Despite countless obstacles in the wake of a towering explosion, AP’s talented and resourceful Beirut staff responded immediately, delivering compelling coverage seen worldwide.
Tuesday afternoon’s deafening explosion tore through Beirut and shattered everything in a few terrifying seconds, badly damaging the AP bureau and the homes of several AP employees in the Lebanese capital. Three employees were injured in their homes by broken glass.
But despite the mayhem and injuries, the AP team sprang into action to deliver standout coverage of an event that killed more than 170 people and injured some 6,000, sending a mushroom cloud over the city.
The staff encountered obstacle and after obstacle from the moment of the explosion. The phone network in Beirut stopped working, but staff quickly adapted and found that the audio function on the WhatsApp service continued to function. Staffers used it to let each other know they had survived and communicate about what they were seeing.
Journalists headed to the office to collect gear, only to find the bureau had suffered significant damage, with windows and glass blown out and debris everywhere.
Photo editor Hussein Malla and photographer Hassan Ammar ran in the direction of the smoke, reporting back that they were seeing dead bodies and wounded people on the streets. Ammar and Malla produced many of the signature images of the event, and their photos ran on the front page of The New York Times on consecutive days.
The first video edit – images of a destroyed street – ran an hour after the blast, captured by deputy news director Balint Szlanko (injured in the blast himself) with his cellphone and fed to London through WhatsApp. Early the next day, Malla took his drone over the blast site, capturing the first drone footage for any international or local news organization. In the following days, the AP had extensive coverage of the recovery efforts at the blast site and in the destroyed neighborhood and good live shots from several locations, along with robust spot and enterprise coverage off the news. Ammar produced an evocative series of portraits showing residents in the ruins of their homes.
In addition to Malla, Ammar and Szlanko, other Beirut staffers contributing to the urgent bureau-wide effort were: news director Zeina Karam, reporters Sarah El Deeb and Bassam Mroue, senior producers Dalal Mawad and Bassam Hatoum, producers Hend Kortam and Ahmad Mousa, photographer Bilal Hussein and camera operator Fadi Tawil. Arriving to reinforce the staff were: Rome video journalist Andrea Rosa, Barcelona-based visual journalist Felipe Dana, Paris photographer Thibault Camus, Geneva video journalist Nadine Achoui Lesage and stringer photographer Mohammed Zaatari.
The outstanding work was magnified by the fact that a large majority of broadcasters and other news organizations didn’t have a journalist residing in Beirut at the time and furthermore didn’t send anyone in, relying mainly on the AP and again affirming the value of the agency’s global footprint.
For their stunning coverage and selfless efforts, the Beirut staff wins AP’s Best of the Week award.