A good number of my students hear “AP” and immediately think of the giant style guide that they have to buy for each class. However, the Associated Press is a lot more than that, owning an impressive history of doing quality journalism around the globe.
A story released today by the Columbia Journalism Review takes a look at some recent rough times the AP has had in terms of operating its foreign bureaus, a topic that might or might not be of interest to you. However, I would strongly suggest reading it anyway, as it contains a really nice, clear history of the creation and development of the organization itself.
In addition, I’ve posted a “Tips from a Pro” interview with AP editor Janelle Cogan that we featured in the “Dynamics of News Reporting and Writing.” It’s a good look at how strong, clear journalism should be valued above all else.
As the acting enterprise editor for the South Region of the Associated Press, Janelle Cogan sees a lot of quality news features, watchdog pieces and enterprise stories each day. Even with those longer stories and broader topics, she said the basics of journalism remain at the core of her approach to content.
“Journalists need to ask and answer the basic questions,” she said. “When you’re writing and reporting a story, don’t assume your audience knows the context or background of the subject matter – it’s such a big part of your job to provide that. Give scope, give context.”
Cogan has held a number of positions at the AP, including desk editor, weekend supervisor and a morning supervisor before she took on the enterprise role. In this position, she works on stories that come from 13 states and Washington, D.C. Before joining the AP, she worked as a copy desk chief, an assistant city editor, a features editor and a designer. In all of her time in media, she said the biggest changes have been to the volume of news that organizations have created as well as the speed at which it is delivered.
“No one is waiting for tomorrow’s paper to see the results of the game, the election, the fire, the shooting,” she said. “So the way we report and write that news has changed, too. We have to provide quick, understandable, digestible bites of news. When we have the latest numbers/report/development, we need to get it out there. So we write in a way that puts that info at the very top of the story. Especially as a story develops, we probably aren’t writing in a terribly flowery or “writerly” way. We are writing crisp, clear, basic sentences. We are authoritative. We are transparent.”
To keep the writing focused, Cogan said she pushes writers to “show, don’t tell” a story, eliminate clichés and remove jargon. She said she pushes her writers cut superfluous words and to tell her the story in a clear and concise way.
“It’s better to be straight with them – conversational, even,” she said. “How would you tell me this story if we were chatting over coffee or a beer? That may just be the best way to start your story. A pet peeve of mine as an editor: When you pitched me this story, we were probably both excited about the idea – when you turn in a draft, if that excitement and that initial nugget is gone, you need to go back.”
ONE LAST THING: If you could tell the students reading this book anything you think is important, what would it be?
“Don’t be afraid to take risks and get out of your comfort zone; you must try new things and expand your skills and horizon! In terms of being a journalist, this means: You aren’t *just* a writer. You aren’t *just* a photographer. You aren’t *just* a VJ. You’re a journalist. The format will change, and you should try all you can: write, take photos and video on your iPhone, create and post interesting tweets, produce an interactive, edit your colleagues’ work. It’s all important.”