Thought Leadership

Associated Press Story Innovator Ted Anthony Urges Communicators to Be Curious

Associated Press

For a story to be compelling, it must be accurate, Ted Anthony said. “Establishing trust with your audience is the A-number-one thing.” That, “and is the story interesting? What do you want to leave people with at the end?”

Sometimes, “I want to make them feel, to get them excited about the story. Or to make them understand something that would otherwise be inaccessible to understanding.” This might mean starting with a small topic and seeing how it connects to everything else — or the opposite, “wrestling a vague concept into a story that can resonate with people.”

Anthony, director of new storytelling and newsroom innovation at The Associated Press, was the guest on Feb. 29 for Strategies & Tactics Live, PRSA’s series on LinkedIn. The episode kicked off the third year of the monthly livestream.

Having worked in a variety of roles within the AP since 1992, Anthony asks reporters “to challenge their assumptions about how a story will unfold, to do it well, accurately, adeptly and quickly,” he said. At the same time, in a spirit of “coherent experimentation,” the AP tries to give its audience what it expects from the news service.

For its February issue, PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics was devoted to the topics of writing and storytelling. John Elsasser, the paper’s editor-in-chief and host of S&T Live, asked Anthony how storytelling has changed as attention spans have contracted.

At the AP, he has seen “an increased willingness and then an imperative to say, ‘How can we do this differently, in a way that’s really appealing? How do we understand audiences and how do we tell stories for them? What is this story really about and how should this story be told?’”

Adapting to evolving audience needs

Even when finding different ways to tell stories, the AP turns to its historic strengths as a news organization. For example, in 2018, as the Yellow Vest protests against a “green” fuel tax raged in Paris, the AP realized there was a rich history of protests and movements that used colors emblematically. Anthony and his colleagues turned to the AP’s deep archives to find compelling imagery for what would become a visually driven story.

At the same time, the AP could ask its bureau chiefs in the locations where these stories had taken place to write paragraphs to pair with the images.

“So it was an archive play and a global footprint play,” Anthony said. The piece became “not only one of our best-used stories on AP Mobile for a couple days, but it also reinvigorated our coverage of the Yellow Vest protests in France.”

Rather than being the gatekeepers of news, the AP strives to connect with communities, subcultures and interest groups “to give them social currency,” to “help people promote their communities and bind their communities more tightly,” Anthony said.

Anthony urges storytellers to be omnivorous in their curiosity. The goal is to “find and crack the code of telling stories in ways that people will pay attention to, both when they’re leaning forward with their little devices and when they’re leaning back with their larger devices.”

Part of that means having conversations about which traditional approaches to keep and which to leave behind, he said. For other communicators, the lesson might be to draw on your strengths and combine your resources to produce something that provides a fresh take.

You can watch a replay of the session here. PRSA members receive a 20% discount on one single-user subscription to the AP Stylebook Online each year and one registration for the AP Stylebook Workshop. Find more details here.

About the author

PRSA Staff

Leave a Comment