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AP offers compelling takes on two oft-reported crises: Migrant rescues and opioid trafficking

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They are crises that have received significant attention and while playing out in different parts of the world, but the efforts of a trio of AP journalists have shed new light on both the perilous journey of migrants in the Mediterranean and the opioid epidemic in America.

The work of the journalists, Renata Brito aboard the Ocean Viking humanitarian ship sailing in the Mediterranean Sea, and Lindsay Whitehurst and Claire Galofaro in the U.S., tells the respective stories with such captivating clarity that they earned a rare tie in the Best of the Week contest. Each story demonstrated the profound storytelling power the AP can bring to complex stories with ingenuity, smart planning and teamwork.

Barcelona-based Brito wins for a story that she’s still living,and telling,from the Ocean Viking. Embedded with a ship that last week rescued 50 migrants fleeing violence in Africa,Brito continues filing photos, video and text that have resonated with audiences. Her dispatch,“Migrant escaping Libya torture: We will go to Europe or die,” showed in stark terms the journey that for many has ended in death. She focused on Mouctar Diallo,a Guinean man who’s been stabbed, shot and endured other violence trying to make it to Europe – and who was rescued by the Ocean Viking on his 28th birthday.

Brito,who is staying in a cabin and sending her dispatches amid occasionally rough seas and slow Wi-Fi,has scored other personal stories,including the successful evacuation of a pregnant woman and Italy’s decision to take 41 migrants rescued by the humanitarian vessel. The voyage benefited from good timing: When Italy’s government collapsed,Brito and editors in Europe realized that embedding on the Ocean Viking would likely mean it would be the first humanitarian ship to try to dock in Italy under the new government. The stories have provided a human side to the story that often goes missing in coverage that relies on handouts and information from authorities, and conveyed the suffering that migrants endure at the hands of traffickers in Libya.

Filing under difficult conditions has meant photo and text colleagues in Rome have been receiving her dispatches,often late at night,and getting them to customers. Athens newsperson Derek Gatopoulos created social media promos and a hub for her work, while Brito’s video has been fed to London.

A video profile of migrants on the ship got nearly 800 broadcast hits,including from top European outlets like Spain’s TVE,Italy’s RAI,France 24 and Euronews. Her photos have been showcased by numerous Italian newspapers,including La Repubblica,Corriere Della Sera,La Stampa and Il Messaggero.

Galofaro and Whitehurst,meanwhile,share the week’s honors with a very different but no-less-gripping tale: “The rise and fall of an Eagle Scout’s deadly fentanyl empire,” about a millennial who built a mail-order empire of fentanyl-laced pills that made him a millionaire.

Prosecutors linked several deaths to Aaron Shamo’s operation,which sold counterfeit oxycodone pills. In just one day of cooperation from one of Shamo’s collaborators,authorities intercepted packages with nearly 35,000 fentanyl pills destined for homes in 26 states. That was in 2016,and as the story noted,the fentanyl trade has only grown larger, with drug cartels entering the market while smaller operations like Shamo’s continue to set up shop.

Fent Shamo Hed I
Aaron Michael Shamo is shown in a booking photo provided by the Weber County (Utah) Sheriff’s Office. Shamo, a clean-cut, 29-year-old college dropout and Eagle Scout, made himself a millionaire by building a fentanyl-trafficking empire with not much more than his computer and the help of a few friends. – Weber County Sheriff’s Office via AP

Their story
was the result of close teamwork on a story that Whitehurst first pitched in 2017. Galofaro brought her knowledge of the overall opioid crisis and its global impact to the story,sitting in on the start of Shamo’s trial. From there,Whitehurst followed the trial and worked sources,including Shamo’s father,to provide details like Shamo’s Eagle Scout rank. Whitehurst juggled the demands of daily trial coverage and developed strong relationships with both prosecutors and the defense team. Photographer Rick Bowmer spent hours outside the courtroom catching key players headed into the trial,and shot portraits of the parents of one man who is believed to have overdosed on pills purchased from Shamo’s site.

As Whitehurst noted,the collaboration with Galofaro was key: “Claire’s deep expertise on the opioid crisis,background as a federal court reporter and immense writing talent,combined with my years of sourcing and coverage of this case,came together to create something really compelling.” The story was among the AP’s most-read over the weekend,engaging readers with its mix of courtroom reporting,human consequences and broad perspective on the opioid crisis that is rapidly expanding beyond the U.S.

For telling stories that brought new insight and perspective to heavily covered stories that have significant global impact,Brito, Galofaro and Whitehurst win AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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