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AP dominates coverage of Ahmaud Arbery verdict with dedicated reporting, planning, teamwork

Tears streak down the cheek of Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, after the jury convicted Travis McMichael of Arbery’s murder, in the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga., Nov. 24, 2021., in Brunswick, Ga. (AP Photo / Stephen B. Morton, Pool)

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When the first murder conviction came down in the closely watched trial of three men accused in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, AP’s news alert rocketed out a remarkable nine minutes ahead of the competition. Savannah correspondent Russ Bynum anchored that coverage on the final day as he had single-handedly for weeks, writing thousands of words over the course of the trial. His preparation, commitment and close coordination with colleagues gave AP the extraordinary speed victory and earned Bynum honors as Best of the Week — First Winner.

The dramatic conclusion in the case of Arbery, the Black man who was chased and shot dead after running through a white neighborhood in Georgia, came after more than five weeks of court proceedings. Bynum had watched every minute of jury selection, opening and closing arguments and testimony. He often prepared peanut butter sandwiches at the hotel room where he lived and ate them during lunch breaks at his computer. “During trials, lunch is only about not starving,” said Bynum.

His deep knowledge of the case was key to preparing for the potential verdicts. Bynum,along with South regional news director Ravi Nessman and deputy news director Janelle Cogan,had mapped out possible alerts and urgent series to cover any of the potential outcomes,a complicated exercise with three defendants each facing nine charges — five murder counts and four lesser counts each.

As the jury gathered in the courtroom on Nov. 24,the day before Thanksgiving,key AP personnel joined a Zoom call to facilitate quick decision-making. Desk staffers had coordinated ahead of time to ensure everyone understood the plan: AP would send out an alert as soon as a first murder conviction came down, rather than wait for verdicts on all three. That decision gave AP a decisive edge over news organizations that waited for all the verdicts to be read.

The push notification that Arbery’s shooter,Travis McMichael,was found guilty,moved almost immediately,a stunning nine-minute beat on the highly competitive story. Then,as convictions of the other two defendants were issued,AP was as fast as other news outlets. “We knew it wasn’t possible or practical to alert on each count,” said Cogan. “With our comprehensive prep and plan to alert only on the first guilty murder charge,or acquittal on all murder counts,per defendant,we were able to be lightning fast with the first person,and then each following. We had breaking news updates ready,too.”

The speed no doubt contributed to AP’s overall dominance of the story. By the following Monday, the main Arbery trial story had some 950,000 views on apnews.com, and had been shared or posted a million times on social media.

The AP followed up the verdicts with analysis,explainers and enterprise, including a look at the common thread in this case and the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, and a profile of Arbery in the days before his death. Atlanta-based Kate Brumback used her legal expertise to break down the trial and what happens next; she and Bynum teamed up for an analysis of how the defendants’ own words may have damned them.

AP also produced 13 video edits on verdict day,while AP’s freelance photographer,Stephen Morton,captured telling images inside the courtroom before,during and after the convictions. Boston-based video journalist Rodrique Ngowi flew in for live coverage and also snagged a Thanksgiving Day interview with Arbery’s mother.

Bynum was at the heart of the collaborative effort. For his fierce dedication,and all those peanut butter sandwiches, he earns AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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