Good reporting leads to more good reporting: An all-formats team of AP journalists in Texas tells the heart-wrenching story of one mother’s pain when prosecutors let the men charged with sex trafficking her daughter walk free.
It started with Dallas-based Jake Bleiberg’s years of coverage of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, including a September investigation revealing how dysfunction led to prosecutors dropping human trafficking and child sexual abuse cases. The story caught the attention of Irma Reyes, a South Texas mother. She reached out to Bleiberg: Something similar was probably about to happen in the cases of two men charged with sex trafficking her daughter. Bleiberg checked sources and records, and realized Reyes’ story was an opportunity he had been seeking: to show the human suffering that resulted from the mismanagement AP had revealed.
Bleiberg consulted with Texas Assistant News Director Adam Causey and headed to court with San Antonio-based photographer Eric Gay. They witnessed Reyes’s worst fears come to pass. They also won her trust to go beyond the courthouse and tell the story of what this case had done to her family. Despite worries about retaliation by the men who’d just avoided prison, Reyes welcomed AP journalists into her home.
Causey and editor Janelle Cogan of the Global Enterprise team offered guidance as Bleiberg, Gay and video journalist Lekan Oyekanmi prepared for the trip. Meanwhile, Bleiberg continued to work sources and send records requests to get inside the case.
At Reyes’ home, the AP team spent days gathering material to show through text, photos and video how prosecutors’ handling of the cases wrought ruin on Reyes and her family. They earned Reyes’ confidence that they would handle the numerous sensitive elements of the story with care and got her to open up about her most vulnerable moments.
The trio continued newsgathering even as they began to craft the story. Bleiberg obtained public and confidential records casting doubt on the prosecutor’s in-court statements and interviewed two lawyers who’d overseen the case years before. Oyekanmi and Gay conducted an on-camera interview with the detective who investigated the case.
The resulting story garnered 134,000 page views across the mobile app and APNews.com and was the most engaged story of last week on our platforms. It also saw a perfect engagement score of 100 — a metric based on page views, the time people spend reading our work and the number of people who go on to read another story on our site. The push alert to the story also was the most clicked on of six push alerts sent on Friday, March 24, with 14,851 clicks. In addition, the customer-ready video reached 96k views on Twitter, and on Instagram our post created by Ed Medeles about the story was the most engaging post of the week in link clicks and general impressions.
The story also received extensive play across Texas and national media outlets, and won praise from elected officials critical of Paxton, as well as from prosecutors, and even a lawyer for one of the men accused in the case. Reyes texted Bleiberg, too, to praise the sensitive handling of her story: “You all are tremendously competent and legit professionals!”
For producing a compelling all-formats narrative story that put a human face on the dysfunction in Texas that led prosecutors to drop human trafficking and child sexual abuse cases, writer Jake Bleiberg, photographer Eric Gay and video journalist Lekan Oyekanmi are the first winners of this week’s Best of the Week award.