When protesters erupted in chants of “Let her speak” from the gallery inside the Montana statehouse, and silenced transgender lawmaker Zooey Zephyr lifted her microphone triumphantly in the air, longtime AP reporter Amy Hanson was there to capture the action with her cell phone for video, photos and words.
It was the start of a week of agenda-setting, visual and comprehensive coverage by Hanson and her colleagues as Zephyr’s compelling dispute with Republican state leaders captivated audiences, culminating in the GOP voting to bar the freshman legislator from the House floor on Thursday.
The powerful coverage throughout the week showcased the value of AP’s legislative footprint and was a textbook example of how we can dominate a story when we surge resources and harness our collective expertise.
Hanson worked tirelessly from Helena, Montana, all week and tapped into her deep sourcing and knowledge of state politics to provide impeccable and fast reporting. Her previous source building with Zephyr after she was elected last year proved invaluable, giving the AP access to the lawmaker all week. Hanson’s knowledge of how the statehouse works was also invaluable. When we found out late Monday night that Zephyr would face a vote to be censured the next day, Hanson whipped up a story while also quickly securing statehouse credentials for colleagues flying into Montana who, under new rules by GOP leadership, would not have been allowed inside without them.
Billings-based reporter Matt Brown and Salt Lake City-based reporter Sam Metz took turns stitching together well-written spot stories each day, updating the “What to Know” and prepping urgent new series for the next key moment in the saga. The duo also produced a smart takeout about the rise of conservative caucuses like the one in Montana that fueled the dispute.
Denver-based video journalist Brittany Peterson and political reporter Nick Riccardi also went to Montana to supplement Amy’s on-the-ground reporting. Nick quickly pulled together a deeply reported and beautifully written story about support for Zephyr in her hometown, the college town of Missoula.
Peterson produced several videos including an interview with Zephyr and exclusive footage from her first day in legislative exile when the Republican House speaker and a capitol security leader try to tell Zephyr she couldn’t work on a bench near the House entrance. Peterson also took some photos, including one of Zephyr sitting next to a colleague with a sticky note on the wall above her that said, “Seat 31” that was used widely by members. Freelance photographer Tommy Martino also contributed photos from Missoula and Helena.
Colleagues from around the AP coordinated with the Rockies staff to deliver several smart takes about the standoff, including a look at the underlying rhetoric in the dispute and how Republicans in Montana and Tennessee tried calling peaceful protests "insurrections" to downplay the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.
For thorough, nuanced coverage that kept the AP out front, Hanson, Peterson, Riccardi, Brown and Metz win this week’s first citation for Best of the Week.