Karin Laub, Ben Hubbard, Dalton Bennett and Sergey Ponomarev win Associated Press’ Beat of the Week “for putting AP at the forefront of the coverage of the campaign that has all but ended the four-decade rule of Moammar Gadhafi,” writes senior managing editor Mike Oreskes. “Their graphic, first-hand reports dominated U.S. newspaper front pages. Of 51 papers checked, 29 used AP on the rebels’ move into Tripoli. No competitor had more than nine fronts.”
Ramallah correspondent Karin Laub had spent three weeks in the mountains of western Libya, establishing herself and cultivating sources with rebels in the country’s six-month civil war.
While other media paid little attention, Laub learned that after months of stalemate, the rebels were planning a lightning race into Tripoli. AP rushed in all-format reinforcements, including photographer Sergey Ponomarev from Moscow, AP video journalist Dalton Bennett from Kyrgyzstan and newsman Ben Hubbard, a fluent Arabic speaker, from Cairo.
The decision paid off. Laub, Hubbard, Bennett and Ponomarev win Beat of the Week for putting AP at the forefront of the coverage of the campaign that has all but ended the four-decade rule of Moammar Gadhafi.
For seemingly every major rebel advance, there was exclusive AP coverage, from the seizure of the strategic city of Zawiya to the fall of the major Gadhafi base guarding Tripoli. When the rebels reached the outskirts of the capital and then the symbolic center of Gadhafi’s stronghold, Green Square, Laub and Hubbard were with them.
First, Laub reported that the rebels had seized Zawiya, a half-hour from Tripoli. She entered the city and confirmed that the main oil refinery and the road linking the capital with Tunisia had fallen.
The next day, Laub, Hubbard, Ponomarev and Bennett began looking around Zawiya, moving carefully toward the front line east of the city. At a rebel roadblock they met a commander who agreed to escort them closer to the scene of the fighting.
It became clear that the rebels were on the march. As they followed the rebels toward Tripoli, they saw rebel vehicles approaching from the direction of the capital. Fighters boasted that they had just overrun the headquarters of the notorious 32nd Brigade, commanded by one of Gadhafi’s sons, and the main garrison protecting Tripoli from the west.
Rebels said they had seized the base and freed prisoners, some of whom came stumbling out of cars, bruised, bearing signs of beatings and with clothes in tatters. The AP team went to the base and called the Middle East desk in Cairo with the first confirmation that the base had fallen. The NY Times, BBC and others quoted AP for the victory, as did some Arab satellite TV stations.
Bennett and Ponomarev broke off to file and to attend to a wounded Russian journalist. Laub and Hubbard proceeded to the edge of Tripoli, filing another APNewsAlert that the rebels had reached the outskirts of the city with little resistance.
They returned to their driver’s house, where his relatives called to say the road into Tripoli was open. Laub and Hubbard then proceeded into the city, careful to avoid stumbling into pro-Gadhafi forces. After calling in reports describing the scene, they arrived at Green Square, the symbolic heart of the city where crowds were cheering and waving rebel flags. They again called the Mideast desk with reports of the scene before prudently falling back to Zawiya a half hour to the west to spend the night in safety.
Their graphic, first-hand reports dominated U.S. newspaper front pages. Of 51 papers checked, 29 used AP on the rebels’ move into Tripoli. No competitor had more than nine fronts.
Eurovision scored 16 AP Television News exclusives to four for Reuters.
For courage and resourcefulness, Laub, Hubbard, Bennett and Ponomarev win this week’s $500 prize.
Senior Managing Editor for U.S. News