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Michèle Léridon

Michèle Léridon

Global News Director

« AFP has a crucial role to play against fake news. »

2017 was dominated by the battle against fake news. To what extent has this become a priority for AFP?

We have taken several concrete steps, following on from consultations launched after Brexit and Donald Trump's election. First, we need to get out on the ground, get a better sense of what the people are thinking, not just the experts. Also, we need to watch what is circulating on social media much more closely, especially distorted information, manipulation, etc. AFP has a crucial role to play in this area! Of course, we need to provide news that is checked and cross-checked but we also need to expose fake news by stepping up our fact-checking efforts. Finally, we need to publish verified and balanced information beyond our usual distribution channels, using formats adapted to the new ways information is consumed.

What methods have you used to check and expose fake news?

For a long time, we thought it was enough to provide serious information, without worrying about rumours that might be circulating elsewhere. Now we realise how much weight fake news can carry. That's how the CrossCheck project was born, a collaborative fact-checking platform bringing together 38 media partners under AFP's supervision with the support of the First Draft network and Google's Digital News Initiative. Dozens of fact-checking articles were published via this platform during the French presidential election campaign. Since then we have launched Factuel, a fact-checking blog created in partnership with Facebook based on an initiative involving eight French-language media.

Is this new approach due to the fact the Agency is putting more emphasis on social networks?

Clearly the emergence of social networks has changed the way we work and how we see our profession. It is a change of culture but it has not made us forget our fundamental principles: reliability, impartiality and independence. That said, contrary to what one might think, social media have made us more prudent. At a time when anyone can post a photo or video of an event he or she has witnessed, there is of course a race to secure this content (User Generated Content or UGC) but we are expected to verify it. So instead of running after the social networks, we take the time to check the information spread on them.

What role does data journalism play in this area?

Data journalism plays its part in this same effort of checking, journalistic rigour and making the final product attractive. We made considerable strides during the French presidential election. A good example was the candidates' manifestos: several departments working together produced a very precise database for the two primaries and then for the election itself. Excel spread sheets allowed users to view candidates' policies immediately and we were able to be very reactive, especially when there "AFP has a crucial role to play against fake news." Michèle LÉRIDON Global News Director were policy shifts. Our data journalists also contributed to producing interactive graphics that were visually attractive and sometimes even entertaining.

In terms of individual departments, AFP Video has hit new heights, as shown by the contract signed with the BBC.

The BBC is a major client but also an industry ally with which we have close contacts. The BBC is very keen to work with us on the ground as it expands its global language network exponentially. But it also sets priorities and has proved to be demanding, which helps us to progress. After two years of discussions and trials, the BBC chose AFPTV for its video coverage and this is a real source of pride for us. This has also encouraged us to launch our internet delivery platform for live video services. We needed an accessible and flexible tool that could offer several streams simultaneously. It has been a success!

Has the development of the video service been possible with the same staff levels as before?

We are continuing to redeploy staff. Our overall staff levels have remained stable, meaning we are cutting jobs -- mainly in text and in France -- and redeploying them towards video, the Agency's strategic priority, but also towards our social media department and data analysis. In terms of video, we are now working to reinforce our editing desks in Paris, Washington, London, Nicosia and Hong Kong. This will relieve the pressure on our teams, which have been working very hard to drive AFPTV forward in terms of volume and quality. The other revolution has been that our text desks have taken charge of multimedia editing.

En termes de métiers, la vidéo AFP a marqué de nouveaux points, comme en atteste le contrat signé avec la BBC…

La BBC est un client important, c’est aussi une rédaction amie avec laquelle les échanges sont nombreux. Au moment où elle développe de façon exponentielle son réseau de langues dans le monde, la BBC est très demandeuse d’un travail avec nous sur le terrain. Mais elle fixe aussi ses priorités et se montre exigeante, ce qui nous aide à progresser. Après deux années de discussions et de tests, que la BBC ait fait le choix d’AFPTV pour sa couverture vidéo est pour nous un vrai motif de fierté. Cela nous a aussi encouragé à lancer notre plateforme de livraison de notre service live par internet. Il fallait un outil accessible et souple, capable de proposer plusieurs flux simultanés, c’est une réussite !

We have made a lot of progress when it comes to preparing missions, in terms of equipment, training and logistics. For several years, we have been very closely monitoring the post-mission phase, especially watching for post-traumatic symptoms or depression that our staff could suffer. In addition to a systematic debrief at the end of every mission, we have begun a partnership with Eutelmed, which offers remote anonymous psychological consultations. If there is a group problem, we have a crisis cell that can be called up, as was the case with the Mexico bureau, which was very shaken by the assassination of our stringer Javier Valdez and earthquakes in September.

Has the Weinstein case, another big moment of 2017, sparked an internal discussion?

The case made an impression and we take the issue of sexual harassment at work very seriously. In a way, the news caught up with our own internal debate about the place of women in our production. The initiative came from two journalists I asked to examine the topic. I have implemented the majority of their recommendations. We needed clear guidelines, not only in terms of feminising job titles in French but also using more female sources.