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AP’s tour de force coverage of Weinstein verdict sweeps all formats

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A photographer leaning out of a bathroom window, reporters breathlessly waiting in courthouse hallways — Mary Altaffer captured the camaraderie and competition of the cadre of women covering Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial. Her photo essay gave an engaging behind-the-scenes look at the trial that was being closely watched around the world as a test for holding powerful men accountable for their mistreatment of women. And when time came for the verdict to be read in the case, an all-formats AP team – of women and men – delivered coverage that far outpaced competitors on the biggest trial of the #MeToo era.

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Harvey Weinstein arrives at the courthouse during jury deliberations in his rape trial, Feb. 24, 2020, in New York. Later in the day the jury convicted the Hollywood mogul of rape and sexual assault. The jury found him not guilty of the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault, which could have resulted in a life sentence. – AP Photo / Craig Ruttle

Reporter Mike Sisak delivered the verdict via Slack,allowing editors on the East Desk to file an alert and a 648-word story within a minute of it being announced in the courtroom,five minutes ahead of the closest competitor. It was just the start of a day in which AP’s speed and preparedness kept it ahead. Video journalist Ted Shaffrey’s live feed of the district attorney’s press conference was up 10 minutes before the closest competitor. Both are an eternity in the world of breaking news,and are all the more remarkable coming in a case that was closely covered by dozens of outlets.

Sisak,Altaffer,reporter Tom Hays and video journalist David Martin remained aggressive in the hours that followed. Martin chased down Weinstein’s defense team,using Bambuser to broadcast them leaving the courthouse after a spat with victims’ rights attorney Gloria Allred. Meanwhile,Sisak,Altaffer and Hays staked out a courthouse exit for Weinstein’s departure; they all nimbly shifted gears when they realized the disgraced mogul was in the back of an ambulance. Altaffer shot photos and Sisak chased after the ambulance, getting exclusive video of Weinstein inside.

AP’s text beat on the verdict was possible due to a filing system and preparedness developed over the course of the monthlong trial. East Desk editor Sophie Rosenbaum worked with Sisak,Hays and the Top Stories Hub to make sure AP had anticipated every possible outcome. For the verdict,she tag-teamed with fellow editor Sarah DiLorenzo on the urgent filing.

Careful video planning and teamwork led to that format’s breaks. Two LiveU units were deployed to the courthouse,and a third was dispatched once it was clear the jury had reached its verdict. Video journalist Robert Bumsted interviewed a model whose 2015 accusations against Weinstein didn’t lead to charges,giving the AP some early reaction to the verdict. Entertainment video assisted with edits and got reaction from several prominent Weinstein accusers, including actress Rosanna Arquette.

Throughout the day,AP photographers and video journalists used messaging apps to share information about the developing story and the movements of key players,enabling decisions on the fly about positioning staff effectively. Photographer John Minchillo and freelancer Craig Ruttle double-teamed Weinstein’s last walk into the courthouse as a free man, and after the verdict they scrambled to capture the feuding attorneys and the jurors leaving the building.

Back in the office,producers Luke Sheridan and Vanessa Alvarez were taking in four live video feeds and quickly publishing material for clients. AP was faster than the competition in almost every development,including filing the first edits of the district attorney,comments from Weinstein accuser Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, defense lawyers and Weinstein’s walker being wheeled out of court.

National Writer Joceyln Noveck added a sidebar with many of Weinstein’s alleged victims reacting to the verdict. And Maryclaire Dale,legal affairs writer in Philadelphia, had a next-day story set to go at 1 a.m. looking at the possible impact of the conviction on other sexual assault trials.

For all the stellar spot coverage,Altaffer produced one of the most-discussed stories of the trial. Over the course of the month-long proceedings,Altaffer used her downtime – often while others were grabbing coffee or catching up on email – to document the women who were working as reporters,producers, photographers and video journalists on the case. Altaffer developed the idea as a way to find a distinct angle on visual coverage of the trial since cameras were barred from the courtroom. Her story-within-the-story photo gallery showed a human element of the coverage not reflected elsewhere,and was widely shared online and used by outlets like CNN,the Miami Herald,San Francisco Chronicle and more.

For quick,comprehensive and distinctive coverage that kept the AP ahead on one of the biggest trials of the year so far,Altaffer,Sisak,Hays,Martin,Shaffrey,Bumsted,Minchillo, Ruttle and Rosenbaum win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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