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Three-ring scoop: Ringling Bros. folding its circus tent after 146 years

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey performers ride camels during a performance Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will end the "The Greatest Show on Earth" in May, following a 146-year run of performances. Kenneth Feld, the chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, told The Associated Press, declining attendance combined with high operating costs are among the reasons for closing. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

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Last weekend, the greatest show at the AP was Tampa, Florida, reporter Tamara Lush’s exclusive. Drawing upon relationships she built over years with the company that owns the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Lush was able to break the news: “The Greatest Show on Earth,” was folding up its tents after 146 years.

Lush’s all-formats work earns the Beat of the Week.

Circus owner Feld Entertainment approached Lush about what they said would be a scoop of “biblical” proportions. They reached out to her because of they knew and trusted her work.

In early 2015, company executives agreed to give her a story about the circus ending its elephant program following criticism from animal rights activists. The officials were impressed with her fairness and thoroughness in preparing the story in all formats, as well as her reliability in keeping the embargo.

This time, Feld decided to close the circus altogether because ticket sales and attendance plummeted after the elephants were gone.

The company set a meeting with Lush on Jan. 10, giving her five days to pull together a story that could move once Feld informed its employees of the closure following their Saturday night circus performances in Miami and Orlando. Lush did the interview, shot video and took portraits.

Interactives produced a gallery of vintage circus posters, and Wisconsin videojournalist Carrie Antlfinger interviewed a circus historian. Because AP had advance warning, photographer Chris O’Meara and videojournalist Josh Replogle were dispatched to Saturday’s Orlando show to get fresh visuals.Jerry Schwartz on the Top Stories desk in New York deftly edited the story.

Circus owner Feld Entertainment approached Lush about what they said would be a scoop of “biblical” proportions. They reached out to her because of they knew and trusted her work.

When the company’s announcement was made, a Feld executive called Lush, and within minutes the news hit the wire. There was a mainbar, the Latest,a news guide,a sidebar on the circus’ history,video and photos, including vintage posters.

The initial tweet was retweeted more than 8,000 times and within an hour of the news breaking, it was trending worldwide on Twitter and Facebook – and all the stories linked to AP’s coverage.

The entire package was out before the New York Times sent an alert an hour later. Hometown papers for the circus,The Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald Tribune, tore up their front pages late Saturday night to run the story. The AP video offering was the second most popular story on Sunday. All the stories combined generated 1.15 million social media interactions.

Among Lush’s standout work was a follow-up “obituary” of the circus. It began:

SARASOTA,Fla. (AP) — Goodbye to death-defying feats — daring young men (and women) on the flying trapeze,whip-wielding lion tamers,human cannonballs. Goodbye to the scent of peanuts and popcorn,the thrill of three rings, the jaunty bum-bum-dadadada of circus music.Send out the clowns. The Big Top is coming down — for good.

For breaking the news about the end of an era – and for her own juggling act, delivering coverage on multiple formats – Lush wins this week’s $500 prize.

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A Ringling Brothers Circus elephant walks out of a train car as young children watch in the Bronx railroad yard in New York, April 1, 1963. Ticket sales and attendance plummeted after the elephants were discontinued in 2015. – AP PHOTO
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