2,000 stories per day, 50,000 videos and 1 million photos per year: Associated Press (AP) brings the news to people around the world. Digital disruption, fake news and an ongoing print media crisis – they all add up and don’t make the world’s leading news agency’s business any easier. So how does AP handle the challenges it is facing in the media world? What about future business models? And what does AP’s strategy against fake news and false reporting look like? TREIBSTOFF spoke to Neil Hudd, Business Development Manager at AP Content Services.
TREIBSTOFF: To what extent has the increased use of digital media changed your work?
HUDD: Digital media has in effect opened the flood gates when it comes to content. It’s a worn out-cliché, but everyone is now a publisher, not just the media such as newspapers and broadcasters. There’s a huge volume of material, from social postings to that created by ‘traditional’ media outlets and brands. With that volume goes the diminishing attention span of readers, so it’s imperative that if you have a message that you get it out clearly and concisely. If you don’t, your reader or audience will have skipped on to the next piece of content. It’s something AP Content Services try and advise our clients on. Both for press-releases and for video – don’t leave the best till last, and make sure you have a news hook! Similarly it’s important to think about the correct media for any project.
TREIBSTOFF: Given this context, what’s your take on the ongoing video hype?
HUDD: Video has proved to be the new tour de force, but we believe that the power of photos should not be underestimated. We noted with interest that images published on our Twitter feed outperformed the video from the same project in terms of engagement. Again this could come down to individual’s attention span – it’s easier to glance at an image rather than play a video waiting for the right sound bite to come up. Despite all of these changes one thing still remains core – what is the story and the best way to tell it – that goes into the heart of what we do as a business.
TREIBSTOFF: Which challenges do you expect for the next years and how do you want to deal with them?
HUDD: At AP we’ve started moving into the realm of native advertising and sponsored content. We have a service whereby text, video and photos can natively sit amongst the news indexes of publishers. As an industry we have a responsibility to nurture this where other more disruptive forms of advertising have fallen down. There is a very fine balance when constructing native and sponsored content to ensure it’s not interruptive and it is useful, insightful and engaging.
TREIBSTOFF: How would you describe „fine balance“?
HUDD: I recall reading a piece of health editorial around food and digestion. It was interesting advice until the last point at the end was to drink a pot of BRAND X yoghurt every day. It called into question the authenticity of the piece and left me feeling slightly cheated. If sponsored content becomes too advertising heavy then you run the risk of conditioning readers to ignore it and you break that particular model. At AP our native offering is truly native and stays on the sites of our partners, plus any ad inventories on that article page are allocated to the brand that is sponsoring the piece.
We also strive to create high quality content for this particular distribution option. Here our editorial skills really come into play. It gives us the perfect opportunity to find out more about a brand’s ethos and experiences and create something using our editorial skills.
TREIBSTOFF: How is Associated Press developing the digital transformation to remain competitive in the future?
HUDD: Standing in the digital landscape often feels akin to keeping your balance during a violent earthquake. Just when you think you’ve worked something out it changes again.
Our distribution channels are becoming more comprehensive. We can still deliver images and photos to global media, but are now also in the position to guarantee publication of content via native advertising or sponsored content. We can also publish tweets on behalf of brands on AP’s twitter feed with in excess of 10 million followers.
Additionally, exciting discussions are taking place internally as to how we can integrate live video and virtual reality into this mix. But it still always comes back to the basics – if the story and hook isn’t right and hasn’t been properly established – it doesn’t matter what format or technology you employ. Storytelling and its dissemination has been AP’s anchor since our inception in 1846 and remains the case today.
TREIBSTOFF: Let´s talk about the current situation in the US. Since Donald Trump’s inauguration US media companies have been under pressure, for example by being accused of producing “fake news”. How does AP deal with this kind of accusation and what measures are taken at AP to avoid distribution of false or misleading information?
HUDD: Our Vice President for Standards, John Daniszewski, wrote on this subject, that fact-checking is an important part of our mission: “bringing truth to the world”. Our fact-checking is one reason that we are among the trusted organizations partnering with Facebook to identify and debunk false information that’s gaining notice on that social platform, an effort showing positive effects already.
TREIBSTOFF: What exactly do you mean by fact-checking?
First, we push back on political spin, exaggeration and falsehoods: This is how the traditional AP Fact Check began, principally in Washington, looking at speeches by the president, political candidates and other politicians and officials. State and international bureaus have done fact checks too on speeches by other leaders, including at the United Nations.
Second, we debunk false reporting and the growing phenomenon of deliberately “fake news”: We want to identify and debunk trending stories of all kinds, whether in text, photos or videos, that are fictional, contrived, twisted or otherwise patently false yet likely to be mistaken for truth by unwary news consumers. An example would be the widely circulated story last year that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump’s candidacy for president. No such endorsement had occurred, yet many people believed it.
TREIBSTOFF: Do you have any guidelines for fact-checking?
HUDD: Yes. These are our key rules:
Be sure we are right. Never state in a fact check anything of which we’re not certain.
Prioritize items with relevance and importance. We can’t check every falsehood. Focus on things that matter.
Keep items short. The lead should present the assertion that’s being checked, and quickly state what’s wrong with it. Because it is words being examined, we need exact quotes. That should be followed by our presentation of the facts, backed by appropriate citations and attribution.
Stick to checking facts, rather than opinion. A person’s personal tastes and preferences might lie outside the mainstream, but as opinions they are not a topic for a fact check.
Our ruling doesn’t have to be black and white. Statements can fall along a wide range of accuracy, and we don’t use a rigid rating scale to make our judgments. A statement can be false, exaggerated, a stretch, a selective use of data, partly or mostly true. We use the most apt description that’s supported by what we know.
TREIBSTOFF: Thank you for the interview.