When heavily-armored police stormed protesters occupying Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University, carefully positioned AP journalists were there to document the violent confrontation that ensued. Photographers and video journalists captured the smoky trails of tear gas canisters lobbed at protesters clutching umbrellas, students rappelling from bridges to waiting motorbikes, an armored vehicle pelted with Molotov cocktails, and students – some bloodied – being taken into custody.
The effort to retake the school and arrest protesters trapped on the campus was beamed to customers around the globe in real-time, putting AP ahead with its photos and live video of a dramatic escalation in the struggle between authorities and those protesting Beijing’s tightening policies toward Hong Kong.
The scoops were the result of months of on-the-ground work by AP visual journalists in Hong Kong, careful planning of how to document the siege and wise use of AP resources around the world.
The team on the ground – photographers Vincent Yu and Kin Cheung of Hong Kong; Han Guan Ng, Beijing; Achmad Ibrahim, Jakarta; and video journalists Raf Wober, Hong Kong; Johnson Lai, Taipei; Dake Kang, Beijing; Andi Jatmiko, Jakarta; and freelancers Katie Tam and Alice Fung – had for days delivered smart coverage around the siege, including a photo gallery documenting protesters’ use of medieval-style weapons. When the team learned that authorities planned to storm the Polytechnic campus on Monday night, they withdrew to safe positions outside the school, moving in after an initial pre-dawn push by police Tuesday to document the violent clashes and hurried escapes that ensued.
As protesters and police clashed, live video with both LiveU units and cell phones were beamed to London. Sky News and ABC used the feeds, and AP producers cut quick edits that beat competitors. The use of four live feeds gave broadcasters a variety of angles and drove AP’s text reporting as well. One senior editor likened the broad range of video content to coverage of a major sporting event.
Meanwhile, the systems of photo editing and delivery had been honed over months of protest coverage, with photo editors in other countries handling select images from photographers and relaying them on AP’s circuits.
Orchestrated by Deputy News Director Patrick Quinn, AP’s visuals were shot from various vantage points – from inside and outside of the campus – to tell the comprehensive story throughout the day. More than a dozen newspapers, including The Washington Post and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, carried AP photos on their front pages.
Local knowledge has been another key to the AP’s success during the ongoing story. Yu, Cheung, Wober, Fung and Tam all call Hong Kong home and have experience covering previous protests there. As Asia News Director Adam Schreck notes, “They want the story of their city told, and told well, and have been working tirelessly to do so.”
Safety of the journalists has been paramount, with the team being outfitted in helmets, gas masks and high-visibility “PRESS” vests to keep them safe. Staffers Yu, Cheung and Wober have covered the protests daily for months, while other journalists from the region have been rotated in to assist. Remarkably, none have been seriously injured despite an escalation in the response to the protests.
For smart planning and excellent execution to document a chaotic story with breathtaking speed and depth, the visuals team covering the Hong Kong protests wins AP’s Best of the Week.