Best of the Week

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Dual winners: Resourceful AP teams deliver smart, fast, exclusive coverage in Afghanistan, Haiti

At left, a Taliban fighter holds a machine gun in front of the main gate leading to the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul, Aug. 16, 2021, one day after the capital fell to the Taliban. At right, people carry a body recovered from the rubble of home in Les Cayes, Haiti, Aug. 15, 2021, one day after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake left some 2,000 people dead. (AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn)

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From Afghanistan to Haiti, AP staffers and stringers on two sides of the world were challenged last week to cover fast-breaking news while keeping themselves and their families safe. They excelled at both, and AP’s coverage of the fall of Kabul to Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents and the deadly earthquake across Haiti share Best of the Week honors.

“In two of the toughest nations to operate as a journalist, brave AP staff and freelancers delivered for our worldwide customers and audiences with great determination and ingenuity. The obstacles were formidable — but as always, they found a way, while also remaining safe,” said AP Director of International News Ian Phillips.

In Afghanistan, with events unfolding at a breakneck pace, AP staff and stringers amid the turmoil on the ground were complemented by colleagues in several countries and time zones collaborating to confirm the news and get it out.

AP reporters Rahim Faiez and Tameem Akhgar worked the phones from Istanbul after relocating there with their families. Kathy Gannon, the news director for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was able to draw on contacts developed over more than three decades of covering the region, including high-level members of the Taliban. With her unparalleled experience and knowledge of the region she was able to shape our coverage even while being in North America on medical leave and helping to evacuate staff.

Reporters in several other AP bureaus pitched in to track down and confirm user-generated content,which was often our only way of knowing what was happening in distant provinces and insecure areas of Kabul.

Middle East News Director Karin Laub noted that the AP sent out 17 alerts on Sunday alone, as city after city reported surrendering to the Taliban advance. And AP was among the first — perhaps the outright first — to report that President Ashraf Ghani had fled the country and Taliban forces were entering the capital in the wake of vanishing government police and soldiers.

The capital’s stunning fall to the Taliban after nearly a 20-year absence set off a panic,especially around the airport as thousands of Afghanis struggled to flee on the last commercial flights or on military planes sent by the United States or allied governments. AP writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai,Joe Krauss in Jerusalem and Sarah DiLorenzo in London captured the drama in seamless writethrus around the clock, using feeds from reporters on the ground or in the region. Akhgar was able to write and take video of his own evacuation on one of the last commercial flights.

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A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021. Helicopters were landing at the embassy as the Taliban advanced into the Afghan capital. – AP Photo / Rahmat Gul

Meanwhile,Rahmat Gul’s striking photo of a U.S. Chinook helicopter flying over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul was featured on numerous front pages worldwide,drawing comparisons to similar Vietnam War images. Within hours,cameraman Ahmed Seir followed Taliban fighters patrolling the streets and interviewed some of their leaders,despite threats and uncertainty. Video of the patrols alone saw more than 1,000 hits by some 185 television channels around the world.

For outstanding journalism in perilous conditions, the AP staff and stringers in Kabul and members of the Afghan reporting team around the world are recognized with AP’s Best of the Week award.

When a powerful magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck southwestern Haiti on Saturday morning,AP journalists on the island scrambled to get to the area within hours. A second team arrived in-country within a day to reinforce the coverage in all-formats.

It became clear almost immediately that the quake had killed hundreds,with thousands more injured and widespread damages to homes,schools and churches. AP was first and fast with live video of the disaster.

The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,Haiti suffers a rickety infrastructure,including impaired highways after the quake,so staffers hurried to find a plane to Les Cayes,in one of the most-affected areas. As the team awaited space on a flight,desk editors outside Haiti searched the web for user-generated video and images, obtaining the first images moved on the wire.

Then,when video and photo stringers Pierre Luxama and Joseph Odelyn landed in Les Cayes,they immediately started sending material. The AP was the first media with live views,the first with aerial images and even exclusive comments on video by Prime Minister Ariel Henry as he left for the disaster zone. Before long,text freelancer Evens Sanon reached the area Saturday and started reporting from the field.

A second team,including photographers Fernando Llano and Matías Delacroix and correspondent Mark Stevenson,arrived in Haiti on Sunday from Mexico City and Caracas Venezuela,adding muscle to the coverage. Another cameraman,Marko Alvarez,flew in from Bogota,Colombia, while Havana-based Caribbean News Director Fernando González coordinated all the coverage.

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Mexico-based photographer Fernando Llano is surrounded by curious children in Le Cayes, Haiti, Aug. 18, 2021, as he uses his drone to show improvised tents set up by residents displaced by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake four days earlier. – AP Photo / Fernando Llano

A second team,including photographers Fernando Llano and Matías Delacroix and correspondent Mark Stevenson,arrived in Haiti on Sunday from Mexico City and Caracas Venezuela,adding muscle to the coverage. Another cameraman,Marko Alvarez,flew in from Bogota,Colombia,while Havana-based Caribbean News Director Fernando González coordinated all the coverage.

AP photos were used around the globe,including gracing The New York Times front page on Sunday,and AP video was virtually everywhere,outpaced only by some of the video coming out of the turmoil in Afghanistan.

In tandem with unsung heroes at the various photo,video and text desks,the resourceful AP team — Luxama,Sanon,Odelyn,Stevenson,Llano,Delacroix, Alvarez and González — also takes AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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