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Committed coverage pays off with exclusive on predator fish

In this July 7, 2020 image provided by the National Park Service, An adult humpback chub is displayed on the Colorado River near Shinumo Creek, in Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, in a July 7, 2020 photo provided by the National Park Service. Low water levels upriver at Lake Powell are introducing non-native predators, including smallmouth bass, into the lower Colorado River, threatening the vulnerable population of chub, which conservationists have brought back from near extinction. (Brian Healy / National Park Service via AP)

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Brittany Peterson landed an exclusive on an emerging threat to an endangered fish a few weeks after leading a large, all-formats package on conservationists’ efforts to protect the species on the Colorado River.

In June, Peterson, a video journalist on the water team, joined forces with environmental reporter John Flesher for an in-depth text story on efforts to protect the ancient humpback chub fish. The species, endemic to the Colorado, is threatened by non-native predator fish due to the effects of climate change.

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In photo at left, Utah State University graduate student Barrett Friesen steers a boat near Glen Canyon Dam on Lake Powell in Page, Ariz., June 7, 2022. Confirming their worst fears for record-low lake levels, National Park Service fisheries biologists have discovered that the smallmouth bass, a non-native predator fish, has made its way through the dam and appear to have spawned in the lower Colorado River, where they can prey on humpback chub, an ancient native fish. At right, Utah State University lab technician Justin Furby weighs a smallmouth bass in Page, Ariz., June 7, 2022. – AP Photos / Brittany Peterson

For that package, Peterson spent a few days on the Colorado with researchers, demonstrating AP’s commitment to the subject. She reported in all formats, then worked with climate photo editor Alyssa Goodman on the presentation and with Flesher and climate team accountability editor Ingrid Lobet on the text edit.

The strength of that immersive package led directly to a scoop a few weeks later when Brian Healy, a fisheries biologist for the Grand Canyon National Park, reached out to Peterson with the news: Just as officials feared, non-native predator fish had made their way into waters inhabited by the humpback chub.

“I haven’t talked to anyone else from the press,” he texted her. “You did such a great job on the last one that I thought you would be the best to contact.”

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Juvenile smallmouth bass, a non-native predator fish, sit at a National Park Service laboratory near Page, Ariz., July 1, 2022. – Jeff Arnold / National Park Service via AP

Peterson and Lobet quickly went to work delivering the exclusive. The fate of the humpback chub is something periodically covered by many news organizations,including heavyweights like the Los Angeles Times. But this scoop on the presence of the predators,particularly smallmouth bass,went unmatched. The piece was second overall for pageviews on AP News the day it moved,beaten out only by the resignation of English Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The story also played widely with customers,including the front page of the Weather Channel,as well as the Miami Herald and papers across the West. Two LA Times environmental reporters,direct competitors on the beat, tweeted the story with credit to the AP and Peterson.

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