well as detailed data on voting history and demographics. The race callers in each state are assisted by experts in AP’s Washington bureau who examine exit poll numbers and votes as they are counted. A “decision desk” in Washington, overseen by myself and Political Editor David Scott, and headed by David Pace, AP news editor for special projects and elections, has final signoff on all high-profile calls.

When do you make the call?
In states with exit polls, we call top-of-the ticket races at poll close only if we’re confident the leader’s margin is sufficient to overcome any potential error in the exit poll, which is conducted by Edison Research for AP and the broadcast members that make up the National Election Pool (NEP).

In races that we can’t call at poll close, we make the call when we’re convinced that the trailing candidate can’t catch the leader, given the size of the outstanding vote and the voting history of those counties. We never make a call if the margin between the top two candidates is less than the threshold when a state would require a recount.

This is a key detail: AP does not call any race until all the polls in that jurisdiction have closed.

Does speed trump accuracy in the social media age?
Speed has always been important in elections, but AP values accuracy above all else. We’re proud of our long history and well-earned reputation of being the gold standard for election calls. For example, in 2012, AP called 4,653 contested races with a remarkable accuracy rate of 99.9 percent.

Calling races, from the national level to state legislatures, is a vital function AP provides to members and customers. Being able to accurately and quickly call those statewide and state-level races is critical to their ability to provide strong election night coverage for their audiences around the world.

Where can I find AP’s election coverage?
Member newspapers, websites, national and local broadcasters and major portals all carry AP election results, as well as text stories, photos, videos and interactives. The AP Mobile news app features election coverage from AP as well as member newspapers. Our reporting and statistics also drive conversations on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Does AP tweet results?
The AP and our individual journalists share information that’s already been reported on the wire on Twitter and Facebook, but we don’t break news there. We’re going to share our calls in all races for U.S. Senate and governor from @AP and @AP_Politics on Twitter, but in a way that ensures the calls reach our members and customers first.

Vetting and coping with violent imagery

From his base in London, International Social Media Editor Fergus Bell leads The Associated Press’ efforts to source and verify user-generated content so that the AP can publish that content across formats.

International Social Media and UGC Editor Fergus Bell (AP Photo).

International Social Media and UGC Editor Fergus Bell (AP Photo).

In a recent Q&A with the Global Editors Network, Bell discussed how AP journalists handle the daily monitoring of violent and graphic imagery when searching for and vetting UGC from conflict areas such as Iraq and Syria.

Bell, who is spearheading an industrywide working group around ethics and user-generated content, underscored the many factors AP weighs when deciding whether to make graphic imagery available to members and customers around the world.

“We never use more than we absolutely need to in order to illustrate the story and we also consider the implications for relatives, and whether we are giving a platform to the people creating this. All of those things are taken into consideration,” he said.

For example, AP last week distributed a video that had been posted online by militants that purportedly shows the Islamic State group fighting in Northern Syria near the town of Kobani on the Turkish border. Because of the proximity to Islamic State group forces we know that the footage itself must have been filmed by militants, Bell said. As is AP’s practice, the source of the video is clearly labeled and AP journalists with expertise in the region were involved in confirming its authenticity.

Q&A: The changing market for video news

The Associated Press today released a report looking at the news market in the Middle East and North Africa and suggesting ways it needs to evolve, particularly when it comes to video. The report is the latest in a series of Deloitte studies for AP into video news consumption globally. (The first covered Europe and the second covered Asia.)

Here, Sue Brooks, director of international products and platforms for AP, explains why the market for video news has never been stronger.

What have been the most striking findings of the reports?

The big “ah-ha” moment for me was the realization that news junkies see video as an essential part of their daily news fix. Although there are a lot of variations in the data across markets, consumers were consistent in their demand for more high-quality online video content – and this is especially true of consumers who are interested in the news, generally.

Sue Brooks

Sue Brooks

The research shows that this group is more likely to access a story if it has an accompanying video, and that video consumers have a higher dwell time on news content each day. When we asked why, people told us it was because video helps bring a story to life and improve their understanding of it. For example, in the Middle East, a massive 83 percent of consumers find this to be the case.

This overwhelming demand for video presents a number of opportunities for us and our customers. It also highlights how critical it is for the industry to adapt. In Europe, more than a quarter of respondents said they’d go elsewhere if video wasn’t available at their preferred news source.

How and why has demand for video news changed?

Video news stopped being the sole preserve of terrestrial and satellite broadcasters quite some time ago and online and mobile video news are now the norm; in fact many of our video customers are now newspapers.

It’s clear that the need for video has continued to grow and has achieved ever-greater importance. We expect this will continue with the spread of smartphones and strong growth in tablets, as well as steadily increasing broadband speeds via fixed and mobile connections.

How is AP helping its customers evolve to satisfy this demand?

The primary goal of the research is to help our customers understand the changes in consumer demand, but it has also given us insight into what we need to do to help our customers meet the challenges facing them.

We are at the forefront of change and, of course, our customers need us to keep our products and services relevant. That’s why in 2012 we launched AP Video Hub. We needed to address the increase in demand from online publishers for video news with a service that was compelling and easy to use. These customers saw video as another critical element of their storytelling tool box, but before 2012 it was difficult for non-broadcasters to access and use AP video easily.

Since the launch of AP Video Hub, the platform has gone from strength to strength and we recently announced our Content Partner Offer, which allows third-party content to be sold via the platform. The first partner to go live was Newsflare, an online video news community for user-generated video, which adds a new dimension to the site and meets an increasing demand for this type of content.

We also launched a new video service in the Middle East earlier this year to meet the insatiable demand for news in the region, offering customers more unique video content centered on the news that matters most to consumers there. Our Deloitte research showed that, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, Middle East consumers value trusted news sources – particularly when it comes to video. We want to ensure that our customers are in a position to provide their own customers exactly what they need.

8 ways the Obama administration is blocking information

The fight for access to public information has never been harder, Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee said recently at a joint meeting of the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors and the Associated Press Photo Managers. The problem extends across the entire federal government and is now trickling down to state and local governments.

AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee (AP Photo).

AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee (AP Photo).

Here is Buzbee’s list of eight ways the Obama administration is making it hard for journalists to find information and cover the news:

1) As the United States ramps up its fight against Islamic militants, the public can’t see any of it. News organizations can’t shoot photos or video of bombers as they take off — there are no embeds. In fact, the administration won’t even say what country the S. bombers fly from.

2) The White House once fought to get cameramen, photographers and reporters into meetings the president had with foreign leaders overseas. That access has become much rarer. Think about the message that sends other nations about how the world’s leading democracy deals with the media:  Keep them out and let them use handout photos.

3) Guantanamo: The big important 9/11 trial is finally coming up. But we aren’t allowed to see most court filings in real time — even of nonclassified material. So at hearings, we can’t follow what’s happening. We don’t know what prosecutors are asking for, or what defense attorneys are arguing.

4) Information about Guantanamo that was routinely released under President George W. Bush is now kept secret. The military won’t release the number of prisoners on hunger strike or the number of assaults on guards. Photo and video coverage is virtually nonexistent.

5) Day-to-day intimidation of sources is chilling. AP’s transportation reporter’s sources say that if they are caught talking to her, they will be fired. Even if they just give her facts, about safety, for example. Government press officials say their orders are to squelch anything controversial or that makes the administration look bad.

6) One of the media — and public’s — most important legal tools, the Freedom of Information Act, is under siege. Requests for information under FOIA have become slow and expensive. Many federal agencies simply don’t respond at all in a timely manner, forcing news organizations to sue each time to force action.

7) The administration uses FOIAs as a tip service to uncover what news organizations are pursuing. Requests are now routinely forwarded to political appointees. At the agency that oversees the new health care law, for example, political appointees now handle the FOIA requests.

8) The administration is trying to control the information that state and local officials can give out. The FBI has directed local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology the police departments use to sweep up cellphone data. In some cases, federal officials have formally intervened in state open records cases, arguing for secrecy.

AP team interviews Iraq’s new prime minister

The Associated Press is the first foreign media organization to interview Haider al-Abadi, who was officially named Iraq’s prime minister on Sept. 8.

In the all-formats interview conducted today in Baghdad, the prime minister “strongly rejected the idea of the U.S. or other nations sending ground forces to his country to help fight the Islamic State group,” according to the AP account. He said that foreign troops are “out of the question.”

Read the AP news story by Baghdad Bureau Chief Vivian Salama and reporter Qassim Abdul-Zahra.

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. Iraq’s new prime minister says foreign ground troops are neither necessary nor wanted in his country’s fight against the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. Iraq’s new prime minister says foreign ground troops are neither necessary nor wanted in his country’s fight against the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Brad and Angelina costar in wedding, AP reports first

AP film writer Jake Coyle (AP photo).

AP film writer Jake Coyle (AP photo).

The wedding last Saturday in France of superstars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt “caps years of rampant speculation on when the couple would officially tie the knot,” writes AP film writer Jake Coyle, who broke the news this morning.

An eruption of tweets and Facebook posts followed.

Coyle, who is deeply sourced in the entertainment industry, said he’d been in close contact with Pitt and Jolie’s camp over the last two years.

Coyle contributes to AP’s Oscar and Grammy coverage, as well as covering film festivals in Cannes, New York and Toronto. He has profiled performers ranging from Woody Allen to Ryan Gosling to Oprah Winfrey, and had one of the last interviews with James Gandolfini.

Coyle is also responsible for creating the AP’s Entertainer of the Year award, which has been given to Taylor Swift and Adele.

Follow Coyle on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Follow AP Entertainment on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apentertainment