Reporter Jeffrey Collins leveraged his decade-long relationship with South Carolina pepper grower Ed Currie and teamed with video journalist Erik Verduzco to win AP access and become the first mainstream outlet to report on a record-setting hot pepper, delivering scorching play with a multiformat package on “Pepper X.”
When Currie was ready to announce that “Pepper X” had shattered his own previous record via a scientific measure of hot flavors, he reached out to Collins because of a relationship that began 10 years earlier. In 2013, Jeffrey Collins wrote about the Carolina Reaper, Currie’s previous record holder, at a time when the grower and his peppers weren’t well-known.
Currie invited Collins and Verduzco for an exclusive visit to his Fort Mill, South Carolina farm to see the peppers in person, a rare opportunity in the highly secretive and competitive world of hot peppers. Currie told the AP that he has hidden greenhouses and farms to keep others from stealing the secrets related to Pepper X. The trust between Collins and Currie gave AP time to develop a rich multiformat package ahead of an embargo (only a hot-sauce oriented talk show on YouTube was given a few-minute head start on AP). Collins delivered an engaging text story and sharp photos, while Verduzco produced a highly entertaining video — all of which earned enormous play as one of the most-viewed AP packages of the week.
The consumer-ready edit was the most used CR of the week and the overall package, including the text, placed No. 2 in AP page views in its first 24 hours, with a perfect engagement score. It went on to be one of the most viewed AP stories of the week with hundreds of thousands of page views.