AP State News Report: Reporter 'owned the story' of two shootings

July 24, 2012
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Best of the States
In this image made from video, Brian Felton speaks during an interview in his tattoo parlor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Felton, the roommate of a man wounded in an Alabama shooting rampage, said the violence started when the gunman came to their door looking for a black man, used a racial slur and opened fire. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)
In this July 24 memo to the Associated Press staff, Managing Editor for State News, Financial News and Global Training Kristin Gazlay recounted how AP Birmingham, Ala. correspondent Jay Reeves came to dominate coverage of two shootings because he decided "to work the fringes of the story and break away from the media pack."

On a Monday night in mid-July, Bruce Bankhead opened his front door in Northport, Ala., and was shot. About 45 minutes later, a gunman opened fire in a bar a few miles away in the college town of Tuscaloosa, injuring 17 people. 

Police said the shootings were linked – and Birmingham Correspondent Jay Reeves owned the story from there. 

Reeves kept AP ahead the first two days, reporting on the bar shooting, the victims and the suspect’s troubled past. But it was his decision to work the fringes of the story and break away from the media pack the following two days that scored him back-to-back newsbreaks. Those stories – focused on the shooting of Bankhead, who survived the attack – drove the news agenda for multiple cycles and provided a much deeper and textured look at the suspect.

As other reporters continued to concentrate on the bar shooting, Reeves talked with employees at a business in Brookwood, Ala., where the suspected shooter once worked. He also went to Bankhead’s house in Northport and interviewed his roommate, who gave Reeves a chilling account of the shooting, including the detail that the shooter came to the door and asked for a different roommate, who was black, using a racial epithet. That was the first indication that race may have factored into the rampage. Reeves also secured Bankhead’s cell phone number and thus later was able to gain his story of the shooting directly, including his recollection of playing dead.

And Reeves wasn’t just covering the story for text: Over four days, he shot photos and contributed an interview to AP Radio. Read his newsbreaks and see his photos here: http://wapo.st/NWpqJc and http://bit.ly/P1AyEV 

For aggressive, multi-platform handling of a story that made headlines in his state and far beyond, Reeves wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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