Journalist Q&A: Steven Gutkin, oil spill editor, The Associated Press

Steven Gutkin has been with The Associated Press since 1990 and for the past six years has served as bureau chief for Israel and Palestinian territories.

Name: Steven Gutkin
Title: Oil spill editor
Outlet: The Associated Press
Contact: sgutkin@ap.org
Website: www.ap.org / www.ap.org/oil_spill

Steven Gutkin has been with The Associated Press since 1990 and for the past six years has served as bureau chief for Israel and Palestinian territories. Last month, the AP named him the oil spill editor. He speaks to Jaimy Lee about why the AP views the oil spill as a multifaceted story with long-term ramifications.

Who will make up your team of beat reporters?
Gutkin: We've had about 200 journalists involved in this oil spill coverage in the various formats, be it print or video or photography or multimedia. But, we're going to have a smaller dedicated group of people who will be devoted to the oil spill coverage exclusively.

We recently posted two jobs that will be for full-time reporters. One will focus on the impact of the oil spill on the Gulf Coast, in terms of life, culture, economy, in an area that depends on tourism, fishing jobs, energy jobs. The other reporter will be focusing on BP and the energy industry and looking at things like how this spill could drive the Obama Administration's energy policies going into the future and how it may affect Americans' view on the use of fossil fuels.

Is the coverage going to be aimed mainly at an American audience or do you expect it to be global?
Gutkin: We try to cover everything globally. As an organization, it's important to us that we provide coverage that will be of interest to people around the world, not just in the United States. Clearly, this is a story where degrees of interest will vary region to region. The most interested parties are the ones directly affected by it, in the Gulf Coast. And, we feel a very large obligation to make sure that coverage for these people is extremely strong. We see this as a very big story and we're investing a lot in it.

Has the AP ever done anything like this before?
Gutkin: It does reflect a commitment on the part of the company to make sure that we have extremely strong coverage of this story. There are precedents to put an editor on very large stories. I've been on the international side for a long time and I know that we've done that with Iraq and we've done that with Afghanistan.

It's also recognition on the part of the company that this story isn't going away anytime soon. Everyone's hoping that the oil spill will be capped shortly or least the spill into the sea will stop, hopefully with this latest effort. Of course, that's a big question mark.

How will your coverage differ than The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or even Reuters?
Gutkin: We're very well positioned to be able to cover this in a way that just isn't only about reading a newspaper story. We've done a tremendous amount of notable work when it comes to visuals, when it comes to interactive, when it comes to multimedia presentations.

What we've been able to do up until now has really set ourselves apart, if you look at [AP photographer] Charlie Riedel's photos of the birds who were affected or even our latest effort which was a spill-o-meter, which put this thing into perspective. You can see a running toll of how many barrels are being dumped into the sea. We're trying very hard to marshal our resources and do really in-depth investigative work and to really try to cover areas that are not being covered by others.

What are some of the stories and issues that you're not seeing getting as much media attention, either from the AP or other outlets?
Gutkin: This week we had a story on the food web and about the microorganisms that are living in the sea. If those at the bottom of the food web are not able to survive, then those on the top are going to have problems, as well. We need to look at how this is affecting ordinary people. I see our role as journalists to really keep the pressure up, to keep a very close eye on BP, especially when it comes to the relief efforts, to the effort to plug the spill, or whether it's about compensation.

This story really touches so many different aspects. It's about British pensioners, people's livelihoods, wildlife, plant life, stock prices, fish supplies, the fate of the Obama Administration, the fate of the oil industry.

You'd mentioned the AP's multimedia and visual coverage of the oil spill. How do you think social media will affect this overall telling of the story?
Gutkin: We intend to make full use of social media because this is the new world we're in as journalists. It's not just a one-way street anymore. We want to have a discussion. We want to know what people want to see, what people want to read about, and we welcome the input, and we are perfectly willing to alter and adjust our coverage to meet the needs and desires of news consumers around the world.

Since the formal announcement that you'd been name the oil spill editor, have you heard anything from BP?
Gutkin: No, not yet.

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