New York-based health and science reporter Mike Stobbe and Rome video journalist Trisha Thomas delivered two very different exclusives that stood out amid the week’s impressive range of AP coronavirus coverage.
Stobbe was the first to report that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wanted to tell a wide swath of Americans – both older people and people with underlying health problems – that they shouldn’t get on commercial flights because of the virus. But the agency was overruled by the White House. Instead, federal officials settled on softer, less direct language.
The CDC quietly updated its website to tell those most at risk to “stay home as much as possible” and avoid crowds, while Vice President Mike Pence suggested any “senior citizen with a serious underlying health condition” should avoid “activities including traveling on a cruise line.” Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said people with underlying conditions – particularly those who are elderly – should avoid crowds and long plane trips.
Stobbe, who has covered public health for years, realized the significance: The administration had overruled the advice of health officials as a new virus spread across the globe. After pressing multiple sources, he eventually got confirmation: The CDC had included the stronger language in a plan sent to Washington and it was deleted by the White House. (The administration denied the story.)
Meanwhile, continents away, Rome visual journalist Trisha Thomas turned a personal odyssey into a cross-format package, producing a first-person essay and video story that gave a human face to Italy’s virus emergency.
Thomas was visiting her college-age daughter in Padua when she learned the Italian government was extending the virus lockdown to the medieval city and surrounding region.
After making frantic arrangements to leave on the last overnight train, Thomas ventured out to report a video story from the university town, capturing the anxiety and uncertainty of individuals as the virus silently turned Italy into the most-infected country after China.
Once aboard the train, Thomas edited the video and sent it to London. But her long night wasn’t over: Rome chief correspondent Nicole Winfield reached out to Thomas as she arrived in the capital. Working together over the next few hours, the pair produced a compelling first-person narrative.
Even as coronavirus coverage and politics crowded the media, the exclusive work by both Stobbe and Thomas was widely played, attracting strong attention from clients and readers.