When a snowstorm stranded hundreds of drivers on Virginia’s Interstate 95, a multiformat AP team quickly gathered stirring stories of motorists’ plight while fact-checking the state government in real time.
With the gridlock virtually inaccessible, journalists Bryan Gallion, Mike Kunzelman, Julie Walker and Ben Finley used social media to land interviews with stranded motorists who waited hours for food, saw little in the way of law enforcement and struggled to conserve fuel amid frigid overnight temperatures.
Richmond reporter Sarah Rankin, meanwhile, interviewed Virginia’s governor, pressing him on why he hadn’t activated the National Guard ahead of the storm. Photographer Steve Helber delivered aerial images showing hundreds still stranded more than 24 hours after problems began, important documentation as the state refused to estimate how many cars were trapped.
The result was a mainbar, deftly assembled by Richmond’s Denise Lavoie from a variety of feeds, racking up heavy play and readership numbers. A sidebar by Finley on one family’s plight kept also scored high reader engagement. Many Virginia news outlets used AP’s content as their top online offering.
In a follow-up, Rankin and correspondent Matt Barakat, who had been canvassing local officials, reported that a county board chair had to call the state’s sleeping public safety secretary hours into the pileup, and he in turn said that members of the state’s cabinet weren’t informed of the unfolding catastrophe in its early stages. That reporting was cited with credit by Newsweek and WTOP. With help from AP reporters in Ohio, New Jersey, Oregon and Georgia, the piece used interviews and recaps of similar pileups elsewhere to evaluate Virginia’s response and show possible corrective steps. Other news organizations couldn’t easily or quickly match the story, demonstrating AP’s unique reach.