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Preparation, execution set AP apart on Johnny Depp testimony

Actor Johnny Depp testifies that a can of mineral spirits actress Amber Heard through, hit him there, in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Monday, April 25, 2022. Depp sued his ex-wife Amber Heard for libel in Fairfax County Circuit Court after she wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post in 2018 referring to herself as a "public figure representing domestic abuse." (AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)

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Virginia correspondents Matthew Barakat and Ben Finley teamed up to deliver quick,colorful,informed coverage of actor Johnny Depp’s testimony in the libel case against his ex-wife, Amber Heard.

With the closely watched case sure to create a spectacle — but no seating set aside for print reporters — the pair came up with a plan that score major play for AP.

Barakat arrived by 7 a.m. the first two days of Depp’s testimony,making sure to get a seat inside the courtroom packed with celebrity watchers. He also wasn’t allowed to use his phone or computer in court,so he drafted prep copy each day that could move right at 10 a.m. when Depp took the stand.

Finley,meanwhile,watched a remote live video stream, gathering full quotes and writing through the stories until Barakat could emerge from the courtroom during recesses to offer color,including Depp’s unusual way of speaking, his testy interactions with Heard’s lawyers and reactions inside the courtroom.

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Barakat,a seasoned court reporter who followed the case through pretrial stages,fact-checked Depp’s testimony as it unfolded by weaving in evidence revealed at a previous lawsuit in London,including text messages that called some of Depp’s testimony into question. He and Finley also worked together to sort through the voluminous,colorful and often troubling testimony to select what was most pertinent to readers,enlisting standards editors regarding graphic content.

Combined with fast work by photo and video editors to deliver pool visuals,the stories earned wide play online,a tribute to the AP pair’s thorough,insightful,even-handed coverage, even as some news outlets focused on outrageous quotes without the context or analysis provided by AP.

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