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Associated Press Reporting Handbook [Secure eReader]
eBook by Jerry Schwartz

eBook Category: Education
eBook Description: Journalism and reporting have gone through dramatic shifts in our fast-moving, hi-tech information age. Yet, the basics of good reporting--distinct from the craft of writing--remain constant. Though reporters are each driven by their own individual brand of curiosity, empathy, or downright pushiness, solid interview techniques, source development, investigative and organizational skills, and keen objectivity are still necessary to recognize, obtain, and effectively communicate a story to a reader, viewer, or listener. The Associated Press Reporting Handbook is designed to provide a new generation of journalists with much-needed guidance in learning these indispensable basics, whether for print, broadcast, online, or other media. Written by a veteran reporter with the world-renowned Associated Press, this invaluable handbook offers detailed, up-to-date information on all aspects of the reporter's job, from local, national, and international reporting to daily news coverage; from working specialty beats in such areas as politics, entertainment, science, and sports to utilizing a range of investigative tools, including computer-assisted reporting. Also gathered here are first-hand advice and anecdotes from outstanding AP reporters such as trial writer Linda Deutsch, national writer and Pulitzer Prize-winner Martha Mendoza, globe-trotting special correspondent Mort Rosenblum, Washington investigative reporter John Solomon, and others who both entertain and inform with their hard-earned wisdom and insights. Whether you're a journalism student or a freelance reporter, whether your penchant is the White House, the moon, Hollywood, or Wall Street, the Associated Press Reporting Handbook offers the best guidance to anyone interested in getting the real scoop on working in this fascinating profession.

eBook Publisher: McGraw-Hill Companies/McGraw-Hill, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2002


George Esper just stood there. He wanted this story. He wanted every story, but this was the story he wanted now. He had gone to Vietnam, had covered the war on the battlefield, had gained fame and admiration within the profession as the last American reporter to leave Saigon after the communists swept in. Now, two decades later, he was covering the war on the home front; 20 years had passed since the shootings of four Kent State students by National Guardsmen, and Esper was writing about Vietnam again.

He planned to interview the mothers of all four of the slain students for a sidebar -- what were their thoughts after all these years? He reached three of the women, but he had no phone number for the last one, just a street address. So he got into his car and drove an hour through a ferocious snowstorm.

He knocked on the door at 7 a.m. Florence Schroeder answered it.

My name is George Esper, he said, and I'm from The Associated Press.

"She just kind of waved me off, and she said, 'We're not giving any interviews.' Just like that," Esper recalls. "I didn't really push her. On the other hand, I didn't turn around and leave. I just kind of stood there, wet with snow, dripping wet and cold, and I think she kind of took pity on me."

"Come on in," she said. And after some small talk, Florence Schroeder talked for two hours about her son, dead 20 years. "At the end of the interview, she told me she never thought she would go that deep into her heart again," Esper says. "But she did it."

Why did she do it? Esper has some theories. Maybe it was just a matter of pity -- a sodden reporter showed up at her door, and she didn't have the heart to turn him away. Maybe it was Esper's obvious sympathy; after a lifetime of covering tragedies, he had not become callous. Or maybe she was just ready to talk, and Esper was the one who knocked on the door.

But the fact is, she did talk, and this was no fluke. For more than four decades, Esper always got the story -- sometimes through cunning, sometimes through empathy, always through persistence and tenacity.

This is a book about people like George Esper, about how they do the job they do. This is a book about reporting -- not writing, though there are many outstanding examples of it in these pages. As AP writing guru Rene J. Cappon says, "Reporting is the essence of good writing." Without the raw material of reportage, a story is just a collection of pretty words, signifying nothing.

From the instant it was created in 1848, the AP's purpose was to report the news. AP reporters covered the 1848 presidential campaign, announcing the election of James Knox Polk. An AP correspondent, Mark Kellogg, rode with George Armstrong Custer at the Little Big Horn and suffered the same unhappy fate as Custer's men. In the 24 hours after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the AP's office there transmitted 21,300 words about the devastation.

The story of Mahatma Gandhi has often been told: how the Hindu leader was arrested by the British in 1932, spent months in prison, and finally was released under great secrecy. He was let go after midnight and driven to a distant railroad station, where he dragged his belongings onto the platform. There, in the darkness, he recognized Jim Mills, an AP reporter who had chronicled Gandhi's efforts to gain independence for India. Somehow, Mills alone had learned of Gandhi's release.

"I suppose when I go to the Hereafter and stand at the Golden Gate," Gandhi said, "the first person I shall meet will be a correspondent of The Associated Press."

News gathering is so ingrained in the AP's culture that for some, reporting seems like breathing -- necessary, but not all that complicated or interesting.

"Hmm, a guide to reporting," mused Special Correspondent Mort Rosenblum.

"A. Get on a plane.

"B. Tell the desk all the stuff you see.

"C. Have a double expense-account whiskey when you see the result.

"So what are the other 70,000 words going to be?"

But this business of getting the news IS interesting, and there is something to be learned from how various reporters go about it. It's not as simple as compiling a list of reporting do's and don'ts -- do this and this and this and you'll be a good reporter. "There are no rules," says Special Correspondent Helen O'Neill, and though this has its limits -- you don't, for example, commit felonies to get a story -- the point is well taken. Reporters make up their own rules as they go along, depending on their own strengths -- and weaknesses.

In the movies, reporters are urbane and sardonic, barely breaking a sweat to make the front page. In reality, there's a lot of sweat, and the process can be messy or tedious. Mitchell Landsberg, a longtime AP reporter who went on to The Los Angeles Times, once said that his interviewing technique consisted of stumbling and stuttering so much that his subject finally took pity on him and told him everything he needed to know. He was exaggerating, but there are successful reporters who struggle through interviews, or don't know their way around a database, or would be boggled by a complicated investigation.

Their strengths, though, carry them through. And the ways in which they use their strengths -- interviewing techniques, source development, organizational skills -- are all things that can be emulated.

We can't all be Helen O'Neill, writing extraordinary, intimate profiles, but perhaps we can pick up some ideas on how to get close to an interview subject. We can't all be Marc Humbert, breaking political stories every day, but the way he handles his sources might be instructive. We can't all be Ted Anthony, inhaling life and drawing ideas from it as if it were one big story factory. But if we could see the world through his eyes for a moment, vistas of possible stories might open up to us.

Ask George Esper about his strengths, and the first thing he will tell you is that he is very curious. "Even my family always says to me, 'Geez, you ask so many questions.' Even when I'm not reporting, I'm interested. I may meet a husband and wife or girlfriend and boyfriend, and I'll ask, 'How did you meet?' I kind of go into their history, where they went to school, what they majored in."

To be a good reporter, "you have to enjoy it. It has to be fun," Esper says. What's fun? "Finding out about people." He always has another question. Too many reporters will "ask a question and they'll get an answer and there's no follow-up, to probe a little deeper."

Esper's other great strength is persistence. When a youth committed suicide in Maine, Esper called the young man's father seven days in a row, pursuing an interview. "You don't want to be obnoxious and you don't want to stalk people, but I think persistence pays off."

When he talked to the boy's father, he was deeply solicitous. He is just as tenacious, if less solicitous, when he is covering a war.

"Not that I dislike the military, but I think they're fair game and I think the public is entitled to know what is happening in a war, be it the Vietnam War or the Gulf War, because there's taxpayers' money involved, people's lives involved," he says. "If I don't get an answer, I keep hammering away: 'When are you going to know?' 'Why don't you know?'

"Sometimes I even use threats. I don't mean physical threats or anything -- saying, in effect, look, if you can't give me this, I'll call your boss or I'll call the Pentagon or I'll write a story saying you're trying to cover this up. This actually happened in Vietnam many times, where you just keep pounding them with questions: 'Why don't you know? You should know this. I know you know it.' "

Others, he says, assume that people won't talk to them or that they can't get information from the military. "They give up too easily. I say, never give up."

Some of his biggest Vietnam stories, he says, were easier than they looked. There was the story of a bomber pilot who refused to fly.

"All I saw was an incoming story from Omaha, Neb., the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command, saying Capt. Michael Heck was being court-martialed after refusing to fly B-52 missions. That's all we had. And I looked at this, and I said, 'Gee, if we could interview this guy, what a story!' "

He knew he would not be able to go to an air base to interview Heck. But he could use the military telephone lines, and he could use his knowledge of the military to track Heck down. There were three B-52 bases; he called the nearest one, in Thailand.

"It was this simple: I said 'base locator.' I got the base locator. And I said, 'Could I speak to Capt. Michael Heck?' And within 30 seconds I was speaking to Capt. Michael Heck."

Esper had tracked Heck down to an officer's club bar in U Tapao, Thailand. He was rewarded with "a tremendous interview. He said, 'I just got tired of killing women and children.' And this is why he had stopped flying. This guy was no kook; he had flown like a hundred missions, he was heavily decorated, and in many ways he was a hero. And suddenly, he stops flying.

"Well, the rest of the press corps was really furious with me. They said, 'You've got to tell us where this Capt. Heck is....' They assumed that I had either flown into a Thailand air base and interviewed him or that I was hiding him out in Saigon. They never guessed what I thought was obvious.

"I simply phoned him."

Of course, by then Heck wasn't talking to any other reporters anyway. Esper had suggested it was best to keep quiet. "Unfortunately, there are some people you just can't trust," he told the young officer.

Oh, yes. It's worth noting that besides curiosity and tenacity, George Esper possesses a fine and well-sharpened appetite for competition.

Copyright © 2002 by The Associated Press

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