Sometimes a story doesn’t come from a reporter’s beat or region, just from natural journalistic curiosity.
Atlanta’s Jeff Martin was intrigued after investigators blamed the deadly tower fire in London in part on the flammable cladding that wrapped around its exterior. Wondering what buildings in the U.S. might be using the cladding, he went to the manufacturer’s website and found a trove of information in a promotional brochure.
The brochure said the cladding was used on a terminal at the Dallas airport, the Cleveland Browns stadium, an Alaska High School and a high-rise hotel in Baltimore. Martin, Gainesville, Florida, reporter Jason Dearen, and Baltimore reporter Juliet Linderman helped coordinate a cross-country, multi-media reporting effort that wins this week’s Best of the States.
What the reporters found was that in many cases no one seemed to know if Reynobond PE was used in the buildings. Linderman – with help from Annapolis reporter Brian Witte – spoke to the city, the architect, Marriott, the fire department, everyone she could think of, and none of them knew if the hotel was wrapped in Reynobond PE.
In the end, Marriott said it had to send the panels out for testing. In Anchorage, news editor Mark Thiessen contacted the school district to ask about the cladding on a local high school. That sparked an investigation that confirmed that it was indeed wrapped in the cladding. Detroit said it was investigating whether the cladding was on six Early Childhood Development Centers. Officials in Denver said they were trying to find out whether it was on a nine-story office building.
AP’s findings led to a comprehensive story looking at the possible use of this cladding across the country and the difficulty in figuring out where it was used. The story was used by hundreds of news organizations and was accompanied by photos and video shot across the country and assembled by video journalist John Mone.
The story was used by hundreds of news organizations. "It was a pretty thorough piece you guys put together." – Marriott spokesman
Within hours of its publication, the city of Cleveland, which had said it would wait to comment until the London investigation was complete, held a press conference. Officials confirmed Reynobond was used in the NFL stadium, but assured the public it was safe. PBS Newshour listed it as one of its five important stories of the week. Even a Marriott spokesman said: ‘’It was a pretty thorough piece you guys put together.’’
For their enterprising work, Martin, Dearen and Linderman share this week’s Best of the States prize.