With thorough prep, clear communication plans and a short sprint, AP’s New York City staff, the East Desk and the audience engagement team overcame access hurdles to put the AP ahead of the competition on the sentencings in two of the highest-profile cases of the #MeToo era: Ghislaine Maxwell and R. Kelly.
With no cameras and no electronics of any kind allowed in the federal courtroom, careful planning and teamwork enabled AP to get the news out first on two consecutive days.
For Maxwell, Tom Hays was in the courtroom and fellow reporter Larry Neumeister was in the overflow room, writing from the closed-circuit feed. Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison for helping the financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse underage girls.
For Kelly, it was trickier — no electronics were allowed in either the courtroom or the overflow room. So Hays and reporter Bobby Caina Calvan coordinated on who would leave the courtroom, and when, to relay victim testimony. And for the sentencing, Hays sprinted from the courtroom to a spot where he could send the outcome by Slack: Kelly received 30 years for sexual abuse young fans, including some who were just children, in a systematic scheme that went on for decades.
New York colleague Jennifer Peltz anchored both stories, weaving together, virtually in real time, the staffers’ Slack feeds from the courthouse. On both days, Mallika Sen on the East Desk had alerts out within seconds, followed by the breaking news updates moments later. The audience team was equally quick with push alerts and effective use of social media for sketches by courtroom artist Liz Williams, as well as quote cards .
AP was minutes ahead of competitors and other national news outlets in both cases.