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Post-hurricane teamwork produces compelling story of newborn’s night in parking lot

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Amid the chaos and broken lives in Hurricane Michael’s aftermath, photographer David Goldman was combing for images of how people were managing during power outages. He decided to check grocery store parking lots that had become aid distribution points, thinking that if anyone needed to spend the night in a car, he might find them there. He discovered an especially heartbreaking story in a Walmart parking lot: A newborn baby was spending one of his first nights in the back of a pickup with his parents.

The local hospital, heavily damaged, had turned the mother away the day after the hurricane. The couple drove to Alabama seeking a hospital able to accept them but found no lodgings in a town already clogged with hurricane evacuees. They drove back to find their home – soggy, mosquito-ridden and unlivable, with nobody to help them. They resolved to camp out at Walmart, where Goldman found them. He checked in with them over a couple of days – no easy feat, as the family’s cellphone had been stolen, but Goldman kept checking back until he found them again.

Goldman knew he had a great visual story. And he knew there was a great story to write. Not being in a position to write the story himself, he turned to a colleague. He kept reporter Jay Reeves, also working in the hurricane zone, informed about the family.

Reeves wouldn’t be able to meet with the family, but from their discussions, Goldman knew the elements Reeves would need to write a compelling text piece. At Goldman’s final meeting with the father, he recorded a short audio interview to get the missing details and some additional quotes. He sent Reeves all his notes and the interview via email. From those pieces, Reeves crafted the narrative.

“On a starry night, mother sat in the bed of the family’s pickup truck; her child sat in a car seat beside her,” the story read. “Dad sat in the dark and pondered how it could be that his son’s first night out of a hospital could be spent outside a big-box retailer because of a lack of help.”

Goldman sent all his notes and a short audio interview to Reeves via email. From those pieces, Jay crafted the story.

The moving words and compelling photo package resonated. Goldman’s Twitter lit up with responses. Readers hoping to find a way to help “baby Luke” reached out to Goldman and Reeves by email,the Miami bureau by phone and even by web inquiry to the AP’s Corporate Communications office in New York. The story/photo package netted 471 source matches and more than more than 76,000 social media engagements,and it was carried by Time Magazine,USA Today,The New York Times and NPR,among others.

For their unmatched story that reminded the world that the story of Hurricane Michael is far from over,and for their collaboration to bring both words and images to the world, Reeves and Goldman win this week’s Best of the States.

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