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Working At The Associated Press

The Boot Camp Of Journalism

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Have you heard the phrase "the toughest job you'll ever love?" That's life at The Associated Press. These days, there are many different career paths one can take at the AP, including ones in radio, TV, the web, graphics and photography. The AP website outlines them here. In this article we'll on what it's like to work as a reporter in an AP bureau.

What Is The AP?

The AP (often called the "wire service") is the world's oldest and largest news organization. It was formed in 1846 by a group of newspapers that wanted to pool their resources in order to better cover news from far-flung places like Europe.

Today the AP is a nonprofit cooperative that is collectively owned by the newspapers, TV and radio stations that use its services. Literally thousands of media outlets subscribe to the AP, which operates 243 news bureaus in 97 countries worldwide.

Big Organization, Small Bureaus

But while the AP is big overall, individual bureaus, whether in the U.S. or abroad, tend to be small, and are often staffed by just a handful of reporters and editors.

For instance, in a good-sized city like Boston, a paper like The Boston Globe might have several hundred reporters and editors. The Boston AP bureau, on the other hand, might have just 20 or so staffers. And the smaller the town, the smaller the AP bureau.

What this means is that reporters in AP bureaus work hard - very hard.

Example: At a typical newspaper you might write one or two stories a day. At the AP, that number could double or even triple.

A Typical Workday

An AP reporter might start his or her day by doing some "pickups." Pickups are when AP reporters take stories out of member newspapers, rewrite them, and send them out on the wire to other subscribing papers and media outlets.

Next, an AP reporter might cover some stories happening in the area. The AP runs 24/7, so deadlines are continuous. In addition to writing stories for member newspapers, an AP reporter might also bang out some broadcast copy for radio and TV stations. Again, as an AP reporter you'll probably write twice as many stories in a typical day as you would at a newspaper.

A Broader Scope

There are several important differences between working as an AP reporter and reporting for local newspapers.

First, because the AP is so big, its news report has a broader scope. AP by and large doesn't cover local news stories like town government meetings, house fires or local crime. So AP reporters tend to focus only on stories of regional or national interest.

Second, unlike local newspaper reporters, many AP bureau reporters don't have beats. They simply cover the big stories that pop up each day.

Required Skills

Generally, a bachelor's degree is required. Also, because AP reporters produce so much copy, they have to be able to produce well-written stories quickly. Slowpokes who agonize over their writing don't survive long at the AP.

AP reporters must also be versatile. Because most reporting is general assignment, as an AP reporter you have to be ready to cover anything.

So Why Work For The AP?

There are several great things about working for the AP. First, it's fast-paced. You're almost always working, so there's little time to be bored.

Second, since the AP focuses on bigger stories, you won't have to cover the kind of small-town news that bores some people.

Third, it's great training. Two years of AP experience is like five years of experience elsewhere. AP experience is well-respected in the news business.

Finally, the AP offers a wealth of advancement opportunities. Want to be a foreign correspondent? The AP has more bureaus around the world than any other news agency. Want to cover Washington politics? AP has one of the largest DC bureaus. Those are the kind of opportunities that small-town newspapers just can't match.

Applying to the AP

Applying for an AP job is a little different than applying for a newspaper job. You still need to submit a cover letter, resume and clips, but you must also take the AP test, which consists of a series of newswriting exercises. The exercises are timed because being able to write fast is important at the AP. To arrange to take the AP test, contact the chief of the AP bureau nearest you.

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