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Why new leadership at the Associated Press matters for all news consumers

September 7, 2021

Whether you realize it or not, you have likely read or heard hundreds, maybe thousands, of Associated Press (AP) stories in your lifetime. The AP is a wire service—a news organization that reports stories and then distributes them to newspapers as well as radio and television stations.

The influence wire services—particularly the AP—have on how news is reported cannot be understated. Even if you aren’t reading articles on the AP’s website, you are reading them on your local newspaper’s site or hearing anchors deliver them over the airwaves daily. 

The outsized impact wire services have on news as a whole is why the AP’s new executive editor immediately caught my attention.

Julie Pace, a longtime veteran of the AP, is now the organization’s top editor. Pace started out as a video producer at the AP in 2007 and rose to the rank of Washington bureau chief in 2017. 

She led the AP’s coverage of the Trump presidency along with the early days of the Biden White House. Now, a week into her new role and after a slew of interviews, we are starting to get an idea of the direction Pace will take the AP.

More than a wire-service

Pace is clear when she says the AP will maintain its commitment to providing high-quality breaking news coverage. She is equally clear when she says the AP wants their reporting to go beyond this.

In the AP’s profile of Pace, the AP is described as working to become “a more consumer-facing organization rather than a bland utility.” Pace continues this line of thinking:

We have an opportunity to take all of the fantastic journalism that we do across formats and think of ways we can make it more digital-friendly, to make it more social-friendly.”

While the AP has succeeded in its niche of breaking news for decades, its audience has changed drastically. As a wire service, the AP used to serve hundreds of local newsrooms that now no longer exist. The AP lost more than a quarter of its revenues as a result in the last 10 years.

While other journalistic outlets will always be their audience, a more public-facing AP is an intriguing prospect to revitalize the company and expand their reach amongst consumers of news.

While it is not yet clear what this may look like entirely, Pace plans to place increased importance on fact-checking articles and explainers—both popular formats amongst readers and a key to fighting the vast amount of disinformation spread online.

Credit where credit is due

Not entirely disconnected from the last point, Pace wants the AP to receive due recognition for the quality reporting they are already delivering.

In her interview with The New York Times, Pace described the AP as, “a bit of an unsung hero of the journalism industry.” She goes on:

I understand that sometimes there is an outdated impression of The A.P. or a feeling like we’re just a basic wire service putting out choppy sentences. If that is your impression of The A.P., then you haven’t been paying attention to The A.P. We produce just incredibly high-level, sophisticated reports across all formats every day.

The AP already delivers more than just breaking news. Just this year the AP won two Pulitzer Prizes for its reporting and was a finalist for three others. They have a very active investigative journalism unit and have been using grants and other funding to hire journalists to cover specific topics like religion and philanthropy in-depth—a practice Pace plans to continue.

Just the facts

In every interview with Pace since she accepted the new position, she has emphasized her commitment to the AP being what she calls a “fact-based news organization.”

Fact-based journalism does not mean that all sides of an issue get an airing. That means we are going to be really clear with people about what the facts are. If that lines up on one side of an issue, we are going to be really clear about that. We’re not going to be intimidated in these circumstances.”

While this position seems like it should be common sense amongst journalists, that is simply not the case. Perhaps out of fear of not wanting to be perceived as biased, some journalists resort to a “both-sides” style of coverage in which all viewpoints are judged as valid and given equal airtime. This becomes an issue when one side is, well, factually wrong. This practice has helped contribute to the proliferation of misinformation we see today.

Pace herself points to three such topics to which this applies:

In certain cases, the facts are just really clear, and we want to make sure that we are amplifying the facts and not muddying the facts. So Covid vaccines are safe. Climate change is real. There was no widespread fraud in the U.S. election. Those are not political positions; those are fact-based positions.

Publicly and emphatically stating this, more than anything else, gives me great confidence in Pace as the leader of such a vital journalistic organization. Just as the AP Stylebook lays out the grammatical rules for journalists, Pace’s guidance on this issue should serve as an industry standard.

For legal bloggers, there’s actually a great deal to be learned from Pace’s vision of the AP:

  1. It’s perfectly fine to write about current events on your blog, but what will hold readers attention is not quick recaps—it’s analysis. Your blog posts should be more akin to the AP’s fact-checking and explainer articles rather than their breaking news reports. Use your legal expertise and knowledge to provide insights that even the AP may not have readily available.
  1. Just as Pace is publicly advocating for the quality of her colleague’s reporting, you should champion the work of those writing for your blog. If someone at your firm contributes a great post, go out of your way to recognize them and share their work amongst your network.
  1. Journalism and law are all about the facts, but bloggers can just as easily fall victim to the same pitfall as journalists and end up mudding these facts in misguided attempts at false objectivity. Stick to the facts—people will respect you and your blog far more if you are willing to do this.
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