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Strong sourcing, teamwork put AP ahead on offshore drilling news

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, center, and Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, right, announce that there will be no new offshore drilling in the Florida, during a news conference at the Tallahassee International Airport, Jan. 9, 2018. The Florida announcement triggered immediate criticism from other states opposed to the oil drilling plan. (Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times via AP)

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For Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout, Tuesday began as he expected, with the usual pomp and circumstance of the first day of the legislative session and Gov. Rick Scott’s annual state of the state speech. From there it took a quick turn.

A source in Scott’s office called Fineout at around 4 p.m. and asked if he was in a position to drive to the Tallahassee International Airport. The reason? Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke was supposed to be flying in from Atlanta to meet with the governor – and both would be willing to talk to the media afterward.

Fineout immediately emailed Matthew Daly in Washington, who had some ideas on what the meeting was about. Daly, who covers Interior, had just pitched a story about the fallout from the Trump administration’s new oil drilling plan. Daly had tapped into a key political problem in the plan announced the week earlier: Republican governors were not on board.

Fineout emailed the news to D.C. during the news conference. By the time Fineout got back to his car, Daly was moving the news alert.

Daly set out reporting a story about how the governors, chief among them Scott, planned to lobby the administration to rethink the plan. Fineout and Daly together discussed possible outcomes and angles. At around 6 p.m. Zinke and Scott strode down the main corridor of Tallahassee’s small airport and dropped the news that Florida was going to be removed from the Trump administration’s oil drilling plan. Before the two officials stopped talking, Fineout emailed Daly in D.C. to let him know the news that would soon create a torrent of criticism from other states that oppose the oil drilling plan. By the time Fineout got back to his car in the parking lot, Daly was moving the news alert.

Daly and Fineout’s model of teamwork put AP so far ahead some in the competition didn’t bother to catch up. The Washington Post ran the AP story,with bylines,in the print edition. Others had to wait until after the Interior Department put out a statement – a full 10 minutes after the AP alert moved – to post the news. In the days that followed, Daly kept AP ahead with help from bureaus on both coasts. He pulled together another a strong story on coastal states’ reaction, complete with a glance noting where each governor stood on the issue. He looked at the legality of the exemption and the political dynamics. It was a strong example of not resting on a news break,but continuing to push the story forward cycle after cycle.

For their initiative and coordinated effort to give AP an important beat, Fineout and Daly share this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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