Live Video Is Top Priority For AP’s New Chief
Live video has risen to the top of the Associated Press’ inverted pyramid.
Daisy Veerasingham, who will take the reins as the AP’s new president and CEO from retiring chief Gary Pruitt next year, says live video is a “core foundation” for the organization, and that equipping its journalists to shoot and edit from the field is among her top objectives.
Veerasingham, AP’s current EVP and COO, will inherit a raft of challenges in her new post. The organization saw its revenue fall to $467 million last year, a drop of more than 25% in the last decade. Diversifying revenue streams will be crucial to AP’s survival, and it’s casting its eye beyond the media world to shore up its finances.
The news co-op’s membership has also dramatically shifted, with broadcasters now constituting half of its members, pushing AP’s video output to the fore (the organization currently produces about 200 videos daily).
In an interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Michael Depp, Veerasingham discusses video’s growing primacy and expanding efforts to diversify AP’s revenues. She addresses the ongoing threat of journalist safety, and how AP is working to protect its reporters online as well as in the field.
She also speaks to the organization’s staffing levels, including its vital statehouse reporting in the U.S., and she considers the prospect of a direct-to-consumer streaming service for AP’s content.
An edited transcript.
You are at the helm of a news organization that dates back to 1846. What is your vision for what it will look like under your tenure, and what are your most critical priorities?
I would summarize it in three ways. In some aspects, it is about going back to the roots of [what] the AP is and what we stand for. One of my first priorities is to ensure that we maintain our warn paths and fact-based journalistic principles. That is actually even more important today than it probably was at our founding 175 years ago.
The second priority is to continue to provide the most comprehensive global news report in the world. Every day we are very conscious of the fact that over half the world’s population comes into contact with AP’s journalism, and that is a really important role that we play in the whole news ecosystem.
Finally, from a business perspective, we have to continue to ensure that we have a diverse range of business models to help support us. We are not-for-profit. We are independent, and we need to maintain strength financially in order to ensure that we remain strong journalistically.
The AP is a co-op whose members are newspapers and broadcasters, although the former have been mightily diminished over the last decade or more. At this point, how healthy is your organization financially?
As news media come under pressure, so, too, has the AP, and we have had to diversify our revenue streams and find new ways of making money through providing services, know-how [and] infrastructure, not just [to] media organizations, but also to new markets like financial and risk markets. We are actually in a stronger position in spite of some of the pressure that we felt in the core media market because of the diversification we have managed to achieve. The AP is strong financially; that is not to say it doesn’t still have challenges moving forward.
Is the balance of membership shifting now as newspapers suffer? Are broadcasters becoming more significant?
Yes, and that has been going on for quite a while. Today, 50% of AP’s total revenue globally comes from the broadcast sector and the newspaper sector globally would represent just under 20%.
You’ve touched on the diversification of the revenue streams. Can you get into some specific examples?
It goes back to what I talked about in terms of using AP’s know-how, our infrastructure and our capabilities, and providing services to media organizations, media customers, but also to new types of customers.
Let me give you some examples. We are able to actually live stream via the internet or satellite companies that run big virtual events and auctions. As you can imagine during a global pandemic that has become an increasing way in which other types of organizations have been able to continue business themselves. We own various studios and live positions because of our global footprint. [So] international broadcasters can provide coverage of breaking news events wherever they happen in the world, but not have to maintain their own physical presence.
Another thing I would probably highlight is we provide newsroom production services through our software business, ENPS. That helps broadcasters manage going on air, it helps them produce newscasts and now it is helping them to plan ahead as well.
So, you are renting out some of your infrastructure, your technological and physical studio space.
Absolutely, because that is something that we have everywhere, we need to maintain everywhere because of who we are and how we have to cover the news, but it isn’t always something we can utilize 100%. There is obviously capacity there and other customers can utilize it on an ad hoc basis.
You have just named Julie Pace, AP’s Washington Bureau Chief, as its new executive editor. She has a background in video and multimedia production. What does that signal about where the news product is headed?
Julie is a great representation of essentially how the AP will evolve and develop. It is about following news across different platforms at different times, starting in social, then into web and then broadcast, and actually being able to provide the nuance necessary to follow what we call the digital publishing cycle, the way in which a customer will use your content through the course of a 24-hour cycle.
Julie has a big background in video and live — and the importance of live cannot be underestimated in terms of our video coverage. We have done a lot to invest in maintaining five simultaneous live channels that allow us to cover the news cycle wherever it happens and however long it lasts. In many respects, Julie represents a lot of what the AP is dealing with today in terms of what customers need and want, but also how we see the market evolving over time.
Pace also had a key role in expanding AP’s fact-checking operation. Given the ever-escalating climate of news consumer mistrust and disinformation, how are those efforts continuing to evolve at AP?
AP has been doing fact checking right from the very start of our foundation. Lots of organizations talk about fact checking as something relatively new in the ecosystem, but [it] has been going on since news itself. The AP has to continue to maintain its very core, which is to provide fact-based journalism.
That is getting more and more complicated with deepfakes and verification. Are you having to amp up the technological response?
We are doing two things. We are building out people and also the technology that we use against it because you can’t just rely on the technology. You need to have people, intellectual capacity, to be able to fact check.
Is that something you on which you work collaboratively with other news organizations?
We reach across the industry. We work together. The election last year is a really good example of how we all worked together around that, but equally it is an operation that sits within our newsroom.
AP’s presence in statehouses across the U.S. has been essential, especially as other news organizations have had to scale back or even close their presence there. Will the organization maintain or even increase staffing on that level?
That is a difficult question to answer at the moment. What I can tell you is covering state news is a really important core component of the AP, and that is something that we continue to be committed to doing. There are new ways of being able to do that as well. It is a blend of having people as well as maybe centralizing some of what we do in terms of our ability to cover statehouses. But it is still an important part of what the AP does, and we are committed to that moving forward.
Does that mean scaling back actual reporters in statehouses is on the table?
I don’t think it is a scaling back of reporters in statehouses. I think we will maintain our current statehouse coverage, but we may be able to augment that in terms of creating some specialists, climate being an example, and that person may not necessarily be based in a particular statehouse, but they will be based nationally, covering it from a state perspective.
Speaking of staffing, globally is it your aim to stay consistently where you are, or are you looking at drawing back or ramping up?
You have to constantly evaluate your footprint in terms of your customer base and what you are asking, being asked or expected to cover. We have journalists everywhere in the world. Sometimes those countries no longer require as many staff to cover what was a very hot news story, and therefore we then have to think about moving those staff to cover a new area or story.
Journalist safety continues to be a major threat. What is AP doing to protect its reporters in the field?
It is an absolute priority of ours in terms of safety for our journalists, and I am not just talking about physical safety anymore. One of the things that we have become very conscious of is we have to also ensure that our journalists are safe online. We have seen a really alarming uptick in the bullying and harassment of journalists on social media and across the internet, and that simply is unacceptable. We have to take a stand and lead on the issue of online safety for journalists just in the way that we have led on the issue of journalistic safety in the field.
What does that look like, protecting journalists online?
That is about equipping them with how to deal with harassment online. It is about training them, making sure we stand behind our journalists, that we show as an organization that we are against anybody harassing a journalist simply doing their job.
We accept that there are differences on stories. There always will be. But we don’t accept that a journalist should be harassed simply for doing their job. So, it is about providing them with the right training in the same way that we [train] our journalists as to how they go into conflict zones.
Video production is a key element of the organization’s output. What are your plans for the nature and the volume of that coverage going forward?
Everything starts from live and our ability to report live news. That is an incredibly important core foundation for us, and that is about continuing to build out our live capabilities, equipping our journalists in the field with the best possible equipment to do that — camera equipment, editing equipment.
We also want to ensure that we are able to automate the creation of content that goes alongside live. For example, the transcription of a press conference, so that you have a script as quickly as you get the pictures, the translation of that into other languages. That is all part of how automation helps us be able to respond to that aspect of live content as quickly.
Given the prevalence of streaming, are there plans in the works for any kind of consumer-facing AP news streaming service?
Direct to the consumer, no. The AP is a B2B provider of news content, and at this moment in time I can’t see us moving into the streaming space direct to the consumer. I would never say never, but that is certainly not part of our plans at the moment. What we are focused on is ensuring that we can provide content that is ready to go for our customers to use in that context, and that is where our focus is at the moment.
In the organization’s long history, AP is still relatively quiet in asserting its brand identity as a news organization. Might that dynamic change? Do you see AP stepping out of the shadows as its own brand during your tenure?
The AP will always step out of the shadows on issues that are important to us, and those are issues of fact-based journalism and why that is so important. Those are issues of journalist safety, both physical safety and online safety. It is also about holding people in power to account regardless of political affiliation. There will always be places where the AP will step out and have its voice heard.
Finally, the industry has made much effort in the past year and a bit to improve its work on diversity, equity and inclusion. How close is AP toward realizing its own goals on that front?
Obviously, AP values diversity and like all organizations we are making great progress in some areas of diversity, and we still have work to do in some other areas.
On gender diversity, we have made really exceptional progress. About half of our very senior leadership team are women already, and the AP has no gender pay gap. The other thing is that because we are a global news organization, if you look at the diversity of our total workforce, we are really quite representative of the places in which we operate.
But clearly, we still have some work to do in the United States on diversity in order to ensure that we are truly representative of the people that we cover. To that end, we are focused on recruiting a diverse staff, an ongoing effort for us for the last couple of years, and we are making some good progress. But it is also about providing people of color who work for the agency clear career paths and routes to growth.
Diversity is not just about the staff that we have working for us; it is also about making sure diversity is reflected in our journalism. That includes the types of sources that we use representing many different perspectives in a story; making sure that is represented not just in the way that we write stories, but also in what we are showing visually as well.