Associated Press correspondents are in the Middle East with American troops, continuing a 150-year tradition of "being there" for major news events, the news service's general news editor said Tuesday.

Rene J. "Jack" Cappon told members of Rotary International at the organization's 15th annual John F. Fitzpatrick Lecture that AP was present to hear Abraham Lincoln's address at Gettysburg, was present at Ford theater the night Lincoln was shot, and that an AP correspondent died with Custer at Little Big Horn. He said AP correspondents followed troops ashore during the Normandy invasion in World War II, huddled with troops in the frozen hills of Korea and struggled through the steaming jungles of Vietnam in an effort to keep America and the world informed."We hope our correspondents in Saudi Arabia will not become full-fledged war correspondents, but no matter what happens, the AP will be there," Cappon said. Cappon said initial coverage of the U.S. deployment in the Middle East was complicated by military secrecy and the clash of cultures. As things have settled down, the ability to transmit stories has improved thanks to a "first-class" communications system. And, Saudi officials have overcome their initial shyness and now provide news reporters red-carpet service on par with "smooth New York public relations firms."

Though modern technology has made worldwide communications a snap, the task of gathering the news remains a slow and laborious task, dependent on the skills of the reporters.

"Although we had a reporter in Kuwait when the invasion occurred, we had to wait nearly a week before she could get out of the country and report what she had seen," Cappon said. He said the task of gathering news in the Middle East remains dangerous. The AP correspondent in Baghdad was recently warned that reporting news displeasing to Iraqi officials could result in his death or disappearance. And, Cappon noted, Terry Anderson, the head of AP's Middle East operations, has been a hostage in Lebanon for more than five years.

Cappon, who heads the AP's writing program, said a major challenge facing newspapers is keeping readers. He said there is little doubt that most adults are turning to television as their main source of news. He said this is largely due to the gray, stilted and wordy nature of many newspapers.

"Reading some newspapers is like having a series of small strokes," Cappon said. "Newspapers must realize that a community is more than the sum total of its disasters."

Cappon said reporters must move beyond the "earth-shaking" stories and find the human stories that are compelling, ironic, funny and that convey the essence of the community. He said stories should get to the point quickly; talk to the reader, not at him; and should avoid trite cliches.

Cappon said he believes U.S. news services are the best in the world and that they continue to provide fair and accurate information. He said the AP is committed to meeting the challenges ahead and maintaining the tradition of "being there" at all major news events.