The best way to understand how to contribute to Illinois AP, and how your contributions are evaluated and used, is to step into the shoes of an AP editor and understand how we lookat the stories you contribute
AP has a unique set of audiences
For newspapers and broadcast news outlets, big local news is big largely because it’s local. It involves and affects readers/listeners/viewers and the people they know. AP is covering Illinois for Illinoisans – a local audience in some ways -- but for us, a good Illinois story is one that will resonate across the state, no matter where it happened.
We’re also looking for the story in Peoria or Carbondale that might be interesting to someone in Seattle or Bangkok. It won’t be interesting to those folks because it happened in Peoria or Carbondale, but because it’s dramatic, quirky, tragic, emblematic, colossal, touching or has some of the other above-and-beyond qualities that would make a story from Seattle or Bangkok interesting to people in Peoria and Carbondale. Of course the Illinois story that resonates nationally or globally will be even more interesting to Illinoisans because it happened here.
We balance the needs and interests of all of these audiences, integrating them into one coherent agenda for our Illinois AP journalists, looking for stories with impact and a broad audience.
Time is of the essence
As technology provides faster ways to deliver news, news gets old faster all the time. In this coverage-as-it-happens news environment, members aren’t served by a report that’s mostly Wednesday’s news for Thursday’s broadcast or Friday’s paper. So it’s vital to us, and to the quality of our report for you, that we get word of news you cover as soon as you learn of it. We want to report it while it’s still news. If we’re late in learning of an important story, chances are we will try to advance the story rather than move copy that simply mirrors what’s already been reported. An OK story that’s 36 hours old might not make the cut against other, newer stories, simply because it’s 36 hours old. That’s not a knock on your journalism; it simply reflects our effort to deliver a fresh, timely report.
The better the story, the more likely AP will jump in with its own reporting
If the story is developing, we want to be able to say what’s new. If the story has legs, we need to develop an ability to cover it in timely fashion down the road. If the story has a history, we need to understand that context and background – material that might be old hat to local readers but will be interesting to our distant audience and essential to their understanding of the story’s impact and significance. You tipped us to the story, and you can be sure we’ll read every word you write about it down the road, so please take our reporting effort as a nod to the importance of the story you dug up.
We’re using your reporting, not your prose
Because we’re writing for a different set of audiences, our version of your story might emphasize a different angle or take a different approach. The best “hook” for your audience isn’t necessarily the best for our audiences. We might do more reporting to develop that “hook,” or to find out what has happened since you reported your story. Our version might be shorter, omitting details like street addresses, or it might add context that’s familiar to your readers but essential for ours. We’re not re-editing your story, we’re using your reporting to tell a story that makes sense for AP’s audiences.
Also, many of you are putting your stories on the Internet. So are we, through your Web sites. It’s important to us and, we believe, to you, that the AP version of the story you reported not look like a mirror image of your story. We want your story, and our version of the story you reported, to have distinct identities in readers’ eyes.
Like your editors, our editors make judgment calls
We’re out to give you the best stories in sight every day, and to tell those stories as well as possible. As in your newsroom, that requires tough decisions on how we use our limited resources. Our editors are applying general guidelines to specific stories. As with any other human judgment, two editors applying the same general guidelines to the same story might reach different, plausible conclusions. On a day with an abundance of great stories, a story that’s simply good might not make the cut in the eyes of the editor making the decision. If that story happens to be your story, it’s not a knock on the quality of your journalism. Please send us your good story the next day.
How to contribute.
What are we looking for?
Breaking news. If there's a severe storm, a big fire, a homicide or any other breaking story, please call us at 1-800-572-2585 right away.
We do not need a complete story. Just let us know some of the basics – what, where, when, etc. On the big stories, we’ll often have our own reporters working the phones, putting new information on the wire that you can use to supplement your newsgathering.
Early word also allows us to get our own reporters and photographers moving, if necessary.
We're also interested in other news, sports, farm news, business news or features that might be of interest to listeners or viewers around the state. These stories might be general interest news (a hot local issue, a non-breaking crime story), a human-interest story, a story about a sports event or accomplishment, or a quirky, kicker-type story that might become the talk around the water coolers in the state, or even around the nation.
What information do we need?
When you submit a story for consideration for the AP wire, please include as many details as possible.
Be sure you tell us who, what, when, where, why and how.
We need attribution. Who told you the facts of the story? Include their name and their title. Instead of “police say” we’d like to know whether it’s the police chief, a spokesman, an officer at the scene, etc. And we want to know their name.
If you have a news release or other information from which you gathered facts, please send that along, too. It really helps.
Please include phone numbers for contacts you used when you reported the story. And please include the URL of any Internet source you may have used.
How do you get it to us?
If you are letting us know about a breaking story, always call us. The Chicago bureau’s toll-free number is 800-572-2585. Our other telephone and fax numbers and our special e-mail address are for member use only and should not be provided to the public. Contact the bureau to obtain that information.
Can I contribute audio?
If you have audio recordings related to a story that has regional or national interest, please let us know. TV and radio members frequently provide sound to AP’s Broadcast News Center in Washington, and we can also use it online
Crediting members by name in pickups can be a judgment call. Some guidelines apply across The AP, others vary from bureau to bureau. Here’s the Illinois policy:
If a member is reporting something exclusive, controversial or sensitive, we should credit the member in the body of the story. Beyond reflecting the work the member put into the report, this is an issue of credibility, giving AP readers information about the source of what we’re reporting. We do not need to credit a member on every folo that stems from the original exclusive or investigative story, though we should evaluate case by case.
In the case of using a member’s anonymous sources, we would always use the member’s name. In such instances, it is more a means of attribution than mere credit.
If a member displays exceptional enterprise in a story we pick up, we should credit it. For example, if a paper or broadcaster spends months going through records to report that no city councilors are paying property taxes, we would want to mention prominently in the story that the news is a result of those efforts.
If a story – any story – is contributed on cycle and used on cycle, we should credit it. This applies also to many stories we pull from a member’s Web site on cycle and use on cycle, regardless whether it was carboned to us. If a story is contributed on cycle but not used on cycle, we evaluate case by case, weighing the subject matter, effort to get the story, etc.
Stories based on anonymous sources
When you publish a story based on anonymous sources, you know who the sources are and how they’re in a position to know what they’re telling you. You know enough to judge the information solid enough to publish. That’s part of your editorial process, ensuring the integrity of what you publish or broadcast.
When you send us that story, all we know is what’s in the story. We don’t know any of the background on your sources that informed your decision to publish. So, if that story contains news that we want for the AP report, the chances are we will have a reporter pick up the phone and check out your story before deciding to pick it up. That’s part of our editorial process for all member stories based on anonymous sources, ensuring the integrity of what we give you to publish or broadcast.
If we can match your story, we will, but our version will include prominent credit to your news organization as the first to report the story. If we pick it up, we will attribute to your news organization, rather than to the sources you cite. Here is The AP policy on anonymous sources in material from other news sources:
Reports from other news organizations based on anonymous sources require the most careful scrutiny when we consider them for our report.
AP’s basic rules for anonymous-source material apply to pickups as they do in our own reporting: The material must be factual and obtainable no other way. The story must be truly significant and newsworthy. Use of sourced material must be authorized by a manager. The story must be balanced, and comment must be sought.
Further, before picking up such a story we must make a bona fide effort to get it on the record, or, at a minimum, confirm it through our own sources. We shouldn’t hesitate to hold the story if we have any doubts. If the source material is ultimately used, it must be attributed to the originating member and note their description of their sources.