New AP chief stresses news, business cooperation

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Associated Press

Posted on September 20, 2012 at 4:30 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 20 at 8:00 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gary Pruitt, the new president and CEO of The Associated Press, pledged Thursday to continue close cooperation with member news organizations on news collection, open government efforts and generating online advertising revenues.

In remarks at the annual Associated Press Media Editors convention, Pruitt noted that the AP Mobile news app presents a key area where the cooperative and members can "be business partners today in a way we couldn't before."

"You can be our local partner," said Pruitt, the 13th person to head the news cooperative since its founding in 1846. "AP can supply the national news, the international news — you can supply the local news. And we'll share ad revenues."

Pruitt also announced to the gathering of top editors and news executives that the AP will contribute $25,000 to the APME's touring journalism workshops called NewsTrain as the program enters its 10th year. As newsrooms face substantial budget cutbacks, he said, training "is a very tough issue these days."

"It's not an easy year for AP to make a $25,000 contribution, but it reflects our confidence and our judgment about what a valuable program NewsTrain training is," he said.

Pruitt, who took over the AP job in July, noted what he described as a changing business relationship between the AP and the newspapers that own it. U.S. newspapers currently account for just 22 percent of revenues, while broadcasters represent an even smaller portion, he said. Meanwhile, 35 percent of revenues are generated abroad.

"That doesn't mean you're less important to AP. That doesn't lessen our commitment to you," he said. "Rather, it allows us to serve you completely and affordably by having that diverse business space and growing platform of customers.

"It's only in that way that AP can provide you the most up-to-date, the most accurate, the most complete and the just-plain best news report in the world every day."

Pruitt was a First Amendment lawyer before joining The McClatchy Co. as general counsel in 1984 and rising to the position of chairman by 2001. He recalled "lots of fights" over access to public records and court hearings, defending libel lawsuits and quashing subpoenas.

"AP's great, because there are more places to fight in that way," he said. "And we can be brothers and sisters in arms in the battle to uphold the Constitution."

Pruitt said he looked forward to continuing a strong working relationship with member organizations.

"While the business may change — and it will change, and it's changing right now — our mission doesn't," he said. "Ours doesn't and yours doesn't. And that feels pretty good in these changing times."

Top AP editors also gave an overview of political coverage in a hard-fought election year, plans for upcoming state news coverage, the latest developments in the photo report and the growing role of social media.

Political Editor Liz Sidoti said the AP and other news organizations remain committed to fact-checking the candidates, even though candidates don't appear to modify their behavior when they're caught "spewing falsehoods on a host of matters."

"The candidates every day still are twisting the facts and are outright lying," she said. "Yet we all are providing accountability journalism that's so critical to campaign coverage."

Mike Oreskes, senior managing editor for U.S. news, said the challenge is to contrast the candidates' statements with the facts without becoming "combatants in the election."

"Part of what happens in a campaign is that the candidates know that repetition is their secret and they'll repeat the same thing over and over and over," he said. "And the journalistic tendency is not to repeat anything. You say something once, it's news and it goes away."

Oreskes said the AP is working to provide online features that fact-check material in a more continuous way.

Sidoti warned that a series of new voter ID laws could complicate declaring the outcome of races on Election Day, as the candidates "have huge numbers of lawyers on standby ready to challenge the count in courts."

Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said the growing number of early and absentee ballots is changing the value of the "fiendishly expensive, very complicated process" of exit polling.

"We spend a lot of time on the forensics of where the votes are out, what our statistical patterns show and we do a lot of research before we make a call on a race," she said. "The complication of when people are voting — and more importantly when those votes are being counted, and having to try to statistically guess how many votes are still outstanding — that's going to be the real dynamic this year."

Kristin Gazlay, the AP's vice president and managing editor who oversees state news, announced that as a result of discussions with members, AP statehouse reporters will be ramping up their coverage of how President Barack Obama's health care law is being implemented.

The goal will be "cutting through the spin and homing in on the issues most pertinent to each individual state," she said.

Gazlay also addressed the growing role of social networks like Twitter and Facebook as reporting and promotional tools for AP journalists, and said those who refuse to use them as newsgathering tools are missing out on a valuable resource.

"It would be like a reporter saying, 'I don't really want to use email,'" she said. "You're choosing not to be competitive, is the message we give."

Carroll stressed, however, that the AP does not use social media as a platform to break news.

"You all pay us a chunk of change to break news to you, and so we do," she said. "And once it's broken to you, we promote it on the social networks."

More than half the world's population sees news reported by the AP on any given day. The not-for-profit cooperative, based in New York and owned by its member newspapers, has journalists in more than 300 locations worldwide, including all 50 U.S. states.

Other announcements made Thursday about awards and fellowships included:

— A new one-year fellowship to foster reporting on the economics of aging and work was announced by Oreskes. Journalists working in text, radio, television or online formats for the AP or APME news organizations will be eligible to compete for the program and work with The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research to cover the economics of working longer. Funding comes from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

— APME said it will rename its First Amendment sweepstakes award for former AP President and CEO Tom Curley, who retired in July. A $1,500 prize is being added.

— The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel won the top Innovator of the Year award and $1,000 from sponsor Gatehouse Media for "Empty Cradles," a series about the death of children before their first birthday. The effort involved partnerships with minority media, community organizations and readers to explore the problem and solutions. Greg Borowski, senior editor for projects and investigations, said the $1,000 award from GateHouse Media Inc. will be donated to the United Way.

— Outgoing APME President Bob Heisse, executive editor of The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., presented President Awards to J. Lowe Davis, executive editor of The Virgin Islands Daily News, a frequent winner of APME awards, to honor her longstanding commitment to public service journalism; and to Sara Ganim, the reporter for The Patriot News in Harrisburg, Pa., who won the Pulitzer Prize and APME honors for her coverage of the Penn State sex abuse scandal.

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Follow Erik Schelzig on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/schelzigAP

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