The ongoing mission of The Associated Press is to inform the world, and 2017 was no exception.
From our coverage of the retreat of the Islamic State in Iraq, to President Donald Trump’s first year in the White House, to a stunning run of breaking news and investigative reporting, the work we did in service of our global mission was on continuous display in every media format – text, photos, graphics, audio, video and live coverage.
The year also brought the promotion of Sally Buzbee, from Washington bureau chief to executive editor, who with her leadership team made an immediate mark, navigating the dual challenges of anticipating and responding to one intense test after another.
As coverage of Trump quickly dominated global interest, AP retooled in Washington to follow the many threads of the political and policy-making storylines. We also ramped up reporting in the field on the social and economic factors that contributed to Trump’s election, resulting in compelling multiformat stories on how the president’s policies were playing out at the grassroots level.
Meanwhile, our journalists across geography and media format excelled, as they always do, in delivering extraordinary multimedia coverage of the breaking news events that riveted the world’s attention: the devastating hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria; the mass shooting in Las Vegas; the church massacre in Texas; devastating California wildfires; upheaval in Spain; the Zimbabwe coup and the vehicle terrorist attack that unfolded just a short distance from our new headquarters in lower Manhattan.
Beyond the news that was breaking, AP’s investigative reporting trained a spotlight on several other major stories around the world in 2017:
- Our journalists in the Middle East chronicled the decline of ISIS, the Islamic State group, including spectacular drone imagery. The extremist group’s retreat from Mosul in Iraq and other former strongholds left behind an apocalyptic level of destruction and human suffering, documented in the powerful and multiformat series “Collapse of the Caliphate.”
- Reporting on the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar documented one of the largest and most abrupt mass migrations in recent history as refugees arrived at camps in neighboring Bangladesh. They told AP journalists of rape, arson and murder at the hands of government forces, and relayed stories of arduous and sometimes fatal flight.
- In Cairo, we obtained first-person accounts from former prisoners of torture, harsh interrogations and secret detentions carried out in a network of prisons in Yemen. Reports that U.S. military interrogators worked with the United Arab Emirates military forces involved in these human rights abuses prompted calls in Washington for investigations.
- Our “Broken Faith” series exposed how a secretive North Carolina-based Christian sect had abused women and children and misused U.S. immigration laws to employ Brazilian converts under slave-like conditions.
- In a series of stories based on documents we obtained, AP journalists working across continents revealed that the targets of Russian hackers during the presidential election extended far beyond Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
- AP reported on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s work for a Russian billionaire with a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin government” before he signed up to work for Donald Trump.
- AP discovered U.N. peacekeepers deployed for humanitarian purposes in Central African Republic, Congo and Haiti had been repeatedly accused of systematic sexual abuse.
The Islamic State, Rohingya and Yemen stories all garnered prestigious awards from the Overseas Press Club, which also honored Senior Correspondent Kathy Gannon for her continuing courageous coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kathy is back at work after being severely wounded four years ago in an ambush in Afghanistan that claimed the life of her AP colleague, photographer Anja Niedringhaus.
Elsewhere, AP expanded health and science coverage with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. Two ongoing series were launched: “Science Says” looks at the latest evidence and scientific reasoning behind topics in the news, and “Genetic Frontiers” explores possibilities and potential pitfalls of genetic testing and manipulation.
In response to customer and audience demand, AP boosted its commitment to fact-checking and accountability reporting to fight the rise of misinformation online. Support from the Knight Foundation allowed us to begin experimenting with new ways to tell those stories. AP also became a principal participant in Facebook’s fact-checking initiative, a relationship that will expand in 2018 to combat misinformation related to the U.S. midterm elections.
STRENGTHENING THE BUSINESS THROUGH INNOVATION
On the business side, AP’s financial position remained strong and debt-free. Our on-time, on-budget move to a new Manhattan headquarters will secure operational savings for decades to come.
Along the way to that financial performance, we completed the migration of members and other customers to the AP Newsroom portal, a principal distribution point providing unprecedented multimedia access to our content, story by story. We launched a new Social Newswire providing a separate feed of user-generated content that is cleared and vetted by AP. We piloted a new editorial planning tool that is enabling us to aggregate our coverage plans worldwide and provide that information directly to customers in 2018. And, in special elections late last year, we successfully deployed a new voter polling system, replacing outdated exit polls, that will enable us to evaluate voting trends more accurately, beginning with this year’s midterm elections.
In other innovations, AP continued to expand the use of data-to-text automation for sports news and game recaps. This follows our successful ongoing use of the technology for corporate earnings stories and minor league baseball game recaps.
We also explored several other automation technologies to generate video clips straight from text, transcribe audio content on the fly from live video, and extract descriptive metadata from photos and video through image recognition. All of these research and development efforts promise exciting results in the years to come, as we continue to focus on streamlining production processes and freeing our journalists from time-consuming tasks.
We made two new startup investments in 2017 – in a company called Wibbitz, which provides the technology to create video clips by matching text to photos and video footage, and Scorestream, a company that crowdsources scores and user-generated content for high-school sports across the country. An expanded relationship with the startup accelerator Matter Ventures included hands-on training for dozens of AP staffers, aimed at promoting innovation and collaboration across departments.
On the legal front, AP continued the fight for public transparency with 30 court filings in 17 states. General Counsel Karen Kaiser continued AP’s leadership at the federal level by working with the Justice Department on guidelines for subpoenas and leak investigations.
OPPORTUNITIES IN THE YEAR AHEAD
Looking forward, 2018 finds AP moving through the middle of a strategic planning effort that began three years ago. Its focus includes adding competitive capabilities to support revenue growth in the years to come, enhancing video news distributed for both digital and broadcast use, and giving customers more choice and flexibility in the ways they can do business with us. We will give customers easier access to the content they need, help them put that content into production faster and give them more flexible business terms. All this can be accomplished by building on the foundation we’ve put in place with the AP Newsroom portal, now positioned as the centerpiece for this new way for customers to work with our content and interact with AP.
Of course, 2018 will be another big year for journalism. We expect President Trump to keep making news in Washington and beyond. The Russia investigation, policy issues, international relations and the midterm elections are all front and center.
As is the case in every election year, AP will play an integral role in races across the country. We will leverage our unrivaled presence of reporters in all 50 U.S. states and devote extensive staffing and resources to cover the midterms. We will count the vote and call the races on election night, as we have done in every cycle since 1848, and we will fully deploy our new voter polling system to inform our race calling and election insights.
Fact checking, as ever, remains a critical component of AP’s coverage of campaigns and government. For decades we have provided customers with nonpartisan fact checks that objectively examine the claims of politicians and government officials. We will continue these comprehensive fact-checking efforts during this election season, debunking false and misleading stories at the local, state and national levels.
Internationally, AP will continue to deliver multimedia coverage from every hot spot across the globe, paying particular attention to developments in the Middle East and the unfolding stories in North Korea and China that have impact around the world.
In a time when some decry many news sources as biased, the role of The Associated Press is more important than ever. As a not-for-profit news cooperative, neither owned by a corporate entity nor beholden to any government, our independence and dedication to fact-based journalism are paramount.
We are resolute in our mission to report the news accurately, fairly and comprehensively no matter where in the world it takes place.
That special mission of ours — powered by an amazing staff and an invigorating culture of innovation across the company — is both a privilege to lead and exciting to watch. We look forward to the challenges and opportunities in front of us and to the results we know AP can deliver in the year ahead.
President and CEO