Best of the Week


AP owns Depp-Heard verdict with planning, fast execution

Amber Heard, center, and lawyers Elaine Bredehoft, right, and Ben Rottenborn, left, react as verdicts are read in a Fairfax, Va., courtroom, June 1, 2022, in a still image from pool video. The jury sided with actor Johnny Depp in his libel suit against ex-wife Heard, vindicating his allegations that Heard lied about Depp abusing her before and during their brief marriage, but the jury also found that Heard was defamed by one of Depp’s lawyers, who accused her of creating a detailed hoax.


Denise Lavoie, R.J. Rico, Matt Barakat, Brooke Lefferts, Paula Munoz, Alicia Rancillo, John Carucci, Dan Huff and Craig Hudson teamed up for a decisive all-formats win on the ultracompetitive Johnny Depp-Amber Heard verdict with lightning-fast alerts, an insightful text story and a quickly prepared, extensively reported video package.

It took weeks of planning across multiple formats and departments to ensure AP does what it does best: owning key moments of a breaking story.

Ahead of the verdict,Virginia reporters Matt Barakat and Denise Lavoie worked with South Desk editor R.J. Rico to create a detailed text prep file for the possible verdict scenarios. Similarly,entertainment video editor Brooke Lefferts led a team that pre-wrote scripts and prepared for fast video edits,while AP’s social promotions team drafted tweets for the various outcomes.

On Wednesday,Lavoie,who would be in the Fairfax,Virginia,courtroom for the verdict,huddled with Rico and other text editors shortly beforehand to review the verdict format and multiple facets of each claim. Then,with Lavoie unable to use her phone in court,Rico listened to the detailed reading of the verdict and filed multiple news alerts,getting the news out minutes ahead of competitors. Lavoie quickly followed with writethrus including the reaction inside the courtroom, while Rico wrote a sidebar on the multiple counts. AP had a nuanced 800-word story out within 15 minutes while other major outlets still had just brief pieces.

Photo editors,including Paula Munoz,worked quickly to move pool images from inside the courtroom,including screengrabs of Heard’s reaction,as well as photos from outside by freelancer Craig Hudson.

On the video side,Alicia Rancilio quickly filed a video edit after the verdict and,along with video journalist John Carucci,conducted interviews with legal analysts and public relations crisis experts. Outside the courthouse, video journalist Dan Huff streamed live coverage.

Within hours the video team produced separate edits of the scene outside the courtroom,the attorneys’ comments,and social media reaction to the verdict. Other videos included a legal analyst talking about the case and a crisis management expert talking about the future careers of Depp and Heard.

The fast, sweeping coverage scored heavily: AP’s all-formats mainbar was used by nearly 1,000 outlets in the first 24 hours with high readership and social media engagement, while the video edits made AP’s top seven stories for client usage for the week.

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