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APNewsBreak reveals renewed investigation into Emmett Till killing

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Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy, whose body was found weighted down in the Tallahatchie River near the Delta community of Money, Miss., August 31, 1955. Local residents Roy Bryant, 24, and J.W. Milam, 35, were accused of kidnapping, torturing and murdering Till for allegedly harassing Bryant’s wife. – AP PHOTO

The killing of black teenager Emmett Till remains one of the most notorious crimes in American history, unresolved more than 60 years later. The 14-year-old boy was lynched after being accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955, a case that shocked the nation and helped inspire the civil rights movement. Alabama correspondent Jay Reeves has doggedly pursued any developments in the case over the years, and last week came away with a bombshell: the investigation was being reopened.

For that exclusive, Reeves wins the Beat of the Week.

Reeves was following up on a routine story about a new piece of legislation introduced in Congress when he checked the Justice Department’s website for a report that could offer more details. There, tucked into the report, he found evidence that the government quietly had reopened its investigation into the killing. The government was renewing the probe after a 2017 book claimed that witness Carolyn Donham had lied about Till’s actions before he was abducted.

Reeves and the broader AP sprung into action after breaking the news. Reeves interviewed a Till family spokeswoman who hadn’t heard of the development. He then reached a potential witness who said he’d talked to an investigator recently. National writer Allen Breed located Donham’s house in Raleigh,North Carolina,to pursue comment and covered a news conference called by the author of the book following publication of the AP story. Statehouse reporter Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson,Mississippi,interviewed a county prosecutor who could be involved in an eventual prosecution. Newsman Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles secured confirmation about details behind the newly opened case. Washington,D.C., interns Tramon Lucas and Beatrice Jin headed to a Smithsonian museum dedicated to black history and got reaction from people attending a Till exhibit.

Multiple national news outlets used AP’s story for hours after we broke the news early Thursday or did their own versions noting that AP scored the scoop. The story received strong play. It had 1,210 total source matches and total Facebook/Twitter interactions were about 148,000. Page views on apnews.com according to Chartbeat were about 6,775. Average engagement was 43 seconds but got as high as 1:43 at one point on Thursday – the day the story moved.

For dedication in covering one of the most painful episodes in U.S. civil rights history,63 years after it occurred, Reeves will receive this week’s Beat of the Week award.

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