When an overnight blaze swept through Greece’s biggest refugee camp on the Mediterranean island of Lesbos, AP was quicker and better than the competition in getting the story, producing cross-format coverage that stood out, even as much of the world media flocked to the chaotic scene.
Derek Gatopoulos, AP’s veteran text reporter based in Athens, launched the coverage after spotting Twitter posts about the fire in the middle of the night. Realizing the situation was serious, he woke colleagues in other formats and wrote at quick story that moved just after 3 a.m. in Greece, about 20 minutes ahead of the competition.
Gatopoulos stayed up through the night filing updates until bureau chief Elena Becatoros and Athens reporter Nicholas Paphitis took over the mainbar in the morning. Meanwhile, senior video producer Theodora Tongas and chief photographer Thanassis Stavrakis in Athens worked with Lesbos-based freelancers Vangelis Papantonis and Panagiotis Balaskas to get the first images out, while editors in London and the U.S. hunted for user generated content.
AP was far ahead of its major video competition. AP had filed its fifth video edit by the time one if its main competitors had its second. AP’s 15 edits in the first 24 hours combined for spectacular play.
The top edit, showing migrants camped out on a road in the morning, received nearly 1,000 hits. The photo play was equally impressive. An image by Balaskas showing the silhouettes of migrants running from the blaze got nearly 700 online matches just in Germany and Switzerland. Balaskas also provided widely used drone footage.
Athens photographer Petros Giannakouris and freelance video journalist Iliana Mier arrived on the island as new fires started the following day, destroying what was left of the camp and triggering a humanitarian crisis as 12,000 migrants found themselves homeless. Carrying LiveU gear from Athens, Mier provided live shots that a rival video service couldn’t match for days, while Giannakouris captured the panic and despair with powerful photos that made the front pages of The New York Times, Britain's Sunday Times and others. The Guardian led their selection of the best 20 photos of the week with one of Giannakouris’ photos of migrants clutching their children as they fled the camp. Meanwhile, Becatoros and Paphitis filed their story on this latest blaze and the plight of the migrants.
For their quick, competitive response and extraordinary performance to put AP well ahead, the team of Giannakouris, Gatopoulos, Tongas, Stavrakis, Balaskas, Mier, Papantonis, Becatoros and Paphitis shares Best of the Week honors.