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New England team elevates town debate into engaging all-formats package about free speech

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AP reporter Kathy McCormack and photographer Robert Bukaty took what could have been a relatively mundane state wire brief about a vote on a local ordinance and transformed the story into an engaging all-formats national package with text, audio, photos and video that became the third most viewed story on APNews on the day of publication.   

Where is the line between art, advertising and free speech? The unresolved question is testing the direct democracy of a small New England town, where a painting of pastries has led to zoning dispute, a First Amendment lawsuit and a local vote. It started with a well-intentioned high school art project, covering a blank wall over a roadside bakery in rural Conway, New Hampshire. The mural above Leavitt’s Country Bakery shows the sun shining over mountains made of chocolate and strawberry donuts, a cinnamon roll and a blueberry muffin. The zoning board says the painted pastries over the bakery make it advertising as well as art, so the mural is a sign that’s four sizes too big. 

While the story could have been written from the desk and used a handout photo from the bakery, the team decided to send Robert Bukaty in for two days to talk to residents and get an in-depth and stunning record of the town visually. His photos, video and interviews helped elevate the story, which was masterfully written by Kathy McCormack.  

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