New AP News Director for Latin America & the Caribbean wants coverage to be more multimedia

Since starting his new job, Paul Haven, the Associated Press’ new News Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, has overseen coverage on the lifting of restrictions on travel from the United States to Cuba, an interview with new Argentinian President Mauricio Macri and stories about the political crisis in Brazil that reaches the country’s top leaders.

AP, created in the 19th Century as a cooperative of U.S. newspapers, announced Haven’s new position on March 3. From Mexico City, he will lead a team of more than 100 journalists and editors and will be responsible for AP’s Spanish-language service, according to an organization press release.

AP said “the appointment is part of a transformation to make the cooperative fully cross-format, with multimedia journalists and integrated editing desks that emphasize video and social media, along with a streamlined management structure to meet customer needs.”

Haven, a native of New York, has been deputy Latin America editor for AP since 2013, but his career with the news cooperative started in 1990 in Bogota, Colombia. He also has worked in the United States, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico, Iraq, Spain, Portugal and England, led cooperative’s offices in Madrid and Lisbon and served as bureau chief in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Havana.

The journalist recently took time to answer some questions from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas about his new job and the direction AP is heading with its coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Knight Center: You will be responsible for more than 100 journalists and editors across the region. How will you keep in touch with the team, and more specifically, how will you, as an editor, keep up with the news cycles in each country?

Paul Haven: You’ve hit on two of the job’s greatest challenges: coordination and communication. Each day we put out a news report from across a large and diverse continent in text, photos and video, as well as in English and Spanish. I think the key to success is making sure we are all on the same page, and that all of our talented reporters, photographers and videographers are working together to tell stories in the most vivid way possible. It is a constant conversation, at the bureau level and regionally. We do a lot of planning, a lot of conference calls and messaging and brainstorming sessions. Still, it’s a constant challenge since we are always on deadline.

KC: How do you attract audiences who might not have ties to Latin America and the Caribbean to stories from and about those places?

PH: Great stories are interesting to read and see, wherever you are from. Last year, we did a tremendously powerful multimedia series and interactive about Mexico’s plague of kidnappings and the horrors that violence has wrought on families and communities, and another enterprise series out of Brazil that measured frankly stomach-churning levels of water pollution at Rio Olympic sites. Both of those projects had impact far beyond the region’s borders. On spot news, our aim is to add context, analysis and sweep that few other international news organizations can match. For instance, on the recent Zika outbreak, the reporting and images of our team in Brazil was complimented by science and medical writers in NY, London, Brussels and elsewhere as well as business and travel writers in the United States and an interactive and social media team that helped bring it all together. We try to remember that we must be different things for different clients. We have regional Spanish-language clients interested in more granular developments, and global clients who may have a smaller appetite but want the stories from Latin America that they do use to be vivid and informative.

KC: In some countries in the region, local journalists have reported restrictions on their reporting or access to information. Is this a concern for your team?

PH: AP has been digging for news and sharing it across a wide spectrum for 170 years. We are resourceful. We are enterprising. We know that our customers and audiences rely on us to do the big stories and to keep them abreast of breaking news day by day. I’ve worked in many different countries in my career, from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Cuba, Haiti and  Mexico. I can say that every country has its challenges, whether it is access or danger or a lack of communications or infrastructure. AP journalists face many of the same issues in these countries as local reporters, and of course they are always a concern. But we will continue to pursue the news wherever it is, in Latin America and elsewhere.

KC: The AP said in a press release that your appointment “is part of a transformation to make the cooperative fully cross-format.” Could you explain this a bit more?

PH: My appointment as News Director for Latin America makes me AP's fourth all-formats news director on the international front, following similar promotions in the past few years in the Mideast, Europe and the Asia/Pacific region. Quite simply, AP sees it as vital amid the ever-faster dissemination and consumption of news over a widening array of platforms and devices to plan coverage with text reporters, video staff, photographers and social media specialists together at the same table, to quicken our response and generate greater efficiency and cooperation among colleagues.

KC: What are the biggest stories in Latin America and the Caribbean that your team is covering now?

PH: Right now we are preparing for U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, and of course the Rio Olympics later this summer. The Zika story has burst upon us with the potential to impact virtually the entire continent. More broadly, we are focused on showing how global events affect real people. That could be the economic crises and political upheavals gripping so many countries in Latin America, or the violence pushing thousands of Central Americans to attempt the dangerous journey north. This really is an exciting and important time in Latin America and it’s an honor to be part of our coverage.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.