When AP reporter Julhas Alam arrived at the burned-out building in Bangladesh, he was determined to find out what brands were being made in the clothing factory, where a fire had swept through and killed 122.
He bided his time. Then, when all other media were gone, he politely asked a policeman if he and an AP photographer could go inside. For two hours that day in December, Alam sifted through boxes and pored over order books and clothes left on sewing machines as workers fled. What he found reverberated around the world, and continues to prompt reform: children’s clothes, hooded sweatshirts, shorts and sweaters bearing the names of some of the best-known Western brands.
The story received worldwide attention, breaking even as holiday gift shoppers were out buying many of the same brand names. The companies involved reported that they had either stopped doing business with the factory earlier or didn’t know their clothes were being made there. Since then, many have stepped up vigilance on their chain of manufacturing.
We tell you this story because it deftly illustrates AP’s unique strengths: the global footprint to cover news wherever it happens; the local reporter with a deep understanding of his territory and the right connections; the worldwide network of bureaus and editors to hone coverage and plumb it for relevance. In short, AP produces news that very few organizations in the world can, but that everyone needs.
Last year, we focused on strengthening our ability to provide critical news and services to our members and customers – from broadening our reach and rolling out efficient new delivery platforms to harnessing the power of mobile business models and reinforcing AP’s financial health. We enter 2013 stronger, and with a plan to help our current customers compete better than ever and to garner new ones, whether in untapped locations or uncharted business terrain. Our goal is to be nothing less than the global news leader.
We expanded our reach in critical areas last year: opening a bureau in North Korea, making AP the only Western news organization with a full-time multimedia office there, while also establishing a cross-format bureau in Eastern Europe to create competitive advantage in an underserved area.
Our initiative to convert all AP video and video infrastructure to high definition was completed on time and under budget, with AP video fully HD for both the 2012 London Summer Games and the U.S. presidential election. We also built new delivery platforms for the businesses where we see greatest growth potential for AP: video and images. One of them, AP Video Hub, was designed specifically to provide digital publishers and news sites easy-to-access self-serve video, whether breaking news, 24/7 live streaming or archival footage. It proved to be an immediate success.
Like our geographic reach, AP’s footprint in mobile news continues to grow. AP Mobile, one of the highest-rated news apps in the iTunes store, hit the 12 million download mark last year, its popularity evident with 97 percent of visitors returning regularly. We also launched deep content verticals we are calling Digital News Experiences that let our newspaper and broadcast members easily integrate AP coverage into their own branded sites and drive advertising revenue. The vertical pegged to the Summer Games last year attracted major national advertisers. This year, microsites will cover motor sports, football and basketball. With hundreds of AP members signed up, we believe these verticals are an important model for digital growth.
From Syria to every U.S. statehouse, we deepened our determination to provide the news our customers need most, and can most trust. In the U.S., local and state reporters drilled into issues of high impact for our members, using databases and freedom of information law to report on corruption, questionable judgment, broken systems and hidden agendas.
In Syria, where the story is often too dangerous to report firsthand, enterprising AP staff developed a system to verify user-generated content, putting us ahead of the competition in video coverage. AP photographers captured some of the most compelling images of the conflict, winning, among other prizes, first place in the Pictures of the Year International award for Manu Brabo’s heart-wrenching shot of a Syrian father cradling his bloodied, dead son. In all, AP photographers won an unparalleled eight first prizes in the global competition.
We strengthened our financial health last year as well. Total revenue was $622.2 million, and the company grew EBITDA for the first time in five years. Our bank debt peaked in August and we ended the year with debt at about half of the peak. We feel confident that bank borrowings will be fully repaid by early next year. You can find our full financials here.
As we have since our founding nearly 170 years ago, AP continued to lead the fight for open government. In 2012, we filed more than 50 Freedom of Information Act appeals on behalf of members, ourselves or other parties.
We also continued to fight the case against misappropriation of our news. In a sweeping victory for AP, for those who produce original news and for the public that relies on it, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in AP’s favor in a suit against Meltwater News, an electronic clipping service, for taking and reselling AP news without a license.
In the coming year, we will take a comprehensive look at our news licensing business to identify new targets for growth, and to make sure that our news resources are positioned in the most competitive way. For members and customers this will mean content and solutions that help them succeed. For news consumers the world over, it means more of what AP does best: news they must know and can trust. We look forward to telling you about it in next year’s annual report.
Gary Pruitt, President and Chief Executive Officer
Mary Junck, Chairman