Where to find AP at SXSW Interactive

The Associated Press is joining thousands of digital and creative professionals from around the world converging at the 2015 SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, which runs March 13 through 17.  Here’s where you’ll find AP:

Saturday, March 14

Social Media: Breaking News or Fixing News?

AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin (AP Photo).

AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin (AP Photo).

  • AP Social Media Editor and Online News Association board member Eric Carvin (@EricCarvin) joins a panel on the impact of social media on the news ecosystem. The hour-long session presented by The Knight Foundation also features Kai Ryssdal, host of “Marketplace”; Michael Roston, social media editor at The New York Times; and Alison Lichter, the Wall Street Journal’s social media editor. The session will take place from 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Austin, Zilker Ballroom. Follow the conversation on Twitter with hashtags: #sxsw #breaking.
  • AP is sponsoring a photo booth at the popular SXSW event, “The Awesomest Journalism Party Ever. V.” The event is from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. and RSVP is required.

Sunday, March 15

When robots write the news, what will humans do?

Lou Ferrara, vice president and managing editor

Lou Ferrara, vice president and managing editor (AP Photo).

  • When AP announced it would use technology from Automated Insights to automate corporate earnings stories the reaction was dramatic, and many wondered: what will happen to human journalists? AP Vice President and Managing Editor Lou Ferrara (@LouFerrara) will discuss why AP decided to automate some business and sports news content, the impact of automation on the news business and how journalists have adapted to the change. He’ll be joined by Robbie Allen, CEO of Automated Insights. The session will take place from 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Austin, Texas Ballroom 4-7. Follow the conversation on Twitter using hashtags: #sxsw #newsrobots.

AP journalists will also be providing news coverage of SXSW interactive, film and music. Follow business writer Mae Anderson (@maetron) and Music Editor Mesfin Fekadu (@MusicMesfin) for updates.

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’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.

Editorials criticize FBI’s impersonation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the killing of James Foley, journalist

The Associated Press is outraged by the killing of James Foley and condemns the taking of any journalist’s life. We believe those who kill journalists or hold them hostage should be brought to justice.

Further, we believe the assassination of a journalist in wartime should be considered an international crime of war.

The murder of a journalist with impunity  is a threat to a free press and democracy around the world.

— Gary Pruitt, AP president and CEO

Update: Pruitt elaborated on his view during an Aug. 24 interview on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”