NEW YORK, N.Y. – Kathleen Carroll, the executive editor of The Associated Press who championed ambitious, investigative journalism and pushed the co-operative forward in a rapidly changing digital world, announced Wednesday that she will step down after 14 years leading the world’s oldest news agency.
Gary Pruitt, president and chief executive officer of the AP, praised Carroll warmly and said she will help with the leadership transition. Carroll is to leave at the end of the year, and a successor is expected to be in place in by Jan. 1.
“If AP were a sports team, we would be retiring Kathleen’s number” Pruitt said. “I respect Kathleen’s decision to move on from AP and appreciate her years of leadership and service… Her combined extraordinary editorial skill, committed engagement with staff, toughness and compassion have made AP news what it is today.”
The announcement of Carroll’s departure comes three months after the AP was awarded its first Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, for an exhaustive investigation of slavery in the Southeast Asian fishing industry. The AP won four other Pulitzers, six George Polk Awards and 15 Overseas Press Club Awards under Carroll’s tenure.
“Fourteen years is a long, long time to do this job,” Carroll said in an interview. “I’ve had a good run. The place is strong and the people are strong and they’ll take it to the next level. It feels like a good time. You don’t want to stay too long. You don’t want to be stinky cheese.”
Carroll, 60, the former Knight Ridder Washington bureau chief and a former writer and editor in four AP bureaus, was appointed in 2002. During her tenure, she helped establish bureaus in North Korea, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia, and she led the AP’s transformation from a primarily newspaper-focused agency to one that produces video, photography and text stories for all platforms.
“She has pushed the AP to take on the hardest stories and do the most ambitious work,” said Martin Baron, editor of The Washington Post. “While she was consistently attentive to AP’s clients, more importantly she was animated by its mission to serve the public… She also was unwavering in her commitment to get at the truth and have AP tell things as they really were.”
The AP, founded in 1848, is among the world’s most influential news organizations and provides content to more than 15,000 news outlets with a daily reach of 1 billion people around the globe. Its multimedia services are distributed by satellite and the Internet to more than 120 nations.
As a news service that sells its work directly to newspapers, broadcasters, websites and others, the AP’s journalists tend to be less visible than many. In a brutal time for the news industry, the AP has shrunk by hundreds of journalists under Carroll’s tenure. Yet, it has kept up its standards, said Ken Doctor, a media consultant for Newsonomics and Politico.
“It seemed like the AP might become less relevant in the increasingly digital age. What I have seen is what I think is the staying power and sustainability of the AP as one of the pillars of daily journalism,” Doctor said. “There are half the number of working daily journalists in the United States as there were in 1990, increasing the importance of the AP.”
Ann Marie Lipinski, curator for the Nieman Foundation and editor of the Chicago Tribune for nearly eight years in the 2000s, called Carroll “a righteous and strong voice for the best journalism,” adding that “she did a really excellent job at a very difficult time.”
Carroll was an inspiration for women at a time their number is shrinking in executive suites at top news organizations, Lipinski said. In 2004, there were seven women among the top editors of the 25 biggest U.S. newspapers; 10 years later there were three.
The News Media Guild represents AP’s editorial employees in the U.S. Guild president Martha Waggoner said that “although the Guild doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with management, there was never any question about Kathleen’s commitment to the AP mission of producing extraordinary journalism in every format.”
Carroll said she most proud of pushing the AP beyond covering breaking news to providing coverage that’s compelling and distinctive. “Even in the middle of a breaking news story, our ethos is now to break news off of that,” she said. “We break news now. That was not part of the DNA as much when I came here, to be perfectly honest.”
She strongly backed the tough, methodical work of Esther Htusan, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell and Martha Mendoza — the women who earned the AP its recent Pulitzer and whose stories freed thousands of slaves, said John Daniszewski, editor at large for standards, formerly its international editor.
Carroll has pushed to break down silos among the AP’s print, video and photo departments, he said.
“She has been very focused on adjusting the AP to the new digital world that we live in and bringing together all of the tools and talents of the AP in service of excellence,” he said.
In July 2013, Carroll became the first journalist to address the United Nations Security Council about reporter safety. She currently serves as vice-chair of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Carroll said that listening to customers and readers is vital at a challenging time in the industry. “A lot of smart people are trying a lot of different things and some of them will stick. That process I think is good for journalism. I also think it’s good for journalism to be challenged,” she said.
Carroll said her plans after leaving AP include taking a cooking class, some long-postponed trips with her husband and joining in family events leading up to their son’s college graduation in the spring. She said she wanted to “reclaim some life that hasn’t been within easy reach during these 14 years.”
Associated Press Writer Mark Kennedy in New York contributed to this report.