Digital Age Forces AP to Embrace
By Gintautas Dumcius
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
In June of 1876, reporter Mark Kellogg, the first Associated Press correspondent
to die in combat, was at Little Bighorn with Gen. George Custer.
I go with Custer and will be at the death, was the report found
on his dead body following the battle. He was never able to file his story.
AP's convergence operation
at work on the second floor of the Press Pavillion next to the Fleet Center
Media Nation Photo by Sarah M. J. Welch
If Kellogg were a reporter today, technology might not have saved his life, but
it might have enabled him to send in his article. He could have filed instantly
with a cell or satellite telephone and uploaded photos and video as well as sound.
Today the AP, a cooperative formed in 1848 and whose members include most of the
nations newspapers, is the largest and oldest news organization in the world
with 242 bureaus.
The days of telegraph and teletype are long gone. In the age of the Internet with
streaming audio and video and round-the-clock news cycles, the AP has been forced
to examine its operation to make sure it provides its 1,500 members, 5,000 U.S.
television and radio outlets and 8,500 subscribers with news reports that meet
their changing needs.
"AP is very much a convergence operation, said Sandy Johnson, APs
Washington bureau chief, during an interview in the wire services high-tech
space in the Democratic Conventions press tent. This newsroom is a
This make-shift newsroom really operates much like the headquarters in New York
City, with spokes that radiate out, according to Johnson, an AP veteran
of 26 years. There is a corral of tables for managers and editors in the center
of the room, while each section -- text, photos, sound and video -- spokes around
them, an ideal arrangement for a quick response to breaking news.
"The managers from all the media that we encompass are presented in one place
and can coordinate their information, said Ed Tobias, assistant managing
editor for AP Broadcast. "If APTN [AP Television News] gets an interview
that nobody else in AP has, we know about it. So radio can pull audio from it;
print can pull quotes from it. If print gets something, we can get the information.
If photo knows something that's happening, because they have photographers everywhere,
they can tip us; and if we want to, we can send somebody."
Challenges remain for the AP journalists -- beyond the difficulties and dangers
of finding the news.
Everyone and their brother or sister is working with some type of radio
equipment in this operation, whether it be walkie-talkies, communications or radio
equipment that carries an active program, or cell phones, or a wireless . . .
or something, said Tobias. He said one of the difficulties is that these
technologies have the potential to interfere with each other. Still, the information
carried on these frequencies is our lifeblood.
To fulfill the needs for the various reports (visual, audio and print), AP broadcasting
and print have about the same number of people covering the convention as in 2000.
Decade-old AP Television increased its staff to 25.
The demand for the conventions is always big. Its not a domestic story
only. Election coverage is a world story, explained Denise Vance, APTNs
international TV manager. Most countries abroad see the U.S. as a superpower,
so anything that happens in the electoral process is of interest to their countries
The need for reports with audio, video, pictures and text is growing. Many
stations are expanding news coverage, she said. Some stations are
going to 24/7, some stations are starting their own Web sites, so the demand for
[converging] news [reports] is increasing.
The AP is more digitally oriented. We are providing the online world with
text, graphics, stills, video and audio, Tobias said. "We're taking
all of those elements and combining them into one video product for Web use.
The AP has even turned to one of its long-time correspondents, veteran political
reporter Walter Mears, to join the latest wave of bloggers to enhance the wire
services reports from the political conventions.
We should be fast enough with all of our products online that we're scooping
ourselves, said Tobias.
As AP strives to become more multi-media oriented, we are making others
aware that there are many platforms on which you can receive your news,
We can not only provide stations with news footage, but we stream video
for a broadcasters Web page, we provide the wires for them to write to the
video, we have the graphics, she said. Thats the wave of the