Five years ago today, I quit my job at The Associated Press. After 23 years of assignments from California to New York, I turned in the keys to my company car, said farewell to my staff and walked to the train station in Trenton for a long ride home. Over the next few days, nearly 100 of my former AP colleagues will be walking out of bureaus for the last time as they take early retirement. I write this post in their honor, for they are some of the finest — and certainly some of the most unheralded — journalists in the world.
Among them are people like Brendan Riley, who for the past 37 years has served the people of Nevada faithfully and fairly as correspondent at the capitol in Carson City. And there’s Andy Lippman, who as chief of bureau in Los Angeles directed some of the biggest stories of modern times. They and scores of others depart the AP as it and many other old-line news organizations struggle to find their way in the Internet era.
While well known in regional or occasionally in some national journalism circles, AP reporters and editors generally don’t get the wide recognition that TV anchors or big-time newspaper columnists receive. While the AP news report remains one of the foundations of the daily efforts of most American news organizations, few people outside the AP give its employees much credit. I still remember a left-hand compliment one of my sports writers received from a newspaper columnist, who said she was impressed with his writing “for a wire service guy.”
The AP over the past few years has not endeared itself to bloggers and other advocates of Everything Should Be Free on the Internet. I wrestled with some of those issues myself as San Francisco bureau chief during the dot-com boom of the 90s and at corporate headquarters in New York early in this decade. I won’t judge recent policies, but I marvel at the cheek of some of AP’s critics who ignore the news service’s staggering contributions to the daily flow of news and information around the world. They care not a whit about the cost – financial or personal – incurred in gathering it. Over the years, it seemed to me that AP’s harshest critics were often those who flunked the AP writing test or otherwise didn’t get hired.
But this post is a tribute, not a rant. Above is a photo of my lone remaining AP ball cap. It sits atop the shell of an AP teletype machine that once delivered the sports wire to the Racine (Wis.) Journal-Times at 66 words a minute. The cap and teletype are artifacts from earlier times in journalism and my career. To me they represent the best of what AP stands for: fast, accurate, unbiased reporting of the news of the day.
To all my ex-colleagues departing the AP, I tip my cap to you.