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Hallmarks of AP journalism showcased in scoops on immigration, Thai cave rescue

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Exclusivity and precision – both hallmarks of the AP – were on full display last week as teams of journalists covered the roiling immigration debate in the U.S. and the gripping story of the Thai boys soccer team trapped deep inside a flooded cave.

A day after America’s Independence Day, investigative reporters Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke revealed that some immigrant U.S. Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship were being discharged.

In Thailand days later, an AP team was first to accurately report that Thai authorities had freed four boys from the cave, rather than six as other media said. It was part of a two-week, around-the-clock multi-format effort that included unmatched live shots from the scene.

For exclusive reporting that forced readers – and customers – to take notice, Mendoza and Burke and the Thailand team of Tassanee Vejpongsa, Chris Blake, Yves Dam Van, Shonal Ganguly, Sakchai Lalit, Kaweewit Kaewjinda, Jason Corben, Grant Peck, Somphong Saisomboon and Preeyapa Khunsong share Beat of the Week awards.

As the immigration debate raged in the U.S.,Mendoza received an email from an attorney about the case of a discharged Brazilian reservist who sued the Army,alleging that the Defense Department hadn’t given him a chance to defend himself or appeal.

Mendoza and Burke,consulting with Global Investigations Editor Mike Hudson,quickly found other recruits from Pakistan,Dominica and Iran who were in similar situations. The reporters found studies showing many service members recruited through the program had proven to be exemplary.

After dozens of calls and emails from the pair,Pentagon officials said they couldn’t comment on the discharges, citing the pending litigation. They said service members with an honorable discharge were protected from deportation.

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Chinese-born doctoral student Panshu Zhao poses in uniform at a U.S. Army Reserve installation in Houston, Feb. 11, 2018. Zhao is among the immigrant military recruits and reservists struggling with often inexplicable discharges and cancelled contracts. They enlisted with a promised path to citizenship in exchange for their service. “It’s just like you’re dropped from heaven to hell,” Zhao told The AP. – Photo courtesy Panshu Zhao via AP

The story spread rapidly. The tweet from AP’s main account registered nearly 4.5 million impressions, driving more visitors to the story on APNews.com than any AP tweet has ever driven to any AP site. An editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked: “Is this really how America wants to show gratitude to those who served honorably?”

Mendoza and Burke followed their scoop with an intimate portrait of a doctoral student who joined the Army Reserves after growing up in China dreaming of democratic ideals. He told the reporters his discharge was “like you’re dropped from heaven to hell.”

As the immigration story commanded headlines,another major story emerged half a world away. In Thailand,the AP team faced down intense competitive pressure as the world awaited any word about the fate of the boys soccer team trapped in a cave complex, a story that the AP had owned from the beginning largely due to Vejpongsa’s intrepid early reporting.

After the rescues finally got underway,Reuters and AFP reported that six of the boys had been extracted from the cave. The AP team couldn’t get immediate confirmation and stuck with what they knew for certain: that two ambulances had left the cave entrance.

With freelance editor Chris Blake leading the text report,another freelancer,Jason Corben, got information from the Thai Navy SEALS’ Facebook page that four of the 12 boys had been rescued. Blake filed the alert. Reuters and others had to issue corrections. AFP clarified in its story.

That scoop capped off a week of strong,multi-format reporting in Mae Sai led by Bangkok-based video journalist Vejpongsa. The team battled grueling rain and mud to deliver photo and video, including unmatched live shots from outside the cave that captured the work of the rescue teams.

On the day the first four boys were rescued,Sakchai Lalit,who was the lone photographer at the scene, walked a kilometer through rain and mud to get to a vantage point where he could capture shots of the ambulance that would move the boys – a detail that was also used on the text report.

Video edits about the rescue and moments leading up to it dominated the top 10 in Teletrax. On AP Direct,the top eight live shots were all from the Thai cave.

For their enterprising work to deliver scoops on two divergent and intensely competitive stories,Mendoza and Burke,and Vejpongsa and the Thailand team, each earn the Beat of the Week award.

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