White House reporter takes top honors for deadline reporting

Most of the White House Press Corps had departed for the evening, but AP’s Josh Lederman was one of a few still at work inside at 8 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2014 when he heard a commotion outside the doors of the briefing room. Secret Service agents were shouting at people to get inside, saying the building was on lockdown.

AP White House reporter Josh Lederman (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

AP White House reporter Josh Lederman (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Lederman rushed to the press office, where officials were not yet aware that there had been an incident. A few seconds later, agents stormed in with weapons drawn and began evacuating White House staffers into the basement. Lederman was sent there too, along with the White House communications director and a senior adviser to President Barack Obama.

After a few minutes of chaos, Lederman and the White House staffers were hurried out through a side door into the street, where the Secret Service had blocked off the perimeter of the campus. A uniformed agent rushing by said that someone had jumped the fence. Using his iPhone, Lederman wrote a quick, brief story that hit the AP wire at 8:17 p.m.

Then he kept reporting.

His story, written under deadline pressure on one of the most competitive beats in Washington, earned Lederman the prestigious Merriman Smith Memorial Award from the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA), which announced its annual honors on Tuesday.

“Lederman was also resourceful enough to use social media to locate an official source for comment on a Friday night, when official Washington normally rolls up the sidewalks, to confirm his hunch that the breach was more serious than it was being portrayed,” the judges said. “Lederman’s quick thinking and ability to turn around a story with nuance in a short time frame made this report stand out.”

Lederman will accept his award on April 25, at the WHCA’s annual dinner in Washington. AP was also honored in 2013, when Chief White House Correspondent Julie Pace won the Merriman Smith award for an on-deadline story explaining Obama’s path to re-election.

“We’re thrilled Josh has won the Merriman Smith award. He’s done a terrific job covering both spot news and also developing expertise on environmental stories and national security stories,” said Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee. “He’s a real building block for our bureau going forward and we’re really proud of him.”

AP White House reporter Josh Lederman appears on Fox News.

AP White House reporter Josh Lederman appears on Fox News.

Lederman, 29, has been on the White House beat since 2013 and focuses on domestic and foreign policy, as well as electoral politics and Vice President Joe Biden. He previously reported for AP in Jerusalem and covered Gov. Chris Christie and state politics in New Jersey, and reported for The Hill newspaper.

A native of Tucson, Arizona, Lederman has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from The George Washington University. He makes regular appearances on national television and radio, including on NPR, Fox News, BBC America and other outlets.

Led by Pace, AP’s White House team also includes Jim Kuhnhenn, Nedra Pickler and Darlene Superville.

Follow @AP_Politics on Twitter.

Is it news or a spoiler?

Jon Hamm arrives at The Black And Red Ball In Celebration Of The Final Seven Episodes Of "Mad Men" on Wednesday, March 25, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Jon Hamm arrives at The Black And Red Ball In Celebration Of The Final Seven Episodes Of “Mad Men” on Wednesday, March 25, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

A few weeks ago, when the Grammy Awards aired, we sent alerts on the top winners to our subscribers around the world, users of the AP mobile app and our social media followers. This brought us a fierce message from one app user, who said the show hadn’t yet been broadcast on the U.S. West Coast and we’d spoiled the excitement for him.

As a global news organization, there’s no way we can hold up breaking news from events millions of people are watching, like the Grammys, just because not everyone has seen it yet.

But on occasion, we do make efforts to avoid spoilers. Take coverage of TV series like a “Mad Men” finale or the outcome of a competition show such as “The Voice,” whose air times vary depending on time zones. We keep results out of the headlines and trust viewers won’t go further if they don’t want to know the outcome.

There’s also the increasingly common situation where a whole season of shows, like “House of Cards,” is released at once.

Some people will binge-watch them all immediately. But most will view a few at a time, and it’s reasonable not to be in their faces with plot twists they may not want to know about. In such cases, too, we avoid putting any potential spoiler in headlines, and we warn readers within our stories before we talk about a surprise that happens in a later episode.

We also avoid spoiler material in reviews. When we review a play that’s a detective story, we don’t reveal whodunit.

It comes down to trying to tread a line between covering breaking entertainment news as it happens and respecting the suspense many enjoy around the content of entertainment programs themselves.

Award to AP bureau chief for ‘rich content’ on the crises in West Africa

Krista Larson chats with orphans she interviewed at a Catholic church sheltering more than 800 Muslims in Carnot, Central African Republic who had fled sectarian violence. (AP Photo/Steve Niko)

Krista Larson chats with orphans she interviewed at a Catholic church sheltering more than 800 Muslims in Carnot, Central African Republic who had fled sectarian violence. (AP Photo/Steve Niko)

Krista Larson, West Africa bureau chief for The Associated Press, has won the Deborah Howell Award for Nondeadline Writing from the American Society of News Editors, which announced its annual honors for distinguished reporting and photography today.

Larson, who put herself at risk to chronicle the lives of abandoned orphans, left on their own after family members died of Ebola, also covered the ethnic war in the Central African Republic.

In a first-person report from the Ebola zone in Liberia, Larson wrote about her own fear of the disease and the challenges of covering the health crisis: “The world needs to know what’s happening here: Ebola is obliterating entire neighborhoods, leaving orphaned children with no one to lean on but a tree.”

“These stories had a high degree of difficulty and personal risk, were beautifully written and delivered rich content and context on the depth of the crises in West Africa,” the ASNE judges said. “These types of stories can often seem distant to readers, but the writer made the stories compelling with her depth of reporting and the humanity she brought to her storytelling.”

John Daniszewski, senior managing editor for international news at AP, said: “Krista has a passion to tell stories from West Africa that bring alive to a wider audience the threads of success, sadness and humanity running through the lives of the people of the region, always showing empathy and respect for the dignity of those she covers. We are very pleased that her wonderful work has been recognized in this way.”

Larson, 36, began her AP career as an intern in the Paris bureau in 2001, and worked as a reporter for the news cooperative in Vermont and New Jersey. She was also an editor on the AP’s national and international desks in New York. She has been working in Africa since 2008, first as a supervisory editor at the AP’s Africa regional desk in Johannesburg. In 2012, she became a correspondent based in Dakar, Senegal, and was named bureau chief in 2014.

A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she graduated from Northwestern University and has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern.

See the full list of winners

Honoring the courage of women photojournalists

FILE - In this April 7, 2005 file photo, Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus poses in Rome. Niedringhaus, 48, was killed and an AP reporter was wounded on April 4, 2014, when an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan. At least 60 journalists around the world were killed in 2014 while on the job or because of their work, and 44 percent of them were targeted for murder, the Committee to Protect Journalists says. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

In this April 7, 2005 file photo, Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus poses in Rome. Niedringhaus, 48, was killed and an AP reporter was wounded on April 4, 2014, when an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) named freelance photographer Heidi Levine as the inaugural winner of the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award. The award was created to honor the courage and dedication of Pulitzer Prize-winning AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus, who was killed in Afghanistan in April 2014.

Levine won for her work in Gaza. “Her courage and commitment to the story in Gaza is unwavering. She documents tragic events under dire circumstances while displaying a depth of compassion for the people she encounters,” the jury said in its selection statement.

Niedringhaus joined the AP in 2002, and while based in Geneva worked throughout the Middle East as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan. She was part of the AP team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for coverage of Iraq. She also covered nine Olympic Games and other sports events around the world.

“It is encouraging to see Anja’s legacy honored through the amazing and courageous work of Heidi Levine, this year’s inaugural winner,” said Santiago Lyon, vice president and director of photography at AP. “Heidi thoroughly embodies Anja’s spirit and courage.”

The award will be presented to Levine at a ceremony June 25 in Berlin. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation provided funding for the $20,000 prize.

AP photographer Rebecca Blackwell received an Honorable Mention for her coverage of the Central African Republic.

Read the AP news story.

AP investigative reporter offers tips for seeking public records

The Associated Press is committed to fighting for access to information the public has a right to know. AP journalists across the country routinely file Freedom of Information Act requests to uncover critical information that the government would have preferred to keep secret. Washington investigative reporter Jack Gillum recently broke the story that Hillary Clinton used a private email server at her home, and he mined information on Instagram to track Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock’s spending. Gillum frequently draws from records requests to report exclusives. Here, he explains why they should be part of every journalist’s toolkit:

Investigative reporter Jack Gillum (AP photo).

Investigative reporter Jack Gillum (AP photo).

How important to your work are the Freedom of Information Act and open records statutes in the states?
Public records requests have been invaluable in my reporting. FOIA requests to U.S. agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration recently uncovered that the government knew local police in Ferguson, Missouri, put in place flight restrictions to keep the news media away during demonstrations following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Other requests can illuminate how government officials conduct their affairs, such as when we found senior U.S. officials using alternative email accounts – raising questions about their obligations to turn over documents to lawmakers and the public.

My request for 911 tapes made during the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings — the subject of a lengthy legal fight — revealed how public safety officials responded to one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. The records didn’t come easy, with one state prosecutor opposing their release and telling a judge that neither I nor the AP represented the public. The judge ultimately sided with the AP.

How often do you file FOIA requests?
I usually file at least one request a week. That doesn’t include the countless records requests other AP journalists file with governments in the United States and around the world.

What challenges do you encounter in the process?
The federal FOIA is chock full of delays, leaving journalists to wait for information long after the news value of those documents has passed. The U.S. State Department, the defendant in a new FOIA lawsuit by the AP seeking documents about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has an average wait time of nearly a year and a half for certain requests.

Public records laws can vary from state to state. Some laws are antiquated and don’t properly address electronic records, leading to excessive charges (25 cents per page) just to view a public official’s emails or her schedules. Other agencies — state, federal or municipal — simply can’t or won’t perform adequate searches, especially with regard to databases and other forms of digital communications.

What advice do you have for other journalists who are learning to navigate the system?
Even if you’re not a lawyer, become an expert on your state’s freedom-of-information laws. Be prepared to fight any denial; don’t “file and forget” the request. And file requests often — not just when you need information on a big, breaking story. After all, governments produce a lot of material that could be newsworthy and important for the public to see.

Become familiar with electronic records and how they’re stored, especially since documents in manila folders are becoming less commonplace. Ask for database “record layouts” – a virtual map of a database that can reveal what information is being kept – and request other forms of electronic communication besides email (like text messages, chat transcripts or Twitter direct messages).

A search of records reveals questionable ties of police chiefs

In this memo to staff, Managing Editor for U.S. News Brian Carovillano explains how a statehouse reporter’s aggressive pursuit of public documents uncovered a story that had immediate impact in cities across the country:

Iowa City-based Ryan Foley, a member of the State Government Team, was working with Minnesota Statehouse reporter Brian Bakst on a story about the high cost of police body cameras and video storage fees when he spotted the outlines of an accountability thread.

In this Feb. 19, 2015 file photo, Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for Taser International, demonstrates one of the company's body cameras for The Associated Press during a company-sponsored conference hosted by Taser at the California Highway Patrol Headquarters in Sacramento, Calif. Officials in Salt Lake City and Fort Worth, Texas, said they are reviewing their ethics policies after The Associated Press reported on how their police chiefs were closely linked to the company that won contracts to supply officers with body cameras. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In this Feb. 19, 2015, file photo, Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for Taser International, demonstrates one of the company’s body cameras for The Associated Press during a company-sponsored conference hosted by Taser at the California Highway Patrol Headquarters in Sacramento, California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Taser, one of the biggest players in the fast-growing body camera market, had questionable financial ties to the police chiefs who held sway over their cities’ decision on whether to spend significant taxpayer dollars on such gear. Foley flagged it to the attention of his editors and outlined an initial coverage plan, then was given time to dig.

Through aggressive use of public records and persistence in following up, Foley broke the story that Taser, the stun-gun maker, was indeed forging financial ties with police chiefs as a way to win lucrative city contracts in the body camera market. Here’s how it works: Taser covers the expenses for police chiefs to pitch its products at company events across the country and has hired recently retired chiefs as consultants just months after they pushed for approval of Taser contracts.

Foley’s story quickly prompted officials in Fort Worth, Texas, and Salt Lake City to launch reviews of their ethics policies: “What you’re seeing is the Fourth Estate in action,” Salt Lake City spokesman Art Raymond told Foley for his follow-up story. Tom Cowan, chairman of the ethics committee for the Texas police chiefs association, told Foley that his story had prompted the group to examine the former Fort Worth chief’s actions as a likely violation of its ethics code: “It’s caused a lot of entities to rethink this,” he said.

Foley read company literature and financial documents to identify individuals, filed records requests in the cities where they served and pursued comments from his main subjects over several weeks. In Fort Worth, city officials resisted efforts to release some documents and even appealed to the Texas Attorney General’s office, an effort that remains ongoing. Foley did get some of what he requested and turned that into a sidebar that exposed an incriminating email exchange between the city’s former police chief and a Taser sales rep: “I have the votes,” the chief triumphantly declared after persuading the city to approve a rushed $2.7 million contract to help Taser meet a quarterly sales goal. The chief retired shortly afterward and is now in negotiations to get a consulting job with Taser that will take him to Australia and other overseas destinations to promote the company’s products.

Foley also revealed that the current Salt Lake City police chief, who had done extensive promotional work for Taser, had bypassed the normal city budgeting rules to buy 295 Taser body cameras without the City Council’s knowledge. Emphasizing the significance of the beat, a reporter for a Salt Lake City TV station emailed Ryan a congratulatory note after his story ran, saying, “I had heard rumors about this unhealthy relationship more than a year ago but couldn’t pin anything down; glad you busted this out.”

In addition to prompting immediate action in several cities, Foley’s story landed in the top 10 on AP Mobile on a heavy news day. It also made the front pages of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Salt Lake Tribune.

For spotting an important thread and aggressively pursuing public records for a story with immediate real-world impact, Foley wins this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

AP announces political team for 2016

U.S. Political Editor David Scott announced The Associated Press’ political reporting lineup in a memo to staff today:


The past two weeks have been a strong marker, lest there be any doubt, that the campaign for president in 2016 is here, now. So today, Sally and I are thrilled to announce an addition to the U.S. political team, and some other changes, that will help us break the biggest news and report the sharpest enterprise from now until Election Day.

Lisa Lerer (Photo courtesy Lisa Lerer)

Lisa Lerer (Photo courtesy Lisa Lerer)

First, the addition: Lisa Lerer will join AP as a political reporter focused on Hillary Clinton. Lisa, now a correspondent at Bloomberg Politics, will be based in Washington, but will spend time in New York and on the trail with the presumptive Democratic front runner. It’s a place Lisa knows well, having covered Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012 and the Republican field in 2008. Since then, she has written primarily on domestic policy from the White House for Bloomberg News and BusinessWeek magazine, and appeared on Bloomberg television.

Lisa is a strong source reporter, knowledgeable about campaigns and donors — and also knowledgeable about governing. She has a good eye for fresh and interesting angles.

Next up, a shift we had planned for later this year, but are excited to make now: our White House correspondent, Julie Pace, will broaden her focus to include campaign coverage along with her normal White House coverage, bringing strong sourcing skills and political acumen to the team.

Julie Pace (AP photo).

Julie Pace (AP photo).

Lisa joins the AP early next month. Julie has already begun to split her time between the campaign and the White House. She will retain her title and a strong news portfolio at the White House.

It goes without saying: We do anticipate other reporters will be drawn into our political coverage as the campaign progresses.

Meanwhile, from his base in Iowa, Tom Beaumont is now responsible for our coverage of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Phil Elliott is focused on the Republicans in the Senate seeking the GOP’s 2016 nomination. For the next few months, Cal Woodward will also be working closely with me and the political team as an editor.

These changes make our already strong team stronger. Ken Thomas remains focused on national Democrats, and Steve Peoples on the national Republican Party. In New Jersey, Jill Colvin is on point for Chris Christie and all 2016 news in New York City. Nick Riccardi covers politics in the West and Bill Barrow in the South, as before.

Jesse Holland remains our lead voice on race, ethnicity and voters, and Emily Swanson on polling. The report benefits each day from the work of our team on Capitol Hill, led by Donna Cassata. And, of course, AP’s corps of statehouse reporters has already proved highly valuable on the trail.

In photos, we are pleased to have recently welcomed Andrew Harnik, an experienced campaign and political photographer, to AP’s team of Pulitzer Prize-winning campaign photographers who will cover the 2016 race both in Washington and on the trail.

And AP’s Washington-based U.S. video operation is already gearing up to produce the coverage of candidates and issues that will explain to television and digital video audiences — worldwide — where the race for the White House stands hour by hour.

Please join me in welcoming Lisa.



Where to find AP at SXSW Interactive

The Associated Press is joining thousands of digital and creative professionals from around the world converging at the 2015 SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, which runs March 13 through 17.  Here’s where you’ll find AP:

Saturday, March 14

Social Media: Breaking News or Fixing News?

AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin (AP Photo).

AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin (AP Photo).

  • AP Social Media Editor and Online News Association board member Eric Carvin (@EricCarvin) joins a panel on the impact of social media on the news ecosystem. The hour-long session presented by The Knight Foundation also features Kai Ryssdal, host of “Marketplace”; Michael Roston, social media editor at The New York Times; and Alison Lichter, the Wall Street Journal’s social media editor. The session will take place from 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Austin, Zilker Ballroom. Follow the conversation on Twitter with hashtags: #sxsw #breaking.
  • AP is sponsoring a photo booth at the popular SXSW event, “The Awesomest Journalism Party Ever. V.” The event is from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. and RSVP is required.

Sunday, March 15

When robots write the news, what will humans do?

Lou Ferrara, vice president and managing editor

Lou Ferrara, vice president and managing editor (AP Photo).

  • When AP announced it would use technology from Automated Insights to automate corporate earnings stories the reaction was dramatic, and many wondered: what will happen to human journalists? AP Vice President and Managing Editor Lou Ferrara (@LouFerrara) will discuss why AP decided to automate some business and sports news content, the impact of automation on the news business and how journalists have adapted to the change. He’ll be joined by Robbie Allen, CEO of Automated Insights. The session will take place from 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Austin, Texas Ballroom 4-7. Follow the conversation on Twitter using hashtags: #sxsw #newsrobots.

AP journalists will also be providing news coverage of SXSW interactive, film and music. Follow business writer Mae Anderson (@maetron) and Music Editor Mesfin Fekadu (@MusicMesfin) for updates.

Dig into data journalism with AP

The Associated Press will be sharing expertise and learning from other data journalists from around the country at a computer-assisted reporting conference put on by NICAR and Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE). The annual event runs today through March 8 in Atlanta.

AP Editor for Interactive Technology Troy Thibodeaux (AP Photo)

AP Editor for Interactive Technology Troy Thibodeaux (AP Photo)

“Every year we pick up tools and techniques that become essential to our data journalism toolkit. And every year, I personally steal a few teaching ideas that help me bring the material back to the broader AP,” said AP Editor for Interactive Technology Troy Thibodeaux. “All this, and we get to compare notes and ask questions of the people in other news organizations whose work most inspires and challenges us.”

Here’s some of the hands-on training AP is providing:




  • Getting started with SQLite
    This workshop led by Thibodeaux will provide an introduction to the world of SQL (Structured Query Language), “the lingua franca of relational databases.”

Q&A: AP Travel Editor Beth Harpaz

Beth Harpaz oversees The Associated Press’ global coverage of travel, keeping it practical, on-trend and authoritative. Here, she previews a number of new columns debuting this month and explains why AP offers the best “travel perks”:

AP Travel Editor Beth Harpaz (AP Photo).

AP Travel Editor Beth Harpaz (AP Photo).

AP serves diverse group of news organizations scattered across the map. What do their editors look for when it comes to travel coverage?
There’s so much content online these days, but AP Travel is different from what’s out there. No. 1, we don’t take free trips, so you can trust what we write. No. 2, we can provide a comprehensive guide to a destination in 800 words, so you don’t have to slog through a million websites. No. 3, our stories all have input from local staffers that have local expertise. And No. 4, we’re always on top of the news, writing about the latest attractions, events and exhibits, not just the evergreen content in out-of-date guidebooks.

What new columns do you have planned and how do they reflect current travel trends?
We’re launching four new columns this month:

  • NEIGHBORHOODS will look at an interesting place to spend a few hours. The column was inspired by a British visitor in NYC who told me, “I don’t want to be a tourist. I just want to hang out in a real neighborhood.”
  • SERENITY NOW will look at beautiful, peaceful places, whether it’s a trail or beach in the great outdoors, or a garden, church or scenic view in a quiet corner of a city.
  • BLEISURE BITS refers to “business-leisure” _ ideas for time-crunched business travelers to sneak away from meetings for a quick outing: an interesting attraction, a morning run in a local park or unique shopping expedition.
  • ESSENTIALS will offer a comprehensive guide to a destination in 800 words with four sections: Classic Attractions, What’s New, Tips and Hanging Out.

So what’s the best “bleisure” trip you’ve ever taken?
I went to a conference in Tampa, Florida, that ended on a Friday night. So I booked my return for Saturday afternoon and spent the morning at Anna Maria Island, a beautiful local beach.

AP Travel Editor Beth Harpaz visits with monkeys on a trip to the Columbia Amazon. (Photo courtesy Beth Harpaz).

AP Travel Editor Beth Harpaz visits with monkeys on a trip to the Colombian Amazon. (Photo courtesy Beth Harpaz).

How does AP leverage its footprint in every state and around the world for travel coverage?
Many AP travel stories are written by people who live in the places they’re writing about, so they are truly experts. And when we run stories by reporters who merely visited a place on vacation, I consult with the local bureau to make sure we’re getting things right. I also get a lot of press releases claiming new trends, and I count on local bureaus or beat reporters, like our airlines team, to tell me whether something is hooey or worth pursuing.

What tops your list of places to visit this year?
I’m on a geeky quest to visit all 50 states. Last year I knocked off Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, loving everything from the Cowboy Museum to the Tallgrass Prairie. This year I’m headed to Indiana to the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Wisconsin for the cheese tour. I cannot WAIT! Only four states left after that – Idaho, Montana, Mississippi and North Dakota.

What’s the best perk of your job?
AP is like a big family. When I’m traveling, I can reach out to our bureau wherever I’m going and ask, “Hey, where should I eat? What should I do? What’s a cool neighborhood?” It’s like having a cousin in every city!

Harpaz came to the AP after stints at the Staten Island Advance and The Record of Bergen County, N.J. She covered everything from Hillary Clinton to 9/11 before becoming AP Travel editor in 2004. She’s a lifelong New Yorker and volunteers as a Big Apple Greeter, taking tourists to interesting neighborhoods in Brooklyn. She’s also the author of three books. Join the 75,000 others who follow her on Twitter @AP_Travel