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AP journalists deliver outstanding all-formats coverage to mark 500,000 COVID deaths in US

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The U.S. surpassed a solemn milestone on Feb. 22 with 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, a moment in the pandemic that required thoughtful planning and storytelling, and precise execution across the AP for the coverage to stand out.

Editors began planning weeks in advance. They wanted impactful photo and video packages, lightning-fast spot coverage of the milestone being reached, and a text story to anchor the report that was different from AP’s previous recognition of 100,000, 250,000 and 400,000 deaths.

The result was a package that resonated in all formats.

Video journalists Eugene Garcia and Manuel Valdes,working with producer Krysta Fauria, delivered a video piece that drew on harrowing moments from the past year — doctors saving patients’ lives in hospitals,temporary morgues, cemeteries among others. The newsroom-ready piece received a remarkable 200 newsroom downloads (on par with the play for the Tiger Woods crash in the same week).

Top Stories photo editor Alyssa Goodman and San Francisco writer Jocelyn Gecker worked together on a photo gallery and story taking people from the first COVID deaths to the 500,000th,with careful photo selection and poignant writing. The piece evoked strong feelings on the massive toll of the virus,the death and grieving, and the new hope represented by vaccines.

National writer Adam Geller wrote the text piece that included compelling voices of families who lost loved ones,leading with a woman in Idaho who placed flags in her yard to commemorate the dead and had strangers showing up at her house in pursuit of a place to remember those lost.

Top stories editor Pete Brown worked with Geller on a Flash and urgent story filled with historical context that allowed the AP to quickly mark the historic moment. The data team wrote a program to provide automatic updates to a Slack channel every 3 minutes, pulling statistics from the Johns Hopkins site so that we could file as quickly as possible after the number was reached.

The story and photos landed on front pages of the Chicago Tribune,Denver Post,Detroit News and Orlando Sentinel,among dozens of others. The video piece was among our most downloaded package of the week. And all the work drew significant traffic to AP News with high reader engagement on the day the U.S. reached a half-million dead.

For meeting the grim milestone with comprehensive and coordinated all-formats coverage,the team of Geller,Gecker,Goodman,Brown,Garcia, Valdes and Fauria wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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