Best of the States


Bearing witness as COVID-19 ravages rural Georgia counties


Finding people who have suffered devastating losses and getting them to talk is hard at the best of times; with this story, the team of global enterprise reporter Claire Galofaro, photographer Brynn Anderson and video journalist Angie Wang also had to cope with the logistical and safety challenges of reporting in a pandemic. They bleached their hotel rooms and cars routinely. They wore masks almost always. They took their temperatures in parking lots. They navigated how to connect with their sources enough to solicit the emotional context needed while also maintaining a safe distance.

The journalists knew they would have to take cautious risks to tell this important story. But they also had to deal with the emotional and ethical issues of potentially putting the people they spoke to in danger. They spent much of their time on the ground trying to sort out how to best protect their sources, while also getting a story worthy of the risk those sources were taking to tell it.

Galofaro also worked with data journalist Meghan Hoyer to get data that would show a snapshot of Terrell County, Georgia, that served as both background for the story and information for a graphic. The story rose to the top of the charts in pageviews for all AP stories, with high reader engagement.

We also heard from people all over the country who said the story had moved them. Some said it made the pandemic finally feel real,because through the eyes of our subjects,they saw what they couldn’t see through their own. Many said it inspired them to do something: to help the families involved or become active in changing the underlying cultural disparities that allowed this devastation to take root. David Kirsten,in Leesburg Va.,wrote: “Yours is the type of writing that causes me to go to the AP first for my news … Bravo and keep up the great work!” Bob Liff,who identifies himself as a former reporter,wrote: “Read your devastating, heartbreaking and beautiful homage to lives lost in SW Georgia. Just wanted to tell you. You honor them and journalism.”

Perhaps the most surprising tribute came from an unexpected source: Global enterprise editor Marjorie Miller’s sister. She called Marjorie to talk about a story her husband read aloud to her that made her cry,quoting chapter and verse from it. She had no idea it was an AP story.

For a significant,poignant all-formats package that reveals in personal terms the already deep inequities exploited by the the pandemic,Galofaro, Anderson and Wang are recognized with this week’s Best of the States award.

For AP’s complete coverage of the coronavirus:

AP’s hub for comprehensive all-formats coverage of the virus outbreak.

Understanding the Outbreak: stories explaining the new coronavirus.

One Good Thing: daily stories of hope and humanity amid the crisis.

Ground Game: Inside the Outbreak: AP’s podcast series.

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