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.

When news breaks, ‘everyone is a reporter’ at AP

In a memo to AP staff, Managing Editor for U.S. News Brian Carovillano explains how quick-thinking and collaboration across states and formats led to definitive coverage of a tragic story that captured national attention:

Minutes after a rush-hour commuter train slammed into an SUV on the tracks north of New York City, killing six, two AP staffers more than 1,000 miles apart went immediately to work.

In the New York suburbs, breaking news staffer Kiley Armstrong was at home reading her Facebook feed when a message appeared about the collision on the busy Metro North line. Without hesitating, she grabbed her coat, her notebook and her camera, and headed out the door.

It wasn’t until she reached the snowy crash site two miles away that she called the New York City desk to say she was there, and began dictating the first details of smoke pouring from the train and rescuers trying to get survivors to safety.

Armstrong was the first AP staffer on the scene, and the only one of our text reporters to get anywhere near the site. Her reporting and photography (two of her photos made the wire) helped AP get out front on a story everyone in the nation’s biggest media market was covering.

Firefighters work at the scene of an accident in Valhalla, N.Y., Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. A packed commuter train slammed into a sport utility vehicle on the tracks and the front of the train and the vehicle burst into flames, authorities said. (AP Photo/Kiley Armstrong)

Firefighters work at the scene of an accident in Valhalla, N.Y., Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. A packed commuter train slammed into a sport utility vehicle on the tracks and the front of the train and the vehicle burst into flames, authorities said. (AP Photo/Kiley Armstrong)

Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. investigative team reporter Michael Kunzelman was at home reading his iPad when an alert moved about the New York crash. He immediately began scouring documents he received months before as part of a Freedom of Information request _ on railroad crossings that had received federal money for safety improvements.

He found this listing next to the New York crossing: “Commerce Street Crossing of Metro North Railroad for a crossing upgrade.” There was an amount of money allocated, $126,000 and a status code: “Active.” He quickly contacted his New York-based investigative team colleague, David Caruso, and together they started tracking down the details.

Armstrong, Kunzelman and Caruso demonstrated the essence of what it means to work for the AP in a breaking news situation: No matter your job title or your schedule, EVERYONE is a reporter, and speed is of the essence.

Armstrong’s dash to the scene captured the color and details that populated our breaking updates through the night. She would eventually be joined by at least four more AP staffers across formats, and two more making calls in the bureau.

Kunzelman and Caruso, meanwhile, found that the railroad crossing had undergone a number of upgrades in recent years to reduce the risk of accidents, including the installation of brighter LED lights and new traffic signal control equipment.

But the “active” item from the documents, a 2009 plan to install a third set of flashing lights 100 to 200 feet up the road to give motorists a few seconds’ extra warning, was never carried out. The $126,000 budgeted for the lights and other work was never spent. New York transportation officials were unable to explain why, though they cautioned it was too soon to say whether it would have made any difference in preventing the collision.

The APNewsBreak moved on Friday shortly before public officials held a news conference at the crossing where the crash occurred.

“I just saw that report, the AP report, that they said there should have been more work done, in 2009,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. “That’s something that we have to find out the answer to right away. Why wasn’t the work done? Would it have made a difference? Could it have made this preventable? It’s a looming question.”

For fast work and hustle that made AP stand out on one of the biggest national stories of the week, Armstrong, Kunzelman and Caruso share this week’s $300 Best of the States Prize.

Behind the scenes: Down below

One of the perks of being a reporter is that your beat can take you to some places that most people will never have the chance to experience. For AP reporter Dylan Lovan, one such place was deep inside a coal mine.

Listen to him describe the obstacles facing a reporter who wants permission to see mining operations up close and the strict safety requirements, including the need to carry a 10-minute oxygen canister on his hip while down below:

AP reporter Dylan Lovan, left, interviews U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor Joseph Main, center, in southern Indiana’s Gibson North coal mine. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

AP reporter Dylan Lovan, left, interviews U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor Joseph Main, center, in southern Indiana’s Gibson North coal mine. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Once Lovan emerged from the depths of the earth, he wrote a report on five key things to know about underground coal mining.

Lovan is a print/video reporter who covers religion, the coal industry and the environment in Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter.

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.