When tornadoes tore through Middle Tennessee in the early-morning hours of Super Tuesday, AP staff deftly pivoted from preparing for the state’s primary to covering a natural disaster.
Just hours before polls were to open for Super Tuesday, tornadoes cut a lethal swath across central Tennessee, and AP staffers responded.
Despite a lack of power at their own homes, reporter Kimberlee Kruesi and video journalist Kristin Hall mobilized quickly, joined by their Nashville colleagues, reporters Travis Loller and Jonathan Mattise, and photographer Mark Humphrey. From first light on Tuesday, and throughout the day, they delivered compelling text, video and photos of the devastation that left at least 24 dead statewide.
Others engaged quickly as well, including Tennessee sports editor Teresa Walker, who drove to hard-hit Putnam County that afternoon for words and video, and Memphis correspondent Adrian Sainz, who connected the disaster to the primaries by monitoring its impact on voting, for national and state stories, including a court challenge seeking to keep polls open late.
As day turned to night, Humphrey, who had covered hockey the previous evening, raced from a helicopter tour with the governor to an emergency polling place in a community center, where he shot from behind a basketball goal, showing a long line of voters waiting to use one voting machine. Humphrey used a monopod and wireless triggers still in his car from the hockey game.
The following day, Kruesi examined the effectiveness of the region’s warning system while Loller and Hall drove to Putnam for one of the week’s most compelling stories, about how one family’s home became an impromptu support center for those who had nothing left.
A presidential visit followed on Friday, then another strong story Saturday by Loller and Humphrey about North Nashville's recovery efforts. Finally, Hall and Humphrey on Sunday attended a damaged church’s moving worship service. Others pitched in significantly throughout the week, including Louisville-based breaking news staffers Becky Yonker and Beth Campbell, freelance photographer Wade Payne, Washington’s Darlene Superville and Alex Brandon, and the entire South Desk, combining forces in a team effort that showed the AP at its best.
Two of the AP’s top videos of the week were from the tornado, an impressive feat in a week with coronavirus and political coverage dominating the landscape. Tuesday’s story was the most-read single story of the week on AP News, logging more than 800,000 pageviews as of late last week. And the initial storm story was the second most downloaded by customers from AP Newsroom, second only to the national Super Tuesday story. The cleanup and church stories sustained that momentum, each garnering strong play.
For proving nimble, responsive and collaborative coverage on a major breaking news story under chaotic conditions, the multiformat Tennessee team of Travis Loller, Kristin Hall, Kimberlee Kruesi, Mark Humphrey, Jonathan Mattise, Adrian Sainz and Teresa Walker shares this week’s Best of the States award.