BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone, with an update. Listeners may recall that last week we discussed charges lobbed by several whistleblower groups that the ostensibly independent Office of Special Counsel has been improperly politicized. Recently, those groups have provided a case in point. Actually, two cases in point.
BOB GARFIELD: They point to the fact that complaints to the Office last fall about campaign trips taken by Condoleezza Rice on the government's dime sat around for weeks - until after the election. By contrast, a visit by John Kerry to the Kennedy Space Center that prompted similar complaints was processed in a zippy two days. This week, the FBI said it would investigate the Office for charges of malfeasance and cronyism. [MUSIC]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Associated Press recently advised its 1700 member news organization that it will now offer two versions of many of its big news stories. The second version will be much the same as the original, except for its lead, which will be filled with imagery, narrative devices and creative turns of phrase. The reason - newspaper editors express concern that readers increasingly see the wire stories they run in their papers a day earlier, on the internet.
BOB GARFIELD: Or, if you don't like that intro - maybe you'll like this more colorful version: With their readership plummeting and their revenues drying up, newspaper barons find themselves at the dawn of the 21st Century fearing for their very survival. In yet another desperate attempt to salvage their once grand industry from its internet-induced death throes, they beseeched the Associated Press for help. And so, from now on, that august institution will provide its members something a little fresher for their morning papers. The specter of the electronic media, explains AP managing editor Mike Silverman, looms large.
MIKE SILVERMAN: When a story happens Monday, most people are reading about it on Monday during the day at work or at home, when they go on line. Or they're hearing about it on radio or TV, and when they pick up the newspaper Tuesday, they already know what happened. Newspapers have increasingly been asking for our help in strategies for finding ways to draw readers to the newspaper, with approaches to news stories that are just a little bit different from the conventional Five W's. That's what the optional lead concept is really about.
BOB GARFIELD: More analysis, more context, maybe a little bit more lively writing?
MIKE SILVERMAN: And an approach at the very top of the story that doesn't presume to be telling people what happened, but maybe leads them in through some imagery or, as you say, a context or analysis.
BOB GARFIELD: Give me an example, please, of what a substantial news story would sound like with the traditional AP lead and what one of the optional leads might look like.
MIKE SILVERMAN: I'll give you an example from last week. In our traditional version: France took a big step towards liberalizing its rigid labor laws Tuesday as lawmakers voted to effectively dismantle the 35 hour work week cherished by workers but despised by many employers and potential investors. Then we came back a couple hours later with an optional approach that started off this way: France's 35 hour work week was cherished by workers but despised by many investors and employers. Now the bold social experiment has been dubbed "Failure" by France's Parliament. Etc, etc. And then, when you get to the third graph, you find out the actual event that took place, which was that the National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to adopt a government-backed bill that waters it down.
BOB GARFIELD: I guess when you change the way you introduce yourself to a newspaper story reader, there is some risk attached. You're asking your reporters to write with more authority and to give readers the benefit of their expertise. I can also see how it could devolve into a sort of Fox News-ification of news stories, where subjective judgments do sort of find their way willy-nilly into leads or other parts of the news story. Are there warning signs that you're keeping your eye out for to make sure that this just doesn't mutate into the wrong thing?
MIKE SILVERMAN: Well, yes. It's called "editors." Nothing ever gets out on to the AP wire without having gone through the eyes of one or more very skilled editors who look for exactly that kind of thing, as well as other issues with stories. So, we're all very still committed to objectivity and accuracy and fairness, and we're not about to tolerate any kind of agenda setting on the wire.
BOB GARFIELD: Mike, thank you so much.
MIKE SILVERMAN: My pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: Mike Silverman is managing editor of the Associated Press. [MUSIC]