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Deep-sea volcano a hotspot for mysterious life

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When the World Conservation Congress came to Honolulu, Correspondent Caleb Jones did what any good AP reporter would. He sized up potential news and obtained releases early, including ones about the Great Elephant Census in Africa and a gorilla subspecies being classified as critically endangered.

But, while planning for an interview with Conservation International CEO Peter Seligman, Jones learned something that would take AP’s coverage to another level _ and take him to the bottom of the sea _ while other reporters sat through speeches and presentations. Scientists with the conservation group and the University of Hawaii were about to embark on the first-ever submarine exploration of two ancient undersea volcanoes 3,000 feet beneath the Pacific and 100 miles off the coast of Hawaii’s Big Island.

Although the trip initially was to be open to any media outlet, Jones not only secured exclusive access but also a seat on one of the expedition’s two three-person submersibles. Seeing potential for a highly visual story for all formats, he got a green light from his editors and modified coverage plans. The expedition scientists had planned to issue visuals and a news release about what they found, but Jones persuaded them to hold off until AP could pull together his package.

Scientists with the conservation group and the University of Hawaii were about to embark on the first-ever submarine exploration of two ancient undersea volcanoes 3,000 feet beneath the Pacific and 100 miles off the coast of Hawaii’s Big Island

Cook Seamount was an otherworldly place no other humans had laid eyes upon,and Jones captured the drama of the voyage into the inky abyss and the richness of sea life there with his writing,still photos and video. He described bioluminescent creatures drifting past the three-man submersible. His photos and video showed a starfish clinging to a large deep sea coral,as well as eels,ghost sharks,and two rare octopuses with big fins that look like Dumbo’s ears. The scientists found a purple coral,dubbed Purple Haze,that they believe may be a new species.

Jones kept editors in all formats abreast of logistics for the seamount voyage,and once back ashore,he had to juggle writing and editing of the text story,editing and captioning his still photos,readying his video,as well as providing social media promotion elements.

Jones sent his video package to Denver-based videojournalist,Peter Banda,who skillfully edited it,wrote a script and worked with Jones to voice the video,a first for the Hawaii correspondent. Viewers were able to hear the reporter who made the voyage,with a unique sign off: “Caleb Jones, Associated Press aboard the Pisces V submersible off Hawaii’s Big Island.”

The story,video and photos played widely across the country and the world. Several U.S. newspapers used it on their front pages,and major online and broadcast clients featured it on their sites. The story dominated Hawaii news outlets. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser displayed it with a full above-the-fold photo on the front page and noted the video was available on the paper’s website. Nearly 10,000 people saw it on Twitter,800 people engaged with the tweet and about 10,000 watched the social promotion video on Facebook.

For stunning work in all formats that took readers and viewers to a beautiful and mysterious place people had never seen nor visited before, Caleb Jones wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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