Years of experience on the entertainment beat make Ryan Pearson and AP the go-to after Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death.
AP’s Los Angeles entertainment video manager Ryan Pearson was spending time with his family Friday evening when a publicist reached out with stunning news: “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman was dead. No one else knew yet and she said she wanted a reputable source, The Associated Press, to break the news. Another outlet, she worried, was getting close.
Pearson immediately alerted others in the entertainment vertical and set out to write an obituary that shocked the world.
The news alert and short story moved a few minutes before an announcement posted to Boseman’s social media accounts. Already, people were rushing to apnews.com for details – so many that it briefly crashed the site.
From the start, Pearson’s story conveyed the immensity of the story – one of Hollywood’s most prominent Black actors, who had never publicly revealed he was sick, was dead of colon cancer at 43.
Many of his years in the spotlight – from his first appearance in a Marvel film to the blockbuster success of “Black Panther” in 2018 – had been spent battling the disease. Although Boseman’s team put out a social media post about five minutes after Pearson’s story moved, outlets including ABC, CBS and Fox all credited AP. It took one major competitor 50 minutes to match the story.
By then, AP had sent out a video obituary, a collection of images and a solid text obituary compiled from scratch.
The story quickly became the biggest of the month on AP News and mobile, amassing more than 1.2 million views on the main obit, with another 500,000 on the news alert and tens of thousands of views on a reaction piece sidebar and Pearson’s writerly turn of the story. The text saw extensive customer usage and engagement on Facebook.
As Pearson worked to assemble the text story, Entertainment’s video staff hustled to get footage to clients. Entertainment journalist Alicia Rancilio filed a more expansive video obituary, while producer John Carucci fashioned a makeshift studio in his closet to voice a consumer version cut by colleague Gary Hamilton. Entertainment photo director Ali Kaufman moved a selection of portraits and images of Boseman throughout the years, illustrating the multiple stories filed.
Film writer Jake Coyle assisted with background Friday night, and crafted a poignant appreciation of Boseman on Saturday morning. The strong work continued throughout the weekend, with entertainment writer Jonathan Landrum Jr. writing a story that linked Boseman’s death to those of other Black icons like Kobe Bryant and Rep. John Lewis in the past year. That story was the No. 1 most used by customers on Sunday.
All made possible by the tip Pearson received. He had interviewed Boseman eight times over the years dating back to 2013, so knew the actor and his work well. He’d worked closely with the publicist who called him, and he had a strong relationship with her company. The representative knew AP and above all wanted Boseman’s death to be reported by a responsible news organization. She held off putting it on social media until after the AP’s story had moved.
For source and beat development that led to a tip on perhaps the biggest entertainment story of the year, and for all the important work that followed to serve AP’s audience, Pearson wins AP’s Best of the Week.