AP photographers often scramble to the scene of a news story before it’s clear what is happening.
That was the case on a beautiful Halloween afternoon last week when a call came in to the New York City bureau that there was a swarm of police activity near the AP’s lower Manhattan headquarters. News Editor David Caruso ran to the windows and saw an unbroken string of police cars speeding south on the West Side Highway, going down the wrong side of the street.
That was unusual enough for him to start getting reporters, photographers and videographers scrambling out the door. At that point, there was nothing specific on police scanners or social media, just chatter about a possible shooting, an accident or both.
AP photographer Bebeto Matthews ran to a location near Stuyvesant High School, which was blocked by police. When an officer chased after a bike messenger who was getting too close, Matthews saw his chance to slip behind police lines and start walking up the street near the west side bike path. He noticed something white on the path and soon realized it was a body covered in a sheet and surrounded by crumpled bicycles and other debris. He began furiously taking pictures, called in what he saw to the desk and then ducked behind some construction equipment to start transmitting his photos on the spot.
Matthews next ran to nearby Manhattan Community College, talked his way inside and clambered up the stairs to the second-floor windows, where he was among the first to get a clear shot of a white Home Depot rental pickup truck with a mashed front end.
By then, AP photographer Mark Lennihan and stringer photographers Craig Ruttle and Andres Kudacki had also rushed to the scene, and editors back in the office were beginning to piece together what would become the worst terrorist attack in New York City since 9/11: A man in a truck had plowed down bicyclists on the busy bike path before smashing into a school bus, killing eight people and leaving a dozen more wounded.
Lennihan got on the scene shortly after Matthews, taking dramatic shots of the truck, the wrecked school bus and the wounded. Ruttle, who hopped onto a CitiBike and pedaled 60 blocks to the scene, captured dramatic images of other bodies and smashed bikes strewn along the path. Kudacki also shot images of the wounded, the city’s Halloween parade and the scene through the night.
Their efforts were rewarded with spectacular play. Matthews’ shots appeared on the front page of both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. And AP images, in general, headlined most major news websites as well the front pages of a staggering 130 newspapers.
“It was your rapid response, determination to get the scene and fast turnaround of your images that put us well ahead of the competition,” said AP acting Director of Photography Denis Paquin.
Photography paced stellar, all-formats coverage of the story by AP journalists in New York and around the world. In addition to the mainbar, that included great vignettes and stories on the mostly foreign victims, a strong portrait of the suspect and a nice sense-of-place story on how terror once again visited lower Manhattan.
For strong breaking news work that put AP ahead and kept us there, Matthews, Lennihan, Ruttle and Kudacki win this weeks’ Best of the States Award and the $300 that goes with it.