AP kicks off a series of national stories with a revealing road trip into rural Ohio, looking at the issues that exploded into the national consciousness this year.

Assignments don’t come much more challenging or ambitious: Take a road trip across the nation to see how Americans in different regions and are facing the confluence of COVID-19, economic meltdown, racial protests and a tumultuous presidential election. And this first installment came with high expectations, as it had to both launch the series and hold its own as a story. The team of Minneapolis-based enterprise reporter Tim Sullivan, New York enterprise photographer Maye-E Wong and Chicago video journalist Noreen Nasir came through beautifully.

The story draws attention to Ohio communities in the much-maligned Appalachian region, thoughtfully acknowledging both the truths and the enduring stereotypes so often associated with it. In particular, the piece showed us why the region feels even more isolated now – its residents see COVID-19 deaths and racial unrest from a distance, mostly on TV. 

The package looked terrific, with powerful photos and video, and Samantha Shotzbarger handling the digital presentation. The story played extremely well over an extended period of time, even four days later carrying a remarkable average audience engagement of three minutes.

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From left, AP’s Maye-E Wong, Tim Sullivan and Noreen Nasir in Athens, Ohio, July 23, 2020.

AP / Wong Maye-E

Praise was both internal and external. A senior editor called it “just a spectacular piece of journalism” and “some of the best work we've done this year.” Among the rewarding reactions from readers was this note: “The stories of the people there, their struggles, brought me to tears while reading your article. Thank you for writing such a beautiful piece.”

For compelling journalism in all formats that speaks to core issues impacting Americans in a turbulent year, the team of Sullivan, Wong and Nasir earns AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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