Why the AP is Assigning Oil Spill Editor, Reporters

The AP announced Wednesday that it had assigned Steve Gutkin, Jerusalem bureau chief, as its new Gulf oil spill editor. It also posted openings for two new temporary positions: a Gulf spill impact reporter and a Gulf spill industry reporter.

It’s not every day that a major event prompts a news organization to create three new positions. Intrigued, I contacted senior managing editors John Daniszewski and Mike Oreskes to find out more.

They told me via e-mail that adding these positions will help advance the AP’s oil spill content and ensure that the organization can provide the continuous coverage that a story of this magnitude demands.

“This is a sprawling complex story. By creating both an editor with an overview and specific beats, we hope to help our journalists continue to focus on their elements of the story,” Oreskes said. “Designating an oil spill editor to take overall command of the story, and be free to focus exclusively on all the elements of the story, is one part of that commitment.”

In addition to the three new hires, who will focus exclusively on the oil spill, the AP has about 20 full-time staffers in the Gulf who are involved in the coverage and another 50 or so reporters and editors who have been working on the story in the region, Oreskes said.

The temporary reporters will focus on two main subject areas: the oil industry and the people affected by the spill. Whoever is hired for the impact reporting position will be based in a Gulf coast community and will do both spot and enterprise reporting about how the spill is affecting economics, culture and life in the Gulf. The industry reporter, who will be based in Houston or New Orleans, will focus on the spill’s long-term implications for BP and its effect on energy policy and America’s views on fossil fuels.

Though they’re listed as nine-month-long positions, they could very well be extended, Oreskes said.
Clear writing, strong reporting, conceptual thinking and a passion for understanding the region and its issues are the main qualities that Oreskes said the AP will look for when hiring for the Gulf oil positions, which will be filled with either outside hires or inside transfers as soon as possible.

This isn’t the first time the AP has created new jobs for coverage of a major news event.

“We do name editors to manage very big stories,” said Daniszewski. “It makes sense to have a conductor to orchestrate and lead a sprawling and multifaceted operation. In International, for years we have had one editor who is assigned to look over the Iraq and Afghan war coverage for instance.”

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Given how many news organizations the AP serves, it makes sense that it would find ways to continue following a story that other media outlets might not have the resources to cover long-term.

“The oil spill is clearly one of the major stories of our time — a vast event whose full proportions still aren’t known to us,” Oreskes said. “We are setting up for the long haul.”

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