February 3, 2011

Romenesko Misc.
AP senior managing editor Michael Oreskes writes in his memo announcing the winners: “Navigating the chaotic streets [in Cairo] became a hazard for photographers committed to capturing the historic imagery. With the Internet down, sharing those images with the world was a major challenge as well. And disrupted cell phone service made normal communications on the scene and with the desk impossible. Through it all, AP photographers and photo editors persevered to do what they do best: brilliant photojournalism under great danger and pressure.”

Memo to Associated Press staffers


As protesters and police swarmed over Cairo, navigating the chaotic streets became a hazard for photographers committed to capturing the historic imagery. With the Internet down, sharing those images with the world was a major challenge as well. And disrupted cell phone service made normal communications on the scene and with the desk impossible.

Through it all, AP photographers and photo editors persevered to do what they do best: brilliant photojournalism under great danger and pressure, coupled with creative problem solving to deliver their coverage to viewers across the globe. Their work dominated the play around the world and earns this week’s Beat of the Week.

The stories of their coverage are moving, indeed. There was longtime Cairo staffer Nasser Nasser, whose cheekbone was fractured and camera smashed by a police officer hurling a stone as Nasser photographed protests in the street. Colleagues Ben Curtis and Amr Nabil took Nasser to the hospital and then to an eye specialist; in between, they rounded up a driver to hurry digital images of the protests back to the bureau.

For Nabil, the scene was all too familiar. He lost most of the use of one of his eyes during demonstration in Egypt in 2006 when a demonstrator threw a rock at him, shattering his glasses, which then cut into his eye.

The hazards were clear to all AP journalists. APTN cameraman Nabil Haridi was detained during a demonstration in Tahrir Square, caught up along with the protesters he was covering. APTN Senior Producer Micky Shehata and Mideast regional editor Bob Reid lobbied hard for Haridi’s release, which finally came 24 hours later.

As the story built, reinforcements arrived. In the first 24 hours after Curtis returned to Cairo from Jerusalem, more than 40 photos with his byline moved. Among them: A protester preparing to throw rocks at riot police as he urged other protesters on, while another protester showed a bruise to a television crew.

From London came Lefteris Pitarakis to shoot scenes including protesters burning and looting in the streets, climbing onto an armored personnel carrier, being doused by anti-riot police water cannon, and praying in striking proximity to an army tank _ all images that helped AP dominate the play throughout the weekend.

Jerusalem staffer Tara Todras-Whitehill arrived on Friday and worked what became the most violent days. She filed pictures of buildings burning in the night, a police phalanx squaring off with angry crowds, and one young protester being tended to after being wounded in the street.

Emilio Morenatti, who lost part of his lower leg in Aghanistan in 2009, came in from Barcelona on Sunday, with immediate results. One of his photos _ showing an Egyptian army soldier, arms outstretched, trying to stop anti-government protesters as they walked toward Tahrir Square _ was emblematic of the whole conflict and held the lead photo position on the New York Times home page for several hours that afternoon.

Other photographers included Khalil Hamra, Ahmed Ali, Tarek Fawzi, Mohammed Abu Zaid and Victoria Hazou.

In the bureau, Manoocher Deghati _ just one day into his new job as AP’s Mideast regional photo editor _ knew he had to keep pushing out images to keep us competitive. So he instructed all photographers to rush their memory cards back to the office for filing as quickly as possible rather than waiting until the discs were full. The planning paid off. AP photos arrived a huge four hours before Reuters’ images on Friday, producing a clean sweep of photo play reports in Asia and winning play numbers elsewhere.

For their enterprising and compelling work amid chaos, the Egypt protest photo team wins this week’s Beat of the Week award and $500 prize.

Their work highlighted a very strong showing across all of AP’s Egypt coverage. Maggie Michael, Sarah El-Deeb and Hadeel Al-Shalchi covered the street scenes for the text stories, while Marjorie Olster anchored and handled most of the lead writing and newly appointed bureau chief Hamza Hendawi provided expertise and context. In Washington, White House reporter Erica Werner was the first to report that the United States was threatening to cut aid to Egypt. AP’s interactive, produced by Pete Santilli, Francois Duckett, Suzanne Boyle-McCrory and Matt Ford, became a prime landing spot for many of the stunning photos and video of the demonstrations and also included a statistical profile of the country, a look at key players in the crisis and a political analysis of the region.


Others whose work impressed the judges:

_Bouazza Ben Bouazza, Tunis, and Jeffrey Schaeffer, APTN Paris, for the first interview with Tunisia’s most influential Islamist politician when he came home from exile. With thousands of Tunisians at the airport to meet Rachid Ghanouchi and other news organizations clamoring for him, only AP had a cross-format interview set up in advance. Ben Bouazza, our longtime Tunis stringer fresh from coverage of Tunisia’s uprising, used his contacts with Ghanouchi’s banned party to land the interview. Countering concerns about hard-line Islam, Ghanouchi told AP it was unfair to compare him to Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini and that he favors the Islam-inspired politics of Turkey’s ruling party. Schaeffer produced a competitive TV package from Tunis, while Angela Doland in Paris crafted a well-played story headlined, “I’m no Khomeini.”

_Tim Huber, Charleston, W.Va., for obtaining the first copy of the U.S. Office of Surface Mining’s draft plan to curtail environmental damage from underground and surface mines. The proposal marks the Obama administration’s attempt to undo an 11th-hour Bush administration rule that was seen as a parting gift to the nation’s coal operators. Huber’s review of the document showed that OSM’s preferred option would cost at least 7,000 jobs in the nation’s coal industry. Huber has developed sources in the industry and with groups that oppose the use of coal, and the break came from a routine round of calls to his sources. The story played on Page 1 across West Virginia _ including the competing morning newspapers in Charleston _ and on Yahoo, MSN, USA Today and newspapers and broadcast stations across the country.

_Matt Moore, Philadelphia, for the first story previewing Marvel Entertainment’s plan to kill off Johnny Storm in the newest issue that ends the 50-year-old Fantastic Four. Moore was offered the exclusive by Marvel because of his previous coverage and was alone with the story for nine hours. The comic book industry has been largely ignored in entertainment coverage until Moore stepped up and claimed a “boutique” beat. His story was Yahoo’s most e-mailed and played heavily on comic book sites. After Moore’s story about the planned death of Ultimate Spider-Man, Marvel officials said they were impressed with his diligence and offered him the story about the Fantastic Four. The Washington Post gave it a full column with illustration; every major broadcaster, hundreds of newspapers and websites used AP or credited AP. Moore worked closely with photos, multimedia and video to create a full project.

_John Leicester, Sports columnist, for his exclusive story showing athletes risk failing
anti-doping tests because of a drug illegally used in livestock farming, especially in China. The
story was important because Tour de France champion Alberto Contador tested positive for the
drug clenbuterol. Leicester got exclusive interviews with anti-doping scientists, including
the lab that reported a positive test for Contador. Leicester concluded that there is a
“growing body of opinion” that clenbuterol can be consumed unwittingly from eating tainted meat. It took months of work to dig out science and sources to back up story. His story was credited on cycling websites and was among the top 10 most-read and e-mailed on Yahoo. The story was accompanied by APTN video.

_Erik Schelzig, Nashville, for first word from TennCare, a day before public notices in
Tennessee’s newspapers, that it was proposing to cut $300 million by limiting doctor and hospital visits at the state’s expanded Medicaid program. TennCare officials gave Schelzig the heads-up because they were confident he would report the proposal accurately. TennCare advocates and critics have often clashed over the program, and taxpayers are skeptical of state claims about costs because of years mismanagement during the 1990s. Over the years, Schelzig and other AP staffers have stuck to the facts while other news organizations have sometimes been off the mark in reporting about the program. The story was on the front page of seven Tennessee newspapers.

_Doug Feinberg, New York Sports, for his exclusive interview with basketball star Diana Taurasi, her first since she tested positive for the stimulant modafinil. Taurasi and her lawyer blame the Turkish lab where the sample was analyzed for the positive result. The story is especially significant because if Taurasi is banned for six months or more she will not be able to compete at the 2012 London Olympics. Feinberg has known Taurasi since she played at UConn and covered her extensively with the U.S women’s national team. He also has developed a relationship with her agent. Ever since Taurasi tested positive in December, Feinberg has been working his sources and the agent to get an interview with Taurasi. The story got prominent play on ESPN and other sports websites, and the recorded the phone interview yielded audio links and radio spots.

_Laura Wides-Munoz, Miami, for pinning down rumors that U.S. Rep. David Rivera had lived off his campaigns while serving in the Florida Legislature. After a source tipped Laura off to unusual campaign reimbursements, she reviewed all eight years’ worth of Rivera’s state campaign reports. Her analysis found Rivera not only failed to explain more than a third of the $160,000 he took in reimbursements, but also that he took far more money than 12 other comparable lawmakers. Aware that the Miami Herald was also looking at state records, she had to crunch eight years’ worth of records for 13 individuals in a few days. She got an assist from Bill Kaczor and Brent Kallestad and from news editor Terry Spencer. The Herald cited her story, and as did Washington political blogs and newspapers nationally. Seizing on the story, Democrats announced that Rivera’s congressional seat is among 19 it will target in 2012.

_Eileen Sullivan, Washington, for her scoop that the government will abandon in April its much-maligned, color-coded threat warning system. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill learned about the news from Sullivan’s AP Exclusive, reporting details a day before Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano planned to announce it publicly. Sullivan initially reported in November, based on sources, that the government was leaning to abandon the system. She made sure her sources knew to notify her once a decision was made. CNN matched the report after AP was on the wire for more than 30 minutes. MSNBC needed more than an hour to match, and ABC followed a half-hour after that. AP broadcast produced a video package to accompany Sullivan’s story.

_Greg Bluestein, Atlanta, Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Columbus, and Thomas Watkins, Los Angeles, for an exhaustive look at a worldwide shortage of the execution drug sodium thiopental, and the recent decision by the sole U.S. manufacturer to stop producing it. The story noted that most states have already run out of the drug or soon will. The trio relied on their extensive criminal justice sources to produce a comprehensive and exclusive story. After word came down on Jan. 21 that the manufacturer was no longer producing the drug, the law enforcement team decided to partner with Welsh-Huggins on a comprehensive, 35-state look at the effect on planned executions. The New York Times and Washington Post featured the story on their websites; the Yahoo site drew 4,000 comments. The project included photos, video and interactives. An interactive map on the death penalty and photos were linked.


Entries are now welcome for the current week. Find out more about the Beat of the Week contest, including eligibility requirements and previous winners, at the Contests and Awards page on http://inside.ap.org/12981.htm.

Mike Oreskes

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From 1999 to 2011, Jim Romenesko maintained the Romenesko page for the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based non-profit school for journalists. Poynter hired him in August…
Jim Romenesko

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