Aug. 09, 2019

Best of the States

AP mobilizes cross-formats response to deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio

AP’s U.S. staff has a lot of practice in responding to mass shootings. But two major events in 24 hours tested even the most experienced staff.

They rose to the challenge.

Soon after noon Central time on Saturday, Aug. 3, reports began to surface about an active shooter at an El Paso, Texas, mall. A local news station initially reported that 18 people were shot inside a Walmart – a number which by Monday would rise to 22 dead and two dozen injured.

The quick reaction of AP staff around the country and beyond – in the office, at home and even on vacation – ensured the AP was fast, accurate and leading the way on what would become one of the biggest stories of the year. Text, photo and video staffers converged on El Paso, while colleagues around the country worked sources, contributed to the stories and managed the coverage.

Among the standout reporting was an early interview with a woman who told the heartbreaking story of her sister who died while shielding her 2-month-old son – just a small part of the terrific cross-format continuing coverage.

As the Texas team was just catching its breath, reports of another massacre emerged overnight, this time in Ohio. AP’s initial alert was followed four minutes later by the alert that a shooter killed nine people, including his own sister, before police shot him dead. The East Desk immediately dispatched Ohio staff and others to Dayton.

AP beat competitive agencies with photos and numerous live shots, as well as an incredibly compelling interview with a man who watched his father die in his arms. Elsewhere, many of the same supporting cast already working the El Paso story from afar stepped in on Ohio as well, complementing the coverage on the ground.

For its quick, nimble response, precise reporting and robust, cross-format content on two highly competitive breaking stories, the U.S. staff is recognized with this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 26, 2019

Best of the States

A powerful retrospective and breaking news, 20 years after Columbine mass shooting

Twenty years have passed since the Columbine high school massacre, which was, to many people, the beginning of school shootings as we know them. In those years, life has changed: Mass shootings happen again and again, schoolchildren participate in lockdowns instead of fire drills, and many reflect on the moment in time when two young men took 13 lives with them on their suicidal quest.

AP was uniquely positioned to cover the two decades since the massacre, with journalists who were there, those who cover the Colorado community every day, and experts in polling, education and guns. Stories by Denver reporter Kathleen Foody and videojournalist Peter Banda led a deep all-formats package by dozens of journalists across the AP telling not just of the carnage but of those who survived it, their struggle, and the future.

But all the planning couldn't prepare anyone for this spot development: Early in the week, Sol Pais, a young Florida woman, prompted panic over a possible attack at Columbine, later taking her own life near the Colorado school. Miami reporter Kelli Kennedy tracked down a good friend of Pais who not only filled in personal details about her in an exclusive interview, but supplied photos of Pais and cast doubt on the official narrative about her friend.

The overarching theme of the spot and enterprise coverage focused on the short and long-term mental health issues from school shootings. The result was a unique, meaningful package that received impressive play nationally – online and in print. The video was among the top-used AP videos of the week.

For their work spearheading the package, and breaking news, Foody, Banda and Kennedy win this week’s Best of the States.

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Dec. 14, 2018

Best of the States

Years of planning pay off in ‘picture perfect’ coverage of Bush funeral events

For more than a decade, Washington photo editor Jon Elswick has negotiated with the Department of Defense over coverage plans for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, while Houston photojournalist David Phillip fostered a relationship with the Bush family and their spokesman to secure AP’s shooting positions for the eventual funeral events.

Those relationships were crucial to arranging and executing coverage, paving the way for more than two dozen staffers to parachute into Washington, Houston and College Station, Texas, where they produced outstanding photos in real time and for the history books.

Among the highlights: Photographer Morry Gash fired a remote-controlled camera that captured a stunning bird’s-eye view of the U.S. Capitol rotunda during visitation and services, and David Phillip negotiated to shoot inside the railroad car carrying the coffin as the funeral train passed through Texas. Phillip called it “the most incredible event I have ever covered.”

The photo coverage was part of an impressive dayslong cross-format effort by scores of AP staff across the country and globe that included hours of live video and spot and breaking text, video, audio and graphics coverage that explored Bush’s life and presidency from every angle.

For exceptional planning and execution on one of the largest news events of the year, this week’s Best of the States goes to the team of photo staff covering the Bush funeral.

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Sept. 07, 2018

Best of the Week

AP team parlays Aretha Franklin pool coverage into exclusives

The farewell to the Queen of Soul promised to be an extravaganza – days of tributes, musical performances and a marathon funeral.

The AP team diligently prepared for the events and when the time came, the combined efforts of Detroit-based photographer Paul Sancya and Miami-based visual journalist Josh Replogle turned a pair of pool opportunities into two exclusives during the week of mourning for Aretha Franklin in Detroit.

Among the highlights: Sancya’s shot of Franklin lying in her casket with red heels clearly visible, video and photos of the singer in her final resting place and an exclusive interview with a controversial pastor.

Their work earns the Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Making the signature photo, discreetly, as family mourns McCain

Sometimes it takes a team. And a resourceful photographer.

Phoenix photographer Ross Franklin made a stunning image of Cindy McCain resting her head on the casket of her late husband Sen. John McCain during a family service in the Arizona state Capitol. Getting to this moment was a team effort, starting with great Washington contacts and relationships that gave the AP not one but two exclusive spots in the rotunda in Phoenix.

But given the solemnity of the event, there was no way to shoot the private ceremony using a motor drive to take bursts of frames – it would have been too loud and would have echoed throughout the rotunda. So Franklin agreed to shoot the entire event balanced on a ladder overlooking the scene from the balcony, with his camera in a noise muffling blimp – basically operating a camera that is wrapped in a big pillow.

When Cindy McCain approached the casket, Franklin had just one or two frames to capture the signature moment. He nailed it, and the photo was used everywhere, including a stunning display on the front of the Arizona Republic.

For his exceptional work, Ross Franklin wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 16, 2018

Best of the States

In Tuskegee, home to black achievement, a Confederate monument endures

The name “Tuskegee, Alabama” evokes images of black empowerment in a once-segregated nation.

Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver became legends of education at what is now Tuskegee University, and the nation’s first black fighter pilots were known as the Tuskegee Airmen after training in the town during World War II. Michelle Obama gave an impassioned speech there in 2015 while first lady.

So why is there a Confederate monument in the middle of the nearly all-black city?

Birmingham, Ala., correspondent Jay Reeves, using information gleaned from old newspaper accounts, local government records and interviews, reported that the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised money for the monument in the early 1900s. And the white-controlled county gave the heritage group land at the center of town for a whites-only park. It’s there that the statue still stands 109 years later.

Several efforts to relocate the monument have failed through the years, mainly because the Confederate heritage group still owns the land and refuses to move the statue.

In addition to text, Reeves shot photos and located archival images, as well as shooting and editing video for the multiformat package.

For digging in to examine why Confederate monuments are coming down nationwide but not in the historic, majority-black town of Tuskegee, Ala., Reeves wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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