Kent Cooper (March 22, 1880 - January 31, 1965) was a distinguished journalist who served with the Associated Press (AP) for more than 50 years, holding the position of general manager from 1925 to 1948 and concluding his career as executive director. Cooper is best known for headlining the jump of the Associated Press from a small news organization into an influential, world-wide publication. Through his efforts, AP became the leader among the world's major news agencies, the others being Reuters, Agence France-Presse, and UPI. Under Cooper’s leadership and direction the Associated Press launched various innovative techniques, including the use of teletypes, high-speed printing machines, and the wire-transmitting of news photography.
A long time advocate of freedom of the press, Cooper authored several books addressing the public's right to know and the important role of the media in reporting the truth. In this way, he substantially contributed to the improvement of human society.
Kent Cooper was born in Columbus, Indiana on March 22, 1880. Cooper was known throughout his life as “K.C.” He was born to educated parents; his father, a democratic U.S. congressman, met his mother at Indiana University where they both graduated in 1872.
By the time Kent attended Indiana University in 1898, he sought only to become a newspaperman, and had already begun writing articles for his hometown newspaper in Columbus. Because the university offered no courses in journalism, Cooper pursued English. However Cooper’s creative instincts were staunchly unappreciated in many of his English courses, and on the brink of failing, Cooper left Indiana University in 1899 after his father’s death.
Cooper began working as a reporter with the Indianapolis Press before joining the Scripps-McRae Press Association, a precursor to the United Press International. Cooper’s journalist innovations quickly caught the attention of Melville Stone, editor of the Associated Press. He began working with the organization in 1910.
During this time Cooper also pursued music, writing various songs that were played at Radio City Music Hall and on the radio show, “Your Hit Parade”. In honor of his brief collegiate career, Cooper wrote “Indiana Forever”. He married Marian Rothwell in 1920, though the couple would divorce in 1940 after twenty years of marriage.
In 1941, amidst a successful career in the news industry, Cooper would receive an honorary degree from Indiana University. He died on January 31, 1965 in West Palm Beach, Florida. He is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York.
Cooper joined the Associated Press (AP) in 1910 as a traveling inspector. He soon approached editor Melville Stone with an idea to use telephone rather than telegraph to send news to remotely located newspapers. Impressed with the idea, Stone had the Associated Press adopt the technique and promoted Cooper to chief of the traffic department in 1912. By 1920, Cooper had been promoted to assistant general manager, and in 1925 assumed the position of general manager under editor Frederick Roy Martin. He would remain with the Associated Press for 41 years.
Under Cooper’s management, the Associated Press emerged as a leader among international news agencies. By encouraging writers to include livelier styles of writing and attention grabbing features, Cooper transformed the AP into a respected and leading news agency. In managing the business, he also adopted various innovative techniques. Believing international news transcripts to be biased, Cooper sought to receive more accurate international accounts by employing his own reporters abroad. Under Cooper’s leadership, in 1929 the Associated Press opened bureaus in Great Britain, France, and Germany, removing all European influence in 1934.
Cooper was also influential in converting the AP’s main news wire from Morse code into teletype circuit, which allowed the organization to transmit news reports at over 60 words per minute. Other innovations included high-speed printing machines and the wire-transmitting of news photography, known at the time as AP Wirephoto. This innovation, which Cooper conceived in 1935, allowed news photographs to be sent to numerous newspapers on the same day, and terminated lengthy waiting times for photos to be mailed. This process would later launch Wide World Photos, Incorporated.
Cooper sought to humanize the types of stories that were included in the Associated Press. By increasing regional coverage throughout the United States, adding celebrity interviews and financial features, and expanding sports coverage, Cooper transformed the Associated Press into an organization known for its candid and unbiased news reporting. By 1940, more than 1,400 member papers belonged to the Associated Press, and the organization began selling various news reports to radio stations.
A relentless supporter of the freedom of the press, Cooper authored The Right to Know in 1956, bringing the phrase into popular usage. Under his management, the Associated Press received its first Pulitzer Prize in 1922 for a series by Kirke L. Simpson regarding the tomb of the Unknown Solider in Washington, D.C.’s Arlington National Cemetery. As of 2007, the organization had received 49 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other news organization in categories for which it can compete.
Kent Cooper is best known for transforming the Associated Press into the world’s largest international news cooperative. A shrewd and innovative journalist, Cooper pioneered many of the publishing techniques that are still used today. A longtime advocate of the international freedom of the press, Cooper regarded true and unbiased news as "the highest original moral concept ever developed in America and given to the world." Cooper was the author of numerous articles and publications including Barriers Down, Anna Zenger, The Right to Know, and an autobiography, Kent Cooper and the Associated Press. His prestigious career in international journalism spanned more than 50 years.
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