"Our biggest challenge is to optimise the way we work together."
What are the main threads of AFP's editorial strategy given the persistent crisis in the media and the rise in importance of images?
For the past 10 years, the Agency has been moving towards increasingly visual journalism. Our common goal remains to produce high-quality multimedia journalism, which requires everyone -- text, photo and video -- to work together to collect information for all sections of the Agency. As we are no longer working in silos, it is often the case that the first video images of an event are taken by a photographer or a text journalist. Given this, we are placing a significant emphasis on on-the-ground reporting, as our coverage in 2018 shows. The work of the social media department and online support teams have allowed us to explore another field, virtual this time, in which our expertise in the fight against fake news is taking shape. But there are other intelligent choices to be made. Our biggest challenge is to optimise the way we work together while responding more effectively to our clients' needs, especially in terms of forward planning.
So AFP's multimedia culture goes hand-in-hand with a culture of anticipating events?
It's a necessity. At a time when newsrooms are losing staff to manage our production and when our portfolio of TV clients is expanding, we have to ensure that our clients are using our content the best they can. They need to be able to find our content quickly and be informed of our coverage plans as soon as possible. Our ability to anticipate events translates into efficiency gains for them. The BBC has made us grow in this domain. A client of this high calibre wants to know months in advance what we are planning. This has forced us to have answers a long time in advance, which we were not able to do previously. This organisational change brings us back to the importance of the agenda, which involves everyone at AFP. Entering detailed information about events and displaying this using a new client platform we are developing is of fundamental importance. It is also journalism, not bureaucracy.
Is the rise of visual journalism, led by video, changing the way AFP works editorially?
The strength of our video product lies in its quality, widely recognised, and its more than 1,000 hours of live coverage every month. With the introduction of our control room in Washington, we now have the ability to transmit 24 hours per day. The live video project has changed the workflows of our journalism. When one of our reporters is on the ground, the images are transmitted immediately to our clients around the globe. This immediacy on a news story did not exist in the past. Live has also changed the way we work in video because our teams on the ground are transmitting live while the desk continues to edit our other content. And as our live content shows, some subjects that were traditionally drive by text are now driven by image. This has led us, for example, to launch our photoessay format, which is based on visual storytelling. The text is built around the image and we no longer necessarily need to have a long article as the base. This is a big change in our editorial approach, in part linked to our digital culture.
Does this mean that text is declining at the Agency?
We have to put the changes in context. Of our 1,700 staff journalists, 1,050 are from the text side. Text remains the spine of the newsroom and contributes most, in terms of volume, to newsgathering for all the Agency's services. That will remain the case. The proof of this is that we continue to send more text reporters out into the field and we are developing fact-checking, which is mainly a text format. We are also experimenting with long-form investigative journalism harnessing our network. In commercial terms, we are selling multimedia journalism and video only works if the text is solid. The BBC chose AFPTV because it was also convinced that our text was reliable. We need to adjust our resources to invest in video but it would not be in our interests to weaken the text side.
As the audience moves towards social media, how does AFP plan to respond.
It is true that a growing proportion of our audience is moving towards this digital space, which is dominated by images. We urgently need to develop more innovative ways of storytelling and content aimed at young people, in order to help our clients adapt to this new reality. This is a strong request from traditional media who have lost their audience to social media. Our response comes in the form of a digital journalism cell that is currently in an experimental phase. This cell will produce new photo and video formats designed for social media, mainly Facebook and YouTube. This content will complement our raw and live video production, which is already designed for these digital platforms. We already have the tools and the data. Now we need to find topics that appeal to this target group. We are thinking of ways to promote the ideas and suggestions from young journalists by bringing them more into the editorial decision-making process.
Can the Agency still rely on its network as a selling point?
AFP's global network is both a goldmine and a unique selling point. AFP has offices all over the world because our public service mandate requires it. It is also what our clients expect of us because where we are strong, our competition are often weaker or have pulled out. We should not hesitate then to point out where we offer a point of difference in our coverage. We therefore made an effort to distinguish ourselves by covering the independence referendum in New Caledonia. This was not a global top news story but the world's big media needed content and the video pick-ups were excellent. Same thing for the presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo: our presence there paid off.
November 14, 2018 – Edinburgh, Scotland – Phil Chetwynd at a NewsXchange conference, which brings together distributors and producers of televised news from around the world.
Editor's note: AFP's Global Chief Editor since 2012, Phil Chetwynd was appointed Global News Director on 9 January 2019.