Best of the Week


Raqqa drone video reveals shocking devastation


The scene is dreamlike – or, more precisely, nightmarish. The untethered camera swoops and swerves through a depopulated wasteland of rubble and bombed-out buildings and wrecked vehicles.

This is Raqqa, devastated capital of the Islamic State group’s self-proclaimed caliphate. And this extraordinary footage – the Beat of the Week – was brought to viewers around the world by freelance drone videographer Gabriel Chaim. He shares the prize with Mideast photo editor Maya Alleruzzo.

The Islamic State took control of Raqqa in January 2014, and in the ensuing years it terrorized the population. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces launched an all-out battle for the city in June, accompanied by bombardment by the United States and its allies.

“U2 is using (Chaim’s) drone footage of Syria in their current tour … so as Maya says, literally he is a rock star.” – Dan Perry

When the SDF retook Raqqa,the AP did not have the have the necessary visas to go in to cover it. And for some years,AP has not commissioned freelancers in Syria,due to concerns about their safety. But with the situation stabilizing,Mideast news leaders proposed a change in our policy. Alleruzzo had just the person in mind: Chaim,a Brazilian she’d gotten to know while embedded with forces in Mosul. He’s built a reputation as the go-to guy for drone work in Iraq and Syria.

“U2 is using his drone footage of Syria in their current tour when they play ‘Miss Sarajevo,” says Middle East editor Dan Perry. “So as Maya says,literally he is a rock star.”

Skaro,regional TV editor for the Middle East,reached out to Chaim in Kobani,Syria,which has served as a base for journalists covering Raqqa. The videographer then went to work, collaborating with Alleruzzo.

Two edits resulted,a digital edit for online audiences,and an AP Direct broadcast. They show few people on the bombed-out streets of Raqqa. In silence,the drone glides above what’s left of the city’s hospital. It looks down on heaps of concrete slabs piled on streets littered with destroyed cars. Entire neighborhoods are in ruins; entire blocks are uninhabitable,with knocked-out walls and blown-out windows and doors. The video also shows a landmark that sustained less damage: the stadium used as an arms depot and prison by the Islamic State.

The video was used more than 1,300 times by broadcast clients according to Teletrax,and received wide play online, with key clients such as Al Jazeera English and Sky News putting together their own edits for social platforms. The separate text story focusing on the drone video was used more than 280 times by new organization customers as measured by NewsWhip.

For bringing a haunting first look at Raqqa’s devastation to screens around the world, Chaim and Alleruzzo win this week’s $500 prize.

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