AP, others fight for independent coverage of Obama

Updated at: 03/18/2014 2:57 PM
DONNA BRYSON

(AP) DENVER - DENVER (AP) — The Associated Press is seeking to broaden independent news coverage of the White House under an administration that is hypersensitive about its image and which frequently bars the press from events involving President Barack Obama.

AP White House correspondent Julie Pace and chief White House photographer Charles Dharapak (DAR'-uh-pak) described the AP's efforts Tuesday at the Newspaper Association of America's mediaXchange 2014 convention in Denver. Those efforts include ongoing negotiations for greater access by photographers to events the White House deems private.

The Obama White House routinely bars news media from meetings with foreign leaders and other events, then releases its own photos of those events — including a February meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama. In doing so, it's acknowledging that events barred to journalists are of public interest, the AP reporters said.

Dharapak called such handouts "visual press releases" that leave out details news reporters usually seek.

"We don't fault them for using these methods of social outreach," Dharapak said of the White House in an interview after his presentation. "Just don't shut the independent press out."

"Once we lose access, we'll never get it back," he told convention participants.

The AP has a policy against using White House handout photos unless they are of significant news value and were shot in places to which the press does not expect access, such as private residence areas of the White House. The presidents of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors have urged their members to stop using White House handout photos and video, saying they amount to propaganda.

Obama spokesman Josh Earnest has said the handouts allow the public greater access to the inner workings of the administration.

Also Tuesday, Mary Junck, chairman of AP's board of directors and CEO of Lee Enterprises Inc., discussed the news cooperative's efforts in support of open government.

After the AP challenged the Justice Department's secret subpoenas of a broad swath of AP phone records, the department announced stronger guidelines for when the federal government can seek information from reporters, she said during the AP presentation at the convention.

"As a result of AP's challenge, all journalists benefit for decades to come," Junck said.

Junck said the AP each year files at least 1,000 requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act or state open records laws, and often appeals denials alongside AP member newspapers.

Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of the AP, told the convention that the AP is strengthening its state news resources and collaboration with member newspapers. AP's 2014 initiatives include strong state government coverage, closer collaboration with members to assure coverage that is most relevant to them, and delivering databases members can use to highlight local angles on national stories.

"The state news report is the core of the core of our business," Pruitt said.

The AP is experimenting with offering content in blocks from which members can pick and choose, paying only for what they use, Pruitt said. He also stressed that the AP is increasing its production of U.S. video news that members can use on their online platforms.

(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)