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.

Super Bowl through the years: Off the field with AP photographers

The Associated Press has covered every Super Bowl since the first in 1967. Here’s a look at AP photographers, editors and technicians at work covering football’s biggest contest through the years.


As recently as the early 1990s, photographers were still “souping” film in makeshift darkrooms at the stadium. Transmitting a single color photo over phone lines from the big game took about a half-hour per photo. But the introduction of digital cameras and transmitters in the mid-1990s changed that, saving time and eventually improving technical quality.

Boston-based photographer Elise Amendola on the field during the NFL Super Bowl XX football game Jan. 26, 1986 in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Boston-based photographer Elise Amendola on the field during the NFL Super Bowl XX football game Jan. 26, 1986 in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

From front, photographers Spencer Jones, Rob Kozloff, Claudia Counts and Brian Horton work from a trailer for the NFL Super Bowl XXV football game in Tampa, January 1991. (AP Corporate Archives photo)

From front, photo editors Spencer Jones, Rob Kozloff, Claudia Counts and Brian Horton work from a trailer for the NFL Super Bowl XXV football game in Tampa, January 1991. (AP Corporate Archives photo)

Photographers Mark Humphrey, foreground, of Nashville and Cliff Schiappa of Kansas City work at Leafax negative transmitters, sending photos from a trailer for the NFL Super Bowl XXV football game in Tampa, January 1991. (AP Corporate Archives photo)

Photographers Mark Humphrey, foreground, of Nashville and Cliff Schiappa of Kansas City work at Leafax negative transmitters, sending photos from a trailer for the NFL Super Bowl XXV football game in Tampa, January 1991. (AP Corporate Archives photo)

Regional Photo Editor Melissa Einberg at the NFL Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Jan. 28, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Regional Photo Editor Melissa Einberg at the NFL Super Bowl XXXV football game in Tampa, Jan. 28, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Photo editor Brian Horton at the NFL Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Jan. 28, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Photo editor Brian Horton at the NFL Super Bowl XXXV football game in Tampa, Jan. 28, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Photographer Doug Mills, center, at the NFL Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, Feb. 3, 2002. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Photographer Doug Mills, center, at the NFL Super Bowl XXXVI football game in New Orleans, Feb. 3, 2002. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Photo News Editor Stephanie Mullen, left, and photographer Ric Feld walk to the Superdome in New Orleans for NFL Super Bowl XXXVI, Feb. 3, 2002. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Photo News Editor Stephanie Mullen, left, and photographer Ric Feld walk to the Superdome in New Orleans for NFL Super Bowl XXXVI football game, Feb. 3, 2002. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Boston-based photographer Elise Amendola prepares to make pictures of the trophy presentation to the Tampa Bay Bucs in NFL Super Bowl XXXVII football game Jan. 26, 2003 in San Diego, California. Amendola is wearing a backpack with a small laptop for transmitting  images to the AP photo trailer. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Boston-based photographer Elise Amendola prepares to make pictures of the trophy presentation to the Tampa Bay Bucs in NFL Super Bowl XXXVII football game Jan. 26, 2003 in San Diego, California. Amendola is wearing a backpack with a small laptop for transmitting images to the AP photo trailer. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

National Enterprise photographer Amy Sancetta uses a mini-disk recorder to collect audio from Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden's press conference before the NFL Super Bowl XXXVII football game Jan. 23 ,2003 in San Diego, California.

National Enterprise photographer Amy Sancetta uses a mini-disk recorder to collect audio from Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden’s press conference before the NFL Super Bowl XXXVII football game Jan. 23, 2003 in San Diego, California. (AP Photo)

2003SuperBowl_Elaine Thompson 600

Seattle-based photographer Elaine Thompson on the field following the NFL Super Bowl XXXVII football game Jan. 23, 2003 in San Diego, California. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Sometimes the Super Bowl presents AP staff, who are brought together from around the U.S. to cover the game, the opportunity for a reunion. Certain traditions, like the deep frying of a turkey by the late photographer Dave Martin, provide staff a moment of respite and a chance to reconvene.

Photographer and South Regional Editor Dave Martin, center, deep fries a turkey outside the AP photo trailer at the Super Bowl in Detroit, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2006. Standing to the left of Martin is Global Photo Operations Manager Tim Donnelly. It had become a tradition for Martin to deep fry turkeys at major events for the enjoyment of AP staff and other journalists. Martin died after collapsing on the Georgia Dome field while covering the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, Jan. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Schiappa)

South Regional Photo Editor Dave Martin, right, deep fries a turkey outside the AP photo trailer at the Super Bowl in Detroit, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2006. Standing to the left of Martin is Global Photo Operations Manager Tim Donnelly. It had become a tradition for Martin to deep fry turkeys at major events for the enjoyment of AP staff and other journalists. Martin died after collapsing on the Georgia Dome field while covering the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, Jan. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Schiappa)

Indianapolis-based photographer Mike Conroy on the field at the start of the NFL Super Bowl XL Feb. 5, 2006 in Detroit, Michigan. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Indianapolis-based photographer Mike Conroy on the field at the start of the NFL Super Bowl XL Feb. 5, 2006 in Detroit, Michigan. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Global Photo Operations Manager Tim Donnelly, right, checks St. Louis-based photographer Jeff Roberson's transmitting device on the field following the NFL Super Bowl XLI Feb. 4, 2007 in Miami, Florida. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Global Photo Operations Manager Tim Donnelly, right, checks St. Louis-based photographer Jeff Roberson’s transmitting device on the field following the NFL Super Bowl XLI Feb. 4, 2007 in Miami, Florida. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

During 2013’s Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, the Baltimore Ravens were leading the San Francisco 49ers 28-6 when most of the lights in the 73,000-seat Superdome went out in the third quarter. While fans and players waited for the stadium to regain power, AP reporters and editors relied on AP generators and jet packs with Wi-Fi hotspots to continue covering the night’s events.

Deputy Director of Photography Denis Paquin, front left, and colleagues edit during the Super Bowl blackout, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, at the Superdome in New Orleans. (AP Photo/ Julie Jacobson)

Deputy Director of Photography Denis Paquin, front left, and colleagues edit during the Super Bowl blackout, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, at the Superdome in New Orleans. (AP Photo/ Julie Jacobson)

Washington Assistant Chief of Bureau David Ake edits during the Super Bowl blackout, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, at the Superdome in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Washington Assistant Chief of Bureau David Ake edits during the Super Bowl blackout, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, at the Superdome in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Photographers Matt Slocum, left, and Mark Humphrey, right, in red, covering Denver Broncos Peyton Manning during media day for the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Photographers Matt Slocum, left, and Mark Humphrey, right, in red, cover Denver Broncos Peyton Manning during media day for the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Technology specialist Jorge Nunez, far left, watches as Global Photo Operations Manager Tim Donnelly and Houston-based photographer David Phillip, right, install a robotic camera on the catwalk in preparation for Super Bowl XLIX, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. (Photo by Denis Paquin)

Technology specialist Jorge Nunez, far left, watches as Global Photo Operations Manager Tim Donnelly and Houston-based photographer David Phillip, right, install a robotic camera on the catwalk in preparation for the NFL Super Bowl XLIX football game, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Denis Paquin)

Photographers David Phillip, left, and Morry Gash work on a robotic camera in preparation for for Super Bowl XLIX, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. (Photo by Denis Paquin)

Photographers David Phillip, left, and Morry Gash work on a robotic camera in preparation for the NFL Super Bowl XLIX football game, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Denis Paquin)

Photographer Charlie Riedel shown during  Super Bowl XLIX Media Day at the U.S. Airways Arena in Phoenix, Ariz., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kazdan)

Photographer Charlie Riedel takes photos of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (not pictured) using a camera attached to a monopod during the NFL Super Bowl XLIX Media Day at the U.S. Airways Arena in Phoenix, Ariz., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kazdan)

Photographer Charlie Riedel takes photos from the stands during the NFL Super Bowl XLIX Media Day at the U.S Airways Arena in Phoenix, Ariz., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kazdan)

Photographer Charlie Riedel takes photos from the stands during the NFL Super Bowl XLIX Media Day at the U.S Airways Arena in Phoenix, Ariz., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kazdan)

In recognition of the game’s rich history, AP is hosting a photo exhibit of its Super Bowl game coverage. “Super Moments, Superstars, Super Game—An Associated Press Exhibit” is on display at Gallery Glendale, 9830 W. Westgate Blvd., in Glendale, Arizona, until Feb. 1.

What’s the deal with Davos?

DAVOS, Switzerland — It’s hard to think of any other event quite like the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting here in the Swiss Alps. The U.N. General Assembly draws more world leaders. The Oscars attract more celebrities. But nothing brings together quite this combination of corporate executives, academics, philanthropists and media.

Participants walk in the main entrance hall of the Congress Center the day before the opening of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. The world's financial and political elite will head this week to the Swiss Alps for 2015's gathering of the World Economic Forum at the Swiss ski resort of Davos. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Participants walk in the main entrance hall of the Congress Center the day before the opening of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

It began in 1971 as a two-week meeting designed to improve European management. Some 450 executives attended. It has grown to something both grander and broader, with 2,500 attendees and a sweeping motto: “Committed to improving the state of the world.” No small task.

To a considerable extent they all come because they all come. Some critics dismiss the meetings as a talk shop or a gathering of elites who fly pretty high above the world most people live in, the one they are committed to improving.

Yet, for all that, interesting things are often said here and occasionally news is broken here. One year, AP Chief Switzerland Correspondent John Heilprin scooped the world on a new security policy in which the United States said that protecting corporate supply chains was now as important as the longtime job of guarding shipping lanes. How did he get the scoop? The then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was sent to Davos with half a dozen copies of the new directive signed personally by President Barack Obama. They were intended for other world leaders. But it’s hard to actually catch up with a world leader here, even though there are usually about 40 at least passing through. So John seized the moment and cajoled one of those documents out of an aide.

Some news organizations send small armies to cover Davos. One, for example, takes over the town’s library for its operations. AP takes a different approach. A small but hearty band of journalists covers all formats. It’s a great place to snag newsmakers for video or text. Pan Pylas, an AP business reporter here from London, recalls standing feet from actor Matt Damon one moment and then being quick marched by his editors (well, me actually) to a private briefing with the president of Iran.

“It’s unusual to get so many newsmakers and thought leaders all together in a very small place, when they are unusually accessible and a little bit more relaxed than usual,” Heilprin said. “For a reporter, the first challenge is to recognize them all. The second is to quickly think of a good question when one passes by.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron and  rock star Bono speak during the panel discussion  "The Post-2015 Goals: Inspiring a New Generation to Act", the fifth annual Associated Press debate, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014.  (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

British Prime Minister David Cameron and rock star Bono speak during the panel discussion “The Post-2015 Goals: Inspiring a New Generation to Act,” the fifth annual Associated Press debate, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

The highlight of our Davos week is the annual AP Davos debate, the brainchild of Director of Global Video News Sandy MacIntyre and Senior Field Producer Masha McPherson. Working with the Davos organizers, we turn one of the panel discussions into a broadcast and send it to our 700 broadcast clients and hundreds of digital news outlets.

We’ve had some memorable moments. Like the time Prime Minister David Cameron asked Bono to help craft a message for the fight on global poverty. Or when the Italian finance minister got angry because we asked about a bank scandal in Siena instead of the high-minded global financial questions he was looking for. Our Italian customers were very happy.

But that’s Davos. If you remember why you’re here, as a journalist, you can always find a story.

Update: What to expect when you’re interviewed by AP

Sometimes people ask about the “ground rules” when they’re being interviewed or photographed by AP. Previously in this blog, we’ve described what you should expect when working with an AP reporter, photographer or videographer. Here’s that advice again, slightly expanded in light of some questions we’ve been asked:

  • We want to hear and see your story. We’ll work hard to accurately convey what you say, and to provide background that gives the context for your remarks. If there are other points of view besides yours on the subject at hand, we’ll look to obtain those as well and include them in the story.
  • We prefer to talk to you directly. We seek to do all interviews in person or by phone, webcam or similar. Sometimes we may ask questions by email. But our story will then characterize our exchange as an email conversation, not an interview.
  • We want to interview you on the record, and to use your name in our story, radio report, video piece or photo caption. We owe it to our readers and viewers to be straight about your identity. We can quote you anonymously in some cases but our rules are quite strict. We won’t quote you anonymously on your opinion, only on matters of fact. We do not grant anonymity unless it is the only way to get information that is essential to the story. We will need to tell our readers why you insisted on anonymity. (We are particularly reluctant to quote anonymously company or government officials whose official duties include speaking to the news media.) Also, if we quote you anonymously in a story, we cannot quote you on the record, elsewhere in the story, as refusing to comment.
  • We almost never obscure a face in photos or video. On rare occasions we can take photos and video from an angle that does not identify the person. Any such issues should be discussed with the photographer or videographer.
  • We cannot show you our story, or the images we’ve taken, before publication. (AP reporters are free, however, to double-check facts or quotes with you at their initiative.)
  • We cannot provide a full list of questions in advance of the interview. We may specify some areas we intend to ask about, but we always reserve the right to ask about something else.
  • We cannot agree not to ask about specific topics. If we ask about something you don’t wish to discuss, you can decline to comment and we’ll report that.
  • Once AP publishes its report, contact the reporter or editor if you believe anything is incorrect. We take accuracy very seriously and will correct any errors.

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

AP CEO welcomes DOJ’s revised media guidelines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why AP didn’t run the Charlie Hebdo cartoons

In this Sept.19, 2012 file photo,  Stephane Charbonnier also known as Charb ,  the editor of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, displays the front page of the newspaper as he poses for photographers in Paris. AP moved this image on the wire this week. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

In this Sept.19, 2012 file photo, Stephane Charbonnier, the editor of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, displays a front page of the newspaper as he poses for photographers in Paris. AP moved this image on the wire this week. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

The attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris raised many questions about how news agencies handle controversial images. We answered some of them Wednesday in response to calls from reporters and bloggers. Below is a summary of the questions and our replies.

Did AP run the Charlie Hebdo cartoons mocking Islam?
AP tries hard not to be a conveyor belt for images and actions aimed at mocking or provoking people on the basis of religion, race or sexual orientation. We did not run the “Danish cartoons” mocking Muhammad in 2005, or the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the same type. While we run many photos that are politically or socially provocative, there are areas verging on hate speech and actions where we feel it is right to be cautious.

This policy is consistent with our approach to sound bites and text reporting, where we avoid racist, religious and sexual slurs.

But don’t such images and speech sometimes make news?
They do, and we may need to describe hate speech and images when they lead to attacks or arrests. But we limit ourselves to brief descriptions, often without the images or slurs themselves. Routinely publicizing hate speech and images can lead to a “can-you-top-this” situation where provocateurs produce increasingly offensive material for news media to lap up and redistribute, accusing them of censorship when they fail to bite. We don’t want to fan such flames.

We also believe we should not rotely transmit propaganda images designed to sow fear and terror. These could include images that display hostages in demeaning situations, prisoners being abused or the bloodied bodies of vanquished enemies. Sometimes such images, or crops of them, may be essential to convey an event.

On occasion we’ve run a few seconds of video of a hostage. We also ran the well-known photos of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But any such material requires discussion by our editors and a judgment that it is truly newsworthy. We never transmit such material simply because “it’s out there” and others are carrying them.

What about images mocking Christianity or Judaism?
We try to be even-handed. We have declined to run cartoons demeaning Jews and the Holocaust, although we have referred to them in stories when the reaction to them has made news. In the urgency of a 24-hour newsroom, some images get through despite our best efforts; we removed from our service some photos we put out showing a crowd in Afghanistan burning a cross to disparage Christianity.

These are AP news policies for the pictures we distribute in our news reports. In addition, the company has a separate commercial photo business called AP Images that, among other things, has an archive of 22 million photos, including AP pictures that predate our current editorial standards and pictures from many other photo partners. Sometimes photos that don’t meet our current editorial standards are found among those millions of pictures.

Thus, on Wednesday we removed from AP Images some Charlie Hebdo cartoons that had come from a non-AP source. We also became aware that a 25-year-old image of the controversial “Piss Christ” photo was among the photos there, and removed it. Of course, every removal is a judgment call, and we took some flak over the decision on “Piss Christ.”

We learned long ago that some of our news decisions will be controversial. While there’s certainly a slippery slope that leads to avoiding any image that could cause offense, there’s an equally slippery one that leads to suspending our editorial judgment and allowing our news service to be hijacked by whatever offensive image is circulating on a given day. Our best approach is to try to be as thoughtful and even-handed as we can, knowing we’ll sometimes be criticized for a decision not everyone likes.

But what about the censorship issue? Who is the AP to decide what images the world will see?
This question was more valid a couple of decades ago, when a very small number of international news agencies “owned the wires” that distributed photos around the world. If the agencies chose not to run a photo, few were likely ever to see it. Even at that time, we felt a responsibility to use our judgment and distribute only those photos we were comfortable with.

But now the censorship argument has largely evaporated. The most hotly disputed images of recent years can usually be found easily via search engines and social networks by anyone who wants to see them. In the Internet era, we are free to edit our news service in line with our own professional consciences and the valid needs of our readers and subscribers without people being able to claim we’re making some decision for the entire world. We have an editorial policy, and that’s what you get from AP.

AP statement on Mueller report

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

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

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

Read the AP news story.

AP’s long history of reporting from Cuba

As the United States and Cuba move to restore diplomatic relations for the first time in more than 50 years, a look at The Associated Press’ long and unparalleled history on the island reflects the tensions that have marked the relationship between the two countries.

Valerie Komor, director of the AP Corporate Archives, prepared this account of the AP in Havana:

A 1961 edition of The AP World, the AP company magazine, reported on staffer Harold Milks' delayed exit from Cuba after Fidel Castro took power.

A 1961 edition of The AP World, the company magazine, reported on staffer Harold Milks’ delayed exit from Cuba after Fidel Castro took power.

The Associated Press stationed a correspondent in Havana as early as 1870, when the Spanish authorities exerted complete censorship over all news dispatches. A seething General Agent J. W. Simonton, writing in The New York Times on March 16, 1870, declared “the business of the Company seriously embarrassed thereby.”

Francisco José Hilgert, who may have operated in secret for some years for his own safety, reported on the explosion of the battleship USS Maine on Feb. 15, 1898. During the ensuing Spanish-American War, a staff of about 20 used chartered boats to cover naval actions and carry copy to cable points in Haiti, Jamaica, Key West and the Danish West Indies. In 1916, AP announced a direct New York-Havana leased wire to serve its Havana newspaper members, which included El Mundo and Diario de la Marina.

Larry Allen and William Ryan were on duty on Jan. 2, 1959, when Fidel Castro’s rebels overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista in a “blood-wet battle of tanks and guns,” as Allen described the scene. After Castro took power, reporting became increasingly difficult. As chief of Caribbean Services, Harold K. Milks, a veteran war correspondent and former Moscow bureau chief, ran the bureau from May 1959 until the spring of 1961. When the botched United States invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs began on April 17, 1961, Milks sought refuge in the Swiss Embassy until he and 100 others were flown to Miami a month later.

Shortly thereafter, Daniel Harker, a stringer out of Colombia, resumed reporting from Havana with instructions to “keep the AP doors open” and not antagonize the government. Ike Flores replaced Harker in mid-1965 and began doing interviews with Castro and his generals. Not surprisingly, Flores gradually became persona non grata and asked to be reassigned.

In 1967, John Fenton Wheeler took over. For a time, he seemed to be enjoying greater privileges. But after Castro directly attacked Wheeler in a speech, saying he had been reading “AP lies” since he had come to power, the end was just a matter of time. It came on Sept. 8, 1969, with a 3 a.m. phone call from the Foreign Ministry — and Wheeler found himself on a plane out of the country. “Don’t worry,” AP General Manager Wes Gallagher told him. “We’ve been kicked out of better places.”

During the height of the Cold War, AP’s Miami bureau made coverage of Cuba one of its priorities.

From 1961 to 1986, AP employed exiled Cuban newsmen to monitor, translate and write up the Radio Havana broadcasts.  In the summer 1965 issue of AP World, AP’s in-house magazine, the operation was described this way: “When Castro makes one of his four-hour speeches, the monitors take turns making notes. At the same time, the speech is taped as a backstop. Ted Ediger takes the reams of copy and cuts and molds it into shape for the wire. The radios are in the same room with WirePhoto. The bleep-bleep of the Wirephoto, the hysterical rantings of Castro and the rattle of typewriters blend into an unearthly racket.”

After 1969, it would be 30 years before AP could reopen an office in Havana, first because of Castro’s strictures and secondly because the U.S. government barred American news organizations from operating there. Years of effort by AP CEO Louis D. Boccardi paid off when the Cuban Foreign Ministry granted AP permission to re-establish a permanent presence in Cuba. Anita Snow reopened the bureau and was followed by Paul Haven (2009-13), Peter Orsi (interim) and Michael Weissenstein in 2014.

More great saves by AP staffers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doubling down on state government coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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