Posted in Behind the News

AP CEO: News agencies must ‘unleash the truth’

, by Lauren Easton

Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Thursday, AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt addressed the role of news agencies in the 21st century.

“The facts we report are the bricks that build a stable foundation of truthful information,” Pruitt said.

“The mission of news agencies should be to inform the world so people can intelligently participate in society and live better lives.”

Here are excerpts from his prepared remarks:

We know that many outlets espouse distinctly partisan points of view, which can range from endorsing candidates all the way to calling for revolution. Many partisan outlets have long and noble traditions of quality journalism. Others are completely disreputable. Certainly partisanship was the norm during the American Civil War in the 19th century when virtually every newspaper was associated with one political party or another.
That is why it was shocking when in 1892, then-AP Washington Bureau Chief Lawrence Gobright in testimony before Congress said, “My business is merely to communicate facts. My instructions do not allow me to make any comments upon the facts which I communicate. I do not act as a politician belonging to any school, but try to be truthful and impartial.” AP was establishing what was then a new standard of news values that defined objective journalism in the United States and for much of the world. I would like to believe that we, along with our fellow news agencies, still do that today – lay a foundation of knowledge upon which elevated discourse can proceed. The statistics bear that out. 

Pruitt also addressed the problem of misinformation in the digital age, pointing out that “the primacy of facts themselves is under attack.”

He continued:

We are witnessing an era of hyperpartisanship in countries around the world. Leaders are lashing out at the media because we are one of the few checks on their power.
At times like this it may be tempting to take sides and many news outlets have done just that. Fine. But I would argue that it is essential that news agencies not succumb to that temptation because once you take sides in a partisan fight, there is no turning back. You are stuck there.  Furthermore, by taking sides we would be eroding our greatest strength: the power of fact-based journalism and the credibility that comes with it.
Being objective in reporting the news does not mean being passive or weak. Far from it.
One of the most powerful forces on earth is the truth delivered from a trusted, credible source. We have seen it many times at the AP. Our archives are replete with examples of the power of factual reporting. It has hastened the end of wars and in 2015 freed more than 2,000 slaves.  News agencies must advance the power of facts, unleash the truth. That is how we will have the greatest impact. 

Watch a replay of Pruitt’s remarks here.

Pruitt also asked a question of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in St. Petersburg.