AP general counsel urges lawmakers to strengthen FOIA

Associated Press General Counsel Karen Kaiser today urged lawmakers to enact bipartisan legislation now before the U.S. Senate to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act and make it work better.

Karen Kaiser, general counsel at The Associated Press, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 6, 2015, before the Senate Judiciary hearing on open records laws. Kaiser testified that despite promises of greater transparency by the Obama administration, most agencies are not abiding by their legal obligations under open records laws. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Karen Kaiser, general counsel at The Associated Press, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 6, 2015, before the Senate Judiciary hearing on open records laws. Kaiser testified that despite promises of greater transparency by the Obama administration, most agencies are not abiding by their legal obligations under open records laws. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In testimony delivered to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in Washington, Kaiser detailed the many problems journalists and the public face when seeking access to public documents.

“Non-responsiveness is the norm. The reflex of most agencies is to withhold information, not to release, and often there is no recourse for a requester other than pursuing costly litigation,” Kaiser said. “This is a broken system that needs reform. Simply stated, government agencies should not be able to avoid the transparency requirements of the law in such continuing and brazen ways.”

Kaiser, who spoke on behalf of AP and The Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI), a coalition of media associations promoting open government, said the legislation would “result in a more informed citizenry and a more transparent and accountable government.”

Kaiser said the legislation is critical to:

  • improving efficiencies for FOIA requesters.
  • reducing the troubling backlog of cases.
  • driving agencies to decisions that better align with FOIA’s goals.
  • ensuring government operates from a presumption of openness in most cases.

AP is a leading and aggressive advocate for transparency in government. As detailed in the news organization’s 2014 annual report, requesting public records and fighting for access around the world have long been AP priorities. AP journalists file many hundreds of requests each year for government records and other information under FOIA and state open records statutes, many of which resulted in important stories that the public would otherwise not have known.

Last week, AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll detailed some recent government access challenges, on NPR’s “On the Media,” and in March AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt wrote a column published in newspapers across the country that explained how the government is undermining “right to know” laws.

AP and other news organizations seek Freddie Gray report

Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts announces that the department's investigation into the death of Freddie Gray was turned over to the State's Attorney's office a day early at a news conference, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Baltimore. Standing at right is Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis.  Batts did not give details of the report or take questions. He said the department dedicated more than 30 detectives to working on the case and report. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts announces that the department’s investigation into the death of Freddie Gray was turned over to the State’s Attorney’s office a day early at a news conference, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Baltimore. Standing at right is Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis. Batts did not give details of the report or take questions. He said the department dedicated more than 30 detectives to working on the case and report. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A coalition of news organizations, including The Associated Press, has called on the Baltimore Police Department to release immediately its report on the death of Freddie Gray that it has submitted to the Maryland state’s attorney.

The coalition argues that “release of the document would … only serve the public interest.”

See the letter sent to the police department.

White House reporter takes top honors for deadline reporting

Most of the White House Press Corps had departed for the evening, but AP’s Josh Lederman was one of a few still at work inside at 8 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2014 when he heard a commotion outside the doors of the briefing room. Secret Service agents were shouting at people to get inside, saying the building was on lockdown.

AP White House reporter Josh Lederman (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

AP White House reporter Josh Lederman (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Lederman rushed to the press office, where officials were not yet aware that there had been an incident. A few seconds later, agents stormed in with weapons drawn and began evacuating White House staffers into the basement. Lederman was sent there too, along with the White House communications director and a senior adviser to President Barack Obama.

After a few minutes of chaos, Lederman and the White House staffers were hurried out through a side door into the street, where the Secret Service had blocked off the perimeter of the campus. A uniformed agent rushing by said that someone had jumped the fence. Using his iPhone, Lederman wrote a quick, brief story that hit the AP wire at 8:17 p.m.

Then he kept reporting.

His story, written under deadline pressure on one of the most competitive beats in Washington, earned Lederman the prestigious Merriman Smith Memorial Award from the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA), which announced its annual honors on Tuesday.

“Lederman was also resourceful enough to use social media to locate an official source for comment on a Friday night, when official Washington normally rolls up the sidewalks, to confirm his hunch that the breach was more serious than it was being portrayed,” the judges said. “Lederman’s quick thinking and ability to turn around a story with nuance in a short time frame made this report stand out.”

Lederman will accept his award on April 25, at the WHCA’s annual dinner in Washington. AP was also honored in 2013, when Chief White House Correspondent Julie Pace won the Merriman Smith award for an on-deadline story explaining Obama’s path to re-election.

“We’re thrilled Josh has won the Merriman Smith award. He’s done a terrific job covering both spot news and also developing expertise on environmental stories and national security stories,” said Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee. “He’s a real building block for our bureau going forward and we’re really proud of him.”

AP White House reporter Josh Lederman appears on Fox News.

AP White House reporter Josh Lederman appears on Fox News.

Lederman, 29, has been on the White House beat since 2013 and focuses on domestic and foreign policy, as well as electoral politics and Vice President Joe Biden. He previously reported for AP in Jerusalem and covered Gov. Chris Christie and state politics in New Jersey, and reported for The Hill newspaper.

A native of Tucson, Arizona, Lederman has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from The George Washington University. He makes regular appearances on national television and radio, including on NPR, Fox News, BBC America and other outlets.

Led by Pace, AP’s White House team also includes Jim Kuhnhenn, Nedra Pickler and Darlene Superville.

Follow @AP_Politics on Twitter.

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.

AP announces political team for 2016

U.S. Political Editor David Scott announced The Associated Press’ political reporting lineup in a memo to staff today:

Colleagues,

The past two weeks have been a strong marker, lest there be any doubt, that the campaign for president in 2016 is here, now. So today, Sally and I are thrilled to announce an addition to the U.S. political team, and some other changes, that will help us break the biggest news and report the sharpest enterprise from now until Election Day.

Lisa Lerer (Photo courtesy Lisa Lerer)

Lisa Lerer (Photo courtesy Lisa Lerer)

First, the addition: Lisa Lerer will join AP as a political reporter focused on Hillary Clinton. Lisa, now a correspondent at Bloomberg Politics, will be based in Washington, but will spend time in New York and on the trail with the presumptive Democratic front runner. It’s a place Lisa knows well, having covered Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012 and the Republican field in 2008. Since then, she has written primarily on domestic policy from the White House for Bloomberg News and BusinessWeek magazine, and appeared on Bloomberg television.

Lisa is a strong source reporter, knowledgeable about campaigns and donors — and also knowledgeable about governing. She has a good eye for fresh and interesting angles.

Next up, a shift we had planned for later this year, but are excited to make now: our White House correspondent, Julie Pace, will broaden her focus to include campaign coverage along with her normal White House coverage, bringing strong sourcing skills and political acumen to the team.

Julie Pace (AP photo).

Julie Pace (AP photo).

Lisa joins the AP early next month. Julie has already begun to split her time between the campaign and the White House. She will retain her title and a strong news portfolio at the White House.

It goes without saying: We do anticipate other reporters will be drawn into our political coverage as the campaign progresses.

Meanwhile, from his base in Iowa, Tom Beaumont is now responsible for our coverage of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Phil Elliott is focused on the Republicans in the Senate seeking the GOP’s 2016 nomination. For the next few months, Cal Woodward will also be working closely with me and the political team as an editor.

These changes make our already strong team stronger. Ken Thomas remains focused on national Democrats, and Steve Peoples on the national Republican Party. In New Jersey, Jill Colvin is on point for Chris Christie and all 2016 news in New York City. Nick Riccardi covers politics in the West and Bill Barrow in the South, as before.

Jesse Holland remains our lead voice on race, ethnicity and voters, and Emily Swanson on polling. The report benefits each day from the work of our team on Capitol Hill, led by Donna Cassata. And, of course, AP’s corps of statehouse reporters has already proved highly valuable on the trail.

In photos, we are pleased to have recently welcomed Andrew Harnik, an experienced campaign and political photographer, to AP’s team of Pulitzer Prize-winning campaign photographers who will cover the 2016 race both in Washington and on the trail.

And AP’s Washington-based U.S. video operation is already gearing up to produce the coverage of candidates and issues that will explain to television and digital video audiences — worldwide — where the race for the White House stands hour by hour.

Please join me in welcoming Lisa.

Best,

David

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.

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.

AP’s top editor: ‘Is the story worth the risk?’

In a time of increasing threats to journalists worldwide, Associated Press Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said that news organizations need to carefully weigh the risks of reporting against journalists’ passion for telling untold stories.

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Kathleen Carroll, executive editor for the Associated Press, Douglas Frantz, U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs and moderator Diane Woodruff take part in a discussion on the growing threats to journalists worldwide, the role of freelancers and local reporters, and the rise of hostage taking at the Newseum in Washington Feb. 4, 2015.   (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists,
Kathleen Carroll, executive editor for the Associated Press, Douglas Frantz, U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs and moderator Judy Woodruff take part in a discussion on the growing threats to journalists worldwide, at the Newseum in Washington Feb. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

During a wide-ranging discussion Feb. 4 at the Newseum in Washington, about the dangers of reporting in conflict zones, risks to freelance journalists and responsibilities for news organizations and governments, Carroll said: “I think the real question for all of us, as news consumers and as news employers, is: ‘Is the story worth the risk?’ And that’s a question we often ask ourselves both in the field and back at the home office. And the answer is sometimes, ‘no.’”

The panel, moderated by Judy Woodruff, co-anchor and managing editor of PBS “NewsHour,” also included Douglas Frantz, U.S. secretary of state for public affairs, and Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. The panel followed a separate conversation with Diane Foley, mother of freelance journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by Islamic State militants in 2014, and Debra Tice, mother of missing freelance journalist Austin Tice.

A new set of safety guidelines for freelancers and news organizations that hire freelancers will be unveiled at Columbia University next week, Carroll said, adding that a number of organizations have been involved in their development, including CPJ, AP, Reuters, AFP and others.

In closing, Carroll called on news consumers to care: “This is work that people are doing at great risk to educate you, so give a damn. Read the paper, read on your tablet, engage in the news, be a citizen of the world. Make some effort to understand what it is that these people are taking great risks to bring you.”

Watch a video replay of the event.

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.