Amid conflict and mistrust, The Associated Press sticks to ‘good, solid, factual journalism’

At a time when trust in the media has reached historic lowsthe Associated Press tries to stick to “good, solid, factual journalism.”

“I hear people say all the time, ‘Wow if only there was a news agency that…wanted to cover the facts and cared about local news.’ And hey, here we are,” said Senior Vice President and Editor-in-Chief Julie Pace. “There is a public interest and a premium for the exact type of journalism we do.”

Pace’s remarks came during a conversation Tuesday with Poynter President Neil Brown at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. This discussion was the first of a new series of speakers hosted by Poynter which will feature journalists, experts and community leaders in conversation about current issues.

Pace, who served as the AP’s Washington bureau chief before becoming editor, recounted the change she saw during the 2020 election week, which she described as one of the most intense in his career.

“This was the first election where it was clear that just because we at the AP were specific and transparent about what we were doing, there wouldn’t be this built-in acceptance of these race calls,” said Pace. “It was just annoying.”

While there’s pressure to be the first to spark an election race, accuracy is more important, Pace said. In the months leading up to an election, the AP policy office looks for rule changes in each state to adjust its models. For the 2022 midterms, the PA has hired 5,000 election correspondents across the country to help call the results.

“I think because of who we are, we can’t be wrong.” said Pace. “Particularly in this environment, if we call a race evil, it’s not just the fucked up PA – it diminishes faith in democracy.”

Other controversial topics receive this same fact-first approach at the AP. Although some deny the impacts of climate change, the AP declines to present that perspective because “the facts are clear on this issue,” Pace said. The AP established an independent climate bureau earlier this year and has incorporated climate journalists into its coverage of natural disasters, including recent Hurricane Ian.

“Over the past two years, we’ve actually integrated weather reporters into the hurricane coverage plan. And that’s the same way we deal with wildfires or any major natural disaster, because all of those storms have climate aspects,” Pace said.

Media coverage of race and inequality — particularly in the wake of the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests — has challenged traditional journalistic values ​​such as neutrality and objectivity. Pace said when it comes to issues like racism or sexism, the AP doesn’t want to be neutral.

At the same time, there are some issues on which the PA cannot take a position. Pace gave abortion as an example.

“Abortion is a divisive issue, and people are genuinely falling on different sides of this issue. They feel very passionately. Pace says. “I think it’s actually a place to have the conversation” of the two sides” is very relevant. But I also want to make sure that we don’t sometimes present things with the same weight.

“We make sure that if an issue has two sides, but public polls show the boundaries are leaning one way or another, we will always take that into account.”

Whereas reporting on highly charged issues, the AP strives to present the facts to readers and allow them to draw their own conclusions. An example was one transcription the AP published an interview between Pace and former President Donald Trump.

“It’s a great example of how we view our role,” Pace said. “Here is the transcript, word for word. Just take it. Do what you want, think what you want.

Pace’s tenure as a White House reporter for the AP also overlapped with former President Barack Obama’s tenure. She said the two presidents were extremely different. Obama was more aloof, controlled and disciplined, Pace said. Trying to report what he thought could take days of research. Trump, however, shared his thoughts widely – often in the form of a tweet.

“It was so extraordinary after covering Obama, where again you could kill yourself trying to get a little anecdote out of an Oval Office meeting, and you’d be really proud of yourself when you did. “Pace said. “And with Trump, people would leak things during the Oval Office meeting.”

Media professionals face growing animosity on the ground. During the January 6 uprising, for example, AP photojournalists have been targeted because of their jobs. As a result, the AP has begun giving some of its American reporters the same kind of hostile environment training it usually reserves for reporters covering foreign conflict, Pace said. Reporters who travel to public events, political rallies and even election day locations can receive this training.

Arguably the most high-profile conflict the AP currently covers is the war in Ukraine. The AP helped direct the coverage there, and one of the most famous photos to emerge from the war – an injured pregnant woman carried away on a stretcher in Mariupol – was taken by an AP photographer. This image helped show that Russian forces were attacking civilians.

Pace said it was hard to get this picture because the outlet had very limited communication with Mariupol journalists. They received the occasional flurry of photos and recordings, and it wasn’t until the day after the photo was published that they learned the woman pictured in it had died.

“We were getting these streams of images, and we couldn’t talk to them,” Pace said. “They didn’t want to put their satellite phones on because they didn’t want to be tracked. Mobile communications were down.

The AP currently has 16 journalists in Ukraine spread between Kyiv and the east of the country. They also have journalists in Russia, although some have been forced to relocate and report from a distance. Many of these journalists are from the countries they report on.

“I think it’s really important for us to be there,” Pace said. “We cover a lot of tough places, a lot of places in the world where journalists are under attack, and I’m very confident that as long as it’s humanly possible to be somewhere, we’ll be there.

“Because if we’re not here, then who is?”

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