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.

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)

Q&A: How AP stays ahead in the mobile space

The Associated Press has released a new version of AP Mobile, its award-winning news app, to offer full support for Apple’s new operating system, iOS 8, and the hotly anticipated iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Here, Michael Boord, director of mobile products, explains how AP is staying ahead in the mobile space:

Director of Mobile Products Michael Boord (AP Photo).

Director of Mobile Products Michael Boord (AP Photo).

How is AP Mobile optimized for iOS 8 and the new iPhone?
From a user perspective, the app won’t look much different, but our developers have been working for months making backend changes that should make the app perform better than ever. We’ve also made some enhancements to the sharing features, so users can more easily post stories on social media. Users will notice a new “Big Story” carousel on their home screen to more prominently surface the major developing stories AP is covering around the world, from the Ebola outbreak to the entertainment awards season.

What content can users find on AP Mobile?
The app features the best of AP’s journalism in every format, including breaking news alerts, hourly radio updates, stunning images, interactive graphics and video reports. It’s customizable, so users can choose what news categories they want, from sports and entertainment to politics or local news.

MOBILEHow does AP Mobile showcase local content?
Users pick which local publications they want to see from our more than 1,100 contributing partners. We’re also working closely with AP members to showcase their work on the app’s tiled-based home screen. For example, we recently featured reporting from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and content from the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. These were stories of national interest and we helped our users discover content they might not otherwise see.

Who’s reading AP Mobile?
Since its launch in 2008, AP Mobile has been downloaded over 14 million times and is consistently among the highest-rated news apps in the app stores. We tend to see spikes in the number of downloads when breaking news happens, and we find it gratifying that people turn to AP for fast, accurate information. Even the White House press secretary told CNN he uses the app to stay up to date.

What’s next?
Because we’ve already optimized for iO8, we are well-positioned for substantial updates in the future. We’re hoping to roll out some new content features in November and are continuing to look for unique ways to surface compelling, authoritative local content.

Download AP Mobile from the Apple iTunes or Google Play app stores.

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

Deep source network, experience underpin AP reporting in Gaza

The Associated Press team in Gaza is reporting the news as they live it, working quickly — under extremely difficult conditions — to verify and debunk information for AP’s customers around the world. Senior Managing Editor Michael Oreskes lauded their efforts in a recent memo to staff:

It was late Sunday afternoon [July 20] and a brief cease-fire had silenced a raging battle in the Gaza neighborhood of Shijaiyah. Dozens of Palestinians were dead, hundreds wounded and thousands fleeing. In a matter of minutes, the battle would resume.

AP Gaza photographer Hatem Moussa, touring the area, caught sight of someone he knew from Gaza’s Civil Defense who was searching for bodies and followed him into a badly damaged building. From under the rubble came the barely audible sound of a family trapped: A woman crying for help alongside her husband, 7-year-old niece and three dead relatives.

“I’m here under the shop,” the woman cried out. “God, please, I can’t breathe.”

Moussa called for AP backup. Visiting photographer Lefteris Pitarakis and video journalist Dalton Bennett were not far away; upon arrival, they first determined whether they might help the family, and then shot pictures and video. It was too dangerous for rescuers to bring in bulldozers. As the AP team rushed out, Moussa spotted a Red Cross team and passed on the exact location. Hours later, rescue workers returned and saved the family. The Civil Defense team made a point of calling AP, inviting the team back to the hospital for a follow-up story.

It was just one of several instances of AP being a step ahead of the competition in the most challenging of environments: war in a small, sealed-off territory where they both live and work. In this setting and under these circumstances, the Gaza staff performed brilliantly, advancing a story of global interest to earn the Beat of the Week award.

For the Gaza staff, this is more than a news story. It’s their life. Covering war is hard enough; worrying if your family will survive the day is simply impossible for most of us to imagine. Consider a few snapshots from recent days:

Moussa was having the pre-dawn Ramadan meal with his wife and four children when the airstrikes began. They fled, fearing death. Driver Said Jalis‘ family, his wife heavily pregnant, took refuge at a U.N. school, sleeping on the floor; his 10th child was born Monday [July 21]. Writer Ibrahim Barzak‘s family moved twice in less than a week before deciding home was safest; he turns the TV off when his children are near and sleeps less than four hours. Fares Elwan, the caretaker, sleeps on a mattress in the office hallway because it’s too dangerous to return to see his 11 children. Majed Hamdan, a photographer, fixer and driver, put his family in the room looking away from a built-up area in Shijaiyah. “If we die, we all die together,” he says.

And yet, routinely, the Gaza staffers put all this aside, mining their excellent network of sources and years of experience. Reporting into the Jerusalem bureau — and working closely with AP staff journalists in Israel who are themselves under siege from Hamas rockets – their professionalism puts AP consistently ahead on one of the world’s most competitive stories.

They know every inch of the strip, and are able to quickly verify or debunk reports. Besides covering and facilitating stories themselves, they’ve created a crucial foundation for the visiting team of Senior Producer Khaled Kazziha, writer Karin Laub, Pitarakis and Bennett.

Just ask Pitarakis, who has covered conflicts across the globe: Working with the experienced Gaza staff, he says, makes all the difference. “Without a doubt, this is the game-changing scenario,” he says. “These guys set up this amazing system. The drivers know everything. The local photographers know everyone. It’s a constant flow of information and I wouldn’t be able to operate without it. These guys tell me: go there, go here.”

This well-honed newsgathering system has been working throughout the conflict. On July 13, APTN producer Najib Abu Jobain put AP ahead with the first images of families fleeing the northern towns of Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun, which were coming under heavy attack from Israeli tank fire.

“I got a phone call from my daughter the moment she saw the donkey carts, trucks and cars arriving at the U.N. school (where the displaced where seeking shelter).” AP got the pictures at 2 a.m., about six hours ahead of Reuters.

And the staff has been working this way for years: Back in 2011, it was Barzak who broke the news that Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit had been handed back to Israeli forces.

For valiant and extraordinary efforts that helped make the AP the leading source for news on this crucial story, the Gaza-based staff wins this week’s $500 award.

They are: chief APTN producer Najib Abu Jobain, correspondent Ibrahim Barzak, photographer Adel Hana, cameraman Rashed Rasheed, photographer Hatem Moussa, photographer Khalil Hamra, APTN producer Wafa Shurafa, photographer-fixer Majed Hamdan, cameraman Tamer Ziara, camerman Yacoub Abu Galwa, driver Ismail Shurabasi, driver Said Jalis and caretaker Fares Elwan.

Poorly worded alert prompts clarification

This morning a poorly worded news alert moved on the AP wire and was also tweeted via @AP.

For the record, here’s the original alert:

EINDHOVEN, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch military plane carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash lands in Eindhoven.

Many readers understandably took it to mean the plane “crash-landed.”

We sought to clarify this as quickly as possible.

Here’s the clarified version:

EINDHOVEN, Netherlands (AP) — CLARIFIES: Dutch military plane carrying Malaysia Airlines bodies lands in Eindhoven.

@AP tweeted the clarification as follows:

CLARIFIES: Dutch military plane carrying Malaysia Airlines bodies lands in Eindhoven.

This was an especially regrettable lapse that drew wide attention as Dutch families awaited the return of their loved ones’ remains.

On the Brazil beat: AP covers the World Cup

As the excitement of the World Cup unfolds across Brazil, AP journalists are covering the action in text, video and photos for an array of customers around the world.

“The AP journalists and technicians on the ground have been unflagging in their mission to tell the whole story of this tournament,” said AP Vice President and Managing Editor Lou Ferrara. “Beyond our vibrant coverage of every match, they’ve been providing crucial context and unique perspectives on the political and cultural aspects of this global event.”

From street protests to rain-soaked press conferences to the stadium sidelines, here are a few highlights of the AP team at work on the Brazil beat.

For World Cup news, download the AP Mobile app or follow AP on Twitter and Facebook.

A faster, new format for AP’s Major League Baseball game stories

For decades, AP reporters have chronicled every big play, every no-hitter and every controversy that erupts on the field during the hundreds of games that make up the Major League Baseball season.

Now, we’re reshaping the way that game coverage looks.

Starting July 28, we’ll launch a new format that presents the game story in a faster, more accessible and more customizable package. Instead of a traditional 600-word game story, our coverage will feature 300 words about the game and then up to five bullet points that highlight mini storylines, injuries, key plays and what’s coming next for a team.

It’ll be faster to read, faster to publish and more customizable for newsrooms. Unique content will be more easily highlighted and communicated. Editors can choose to use the 300-word story, or break off the bullet points for websites.

The new format is based on customer feedback and a trial conducted during spring training this year.

The new format was discussed at the gathering of Associated Press Media Editors in New York today, and will be reviewed at the annual Associated Press Sports Editors conference later this week. Here are highlights in an advisory that went to AP member news organizations and customers today:

THE FORMAT

The basics won’t change: We will continue to publish a NewsNow at game’s end, a 300-word writethru shortly after, followed by a 600-word writethru and a hometown lead.

What will change is how those stories look. The top of the story will continue to look like a traditional AP game story. After 300 words, the text will break into a chunky-text presentation featuring up to five bullet points that explain team storylines, key plays, injuries and a look ahead to what’s next for a team or player.

Los Angeles Angels' Erick Aybar, left, celebrates with Mike Trout after they defeated the Texas Rangers 5-2 in a baseball game, Sunday, June 22, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Angels’ Erick Aybar, left, celebrates with Mike Trout after they defeated the Texas Rangers 5-2 in a baseball game, Sunday, June 22, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

THE BENEFITS

EASY TO READ: The format allows consumers to more easily see interesting content, and it can be read faster across platforms.

SPEED: The format is naturally shorter than a traditional game story and can be published more quickly, resulting in a faster turnaround time from AP to newsrooms.

FLEXIBILITY: Customers have the option of using the 300-word traditional game story, or breaking off the bullet point items for briefs on websites, mobile or in print.


EXAMPLE OF NEW FORMAT

Slug: BC-BBA–Royals-Indians

Headline: Kipnis hits go-ahead double, Indians beat Royals

Ext. Headline: Jason Kipnis delivers tiebreaking double in 7th inning, sends Indians to 5-3 win over Royals

Eds Note: Indians 5, Royals 3

By The Associated Press

CLEVELAND — With seven games still left this month, Jason Kipnis has already surpassed his statistics from last April.

That wasn’t hard to do.

“I set the bar so low,” he said.

Kipnis drove in Nick Swisher from first base with a two-out double in the seventh inning, sending the Cleveland Indians to a 5-3 win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night.

Kipnis, who batted just .200 with one homer and four RBIs in the season’s first month in 2013, ripped his double off Kelvin Herrera (0-1) into the gap in right-center, deep enough to easily score Swisher, who reached on a two-out single.

“That was a real big hit,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Sometimes you need a big hit at a big time and we got it tonight.”

The Indians tacked on an important insurance run in the eighth on pinch-hitter Lonnie Chisenhall’s bloop RBI single.

Bryan Shaw (1-0) finished the seventh and got one out in the eighth. Cody Allen retired two, and John Axford worked the ninth for his AL-leading eighth save.

Michael Bourn had three hits and two RBIs for the Indians. Bourn, Nick Swisher and Kipnis, Cleveland’s 1-2-3 hitters, combined for six hits and three RBIs.

Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas hit back-to-back homers in the second for Kansas City.

Indians starter Justin Masterson remained winless through five starts. The staff’s ace, who turned down a contract extension during spring training, allowed two earned runs and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings.

“I’ll take as many no-decisions as come as long as we’re winning,” he said.

Down 3-2, the Indians tied it in the sixth off lefty starter Jason Vargas when Michael Brantley scored from first on two Kansas City errors.

Brantley singled with one out, and broke for second with two down and Yan Gomes batting. As Brantley slid safely into second, the throw from catcher Perez skipped into center field. Brantley hustled toward third and center fielder Jarrod Dyson took his eye off the ball, overrunning it and letting the tying run score.

“I came in too hard,” Dyson said. “I should have come in and played it off the hop because I probably didn’t have a shot at him anyway.”

Moustakas’ RBI single after Kipnis dropped a throw for an error had given the Royals a 3-2 lead in the sixth.

TIPPING PITCHES?

One night after Cleveland’s struggling right-hander Danny Salazar said he might be tipping his pitches, Indians manager Terry Francona said the 24-year-old Salazar is just leaving too many over the plate. Francona was surprised Salazar would say he was giving hitters clues.

“He’s not,” Francona said. “There were some instances last year in spring training that we kind of addressed with him. But, no, we really keep an eye on that.”

SLUMPS

Royals: Perez snapped an 0-for-22 slump with a drive over the center field wall off Masterson in the second inning for his first homer. The Royals catcher with a .295 average in three-plus seasons entered batting just .211 in 71 at-bats.

Indians: Third baseman-designated hitter Carlos Santana is in a 2-for-46 (.043) slide.

SLOPPY PLAY

The Indians came in tied for the AL lead with 20 errors. Kipnis, the second baseman, made his third of the year Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Royals: The six-game road trip continues in Baltimore with hard-throwing rookie Yordano Ventura (1-2) facing Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (0-3)

Indians: Cleveland heads west for its first interleague series. Righty Carlos Carrasco (0-2) faces San Francisco Giants right-hander Tim Hudson (2-1).

What does it take to cover big-time sports?

Ferrara_Lou

AP Vice President and Managing Editor Lou Ferrara

So you want to be a sports writer? Start with a hunger for news.

That was the message AP Vice President and Managing Editor Lou Ferrara delivered to aspiring journalists gathered at the College Media Association’s Spring National Convention in New York on Thursday.

Ferrara, fresh from leading AP’s coverage of the Winter Olympics, stressed the importance of strong newsgathering skills and explained how news reporting underpins stories from the slopes and the skating rink:

“When I look in the very near past at the Sochi games, the sports and events themselves were almost a backdrop to the bigger story. Russia. Vladimir Putin. Security. Pussy Riot. Gay rights. Construction problems. Ukraine. And then there were other threads that got more attention than the game stories we wrote: Accessibility for the disabled. A worker hit by a bobsled. A malfunctioning Olympic ring that the world saw but Russians did not. How the IOC restricts athlete endorsements during the games. Or, how social media is part of the fabric of an Olympian’s celebrity.”

Ferrara also highlighted the accomplishments of a number of AP journalists, including a Texas Statehouse reporter who has carved out a niche beat covering Lance Armstrong (though he’s never gone to the Tour de France), a London-based sports editor who regularly breaks news about the International Olympic Committee and a sports writer covering Penn State who ensured AP was the first news agency to accurately report when Joe Paterno had died.

As a manager, Ferrara said he’s looking for smart reporters “who can identify a news story when they see it happening around the sport they are covering.”

Read his full remarks, including tips for being the next great sports writer, on the Poynter Institute’s website.

Visit AP at SXSW Interactive

The Associated Press is joining thousands of digital and creative professionals from around the world converging at the 2014 SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, which runs March 7 through 11.  Here’s a rundown of where you’ll find AP:

David Guttenfelder and Eric Carvin

David Guttenfelder and Eric Carvin

Saturday, March 8

Sunday, March 9

  • AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin (@EricCarvin) and Mandy Jenkins, managing editor for Digital First Media’s Project Thunderdome, will discuss the responsibilities news organizations have to citizen journalists. The session will cover topics such as credits and permissions for user-generated content and working with amateurs who may find themselves reporting in dangerous circumstances. Follow along on Twitter with hashtag: #UGCEthics.  12:30-1:30 p.m., Austin Convention Center, Room 18ABCD.
  • And AP is sponsoring the Film + Interactive Fusion Party, which brings together filmmakers, designers, social media experts, producers and more. Featuring a DJ, games, photo booth and more, the party is open to all Interactive, Film, Gold and Platinum badge holders. 7-10 p.m., Palm Door, 508 East 6th St.