Best of the Week

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Speedy, smart coverage on Hawaii’s wildfire breaks AP engagement records

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Honolulu’s Audrey McAvoy owned the story from the get-go after she was on the ground within hours of a wildfire obliterating a centuries-old town. She was quickly joined by Portland, Oregon, reporter Claire Rush, Salt Lake City photographer Rick Bowmer and video journalists Ty O’Neil and Haven Daley, from Las Vegas and San Francisco respectively. Under intense reporting pressures, the team pushed past blocked access, no cell phone coverage for hours and differing time zones with colleagues who supported them from across the world. Some slept in the burn zone.

AP was the first major media to document the devastation from the air, gain exclusive access to a church service where relatives of the victims gathered, enter the burn zone and focus on Native Hawaiians and locals who lost everything. Honolulu reporter Jennifer Kelleher anchored the story with help from Chris Weber, from Los Angeles. Video journalist Manuel Valdes, based in Seattle, produced daily stories off live feeds from the field, user-generated content, Zoom interviews and drone video, bolstering visual coverage from the start. Global Media Services’ biggest overseas video clients were fed days of live images from the devastated zone.

Boise newswoman Rebecca Boone produced a groundbreaking accountability piece on how sirens meant to alert the public to danger didn’t sound, and that authorities relied on social media amid blackouts. Other stories shed a light on Lahaina’s storied past, the role climate change played in the blaze, the search for victims, survivors’ tales, the affordable housing crisis, environmental damage and the fire’s toxic dangers, the famed banyan tree and the science behind the wildfires, by reporters across the U.S.

A record-breaking 7.6 million page views were measured on the first full day of coverage, a 32% increase over traffic the same day of the previous week. The next day also broke records with 7.5 million views. By the third day of coverage, six of the Top 10 text stories were still on the Maui fires. AP videos regularly took eight of the 10 top daily slots. The Live Updates fixture, anchored by a revolving door of staff, served as a “search tree” that led readers back to AP’s content again and again.

For aggressive reporting under extreme conditions on the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in a century, the Maui team of Rush, McAvoy, Kelleher, Bowmer, O’Neil, Daley, Weber, Boone and Valdes earns Best of the Week — First Winner.

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