The stories could not be more different. One revealed that United Nations peacekeepers had been accused of thousands of instances of sexual abuse over 12 years. The other recounted the last hours of a doomed freighter and its crew, as they sailed into a hurricane.
But both of these AP stories – by Paisley Dodds and Jason Dearen, respectively – drew extraordinary notice, captivating readers in a busy news week. And in a departure from usual practice, the two contrasting stories, a hard-hitting investigation and a powerful narrative, are being recognized as co-winners of the Beat of the Week.
In the aftermath of allegations of sexual misdeeds against United Nations peacekeepers in the Central Africa Republic and Congo, the AP decided to quantify what had been going on. How many cases were pending? What kind of data was available?
Dodds built a database with all the information at hand, amounting eventually to nearly 2,000 allegations of abuse.
Dodds, a London-based investigative reporter, set out to collect the facts. After reviewing reports going back 12 years, she built a database with all the information at hand, which amounted, eventually, to nearly 2,000 allegations of abuse against peacekeepers and other U.N. personnel.
Dodds pored over the data with AP colleagues Krista Larson in Africa and Katy Daigle in India. While others traveled to Congo and Sri Lanka to investigate further, Dodds set off for Haiti. There, she developed sources who pointed to evidence that the U.N. peacekeeper system is in crisis. One source slipped her a report on a sex ring that victimized children as young as 12. While 134 peacekeepers were identified as participating in the ring over three years, none was ever jailed.
Newspapers around the world ran the story on front pages with photos by Dieu Nalio Chery. It was a top story on AP Mobile. On Twitter, one post praising the all-formats piece was shared 3,000 times.
And the next day, during a U.N. Security Council vote on whether to shut the Haiti peacekeeping mission, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley mentioned Dodds by name, quoting at length from the story. She said countries must be held accountable or barred from peacekeeping duty.
"What do we say to these kids? Did these peacekeepers keep them safe?" she asked.
The gripping, intimately-told story of the freighter El Faro’s sinking, meanwhile, came of Dearen’s dedicated coverage of U.S. Coast Guard hearings into the 2015 disaster. All 33 crew members died in what was the worst maritime calamity involving a U.S.-flagged vessel since 1983.
Dearen, AP’s Gainesville, Florida, correspondent, monitored the hearings for weeks, filing spot stories. But he saved material for a longer piece. He read through nearly 10,000 pages in the National Transportation Safety Board investigative docket, and built relationships with relatives of El Faro crew members.
The motherlode was the transcript of the crew’s conversations, which were recorded by the ship’s black box ... right up to the last recorded words of the captain to a terrified crewman.
The motherlode of material, though, was the transcript of the crew’s conversations, which were recorded by the ship’s black box. Dearen used clues in the transcript, interviews with relatives and information from testimony and documents to flesh out the drama of the El Faro’s last hours, right up to the last recorded words of the captain to a terrified crew member.
"IT'S TIME TO COME THIS WAY!" he shouted, as El Faro slipped beneath the sea.
The mainbar appeared on the front pages of the Miami Herald and dozens of other papers. Sidebars on the investigators and the widow of a crewmember and her quest to improve maritime safety drew many readers to the main story. For days, the tale of the El Faro was the most engaged story on the AP Mobile app, grabbing readers’ attention for an unheard-of average of more than four minutes. Forty percent of readers read all 4,000 words.
Angela Fritz of The Washington Post’s Weather Gang was transfixed. The world knows just what happened to the El Faro and its lost crew, she wrote, “thanks to a must-read story from the Associated Press’s Jason Dearen.”
For two unforgettable and powerful stories – delivered only by the AP – Dearen and Dodds each win $500 prizes.