2023 Breaking News, Large Newsroom finalist

Al Jazeera English Breaking Coverage of the Turkey/Syria Earthquake

About the Project

On February 6, 2023, a series of powerful earthquakes ravaged southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, tearing down buildings, wiping out towns and killing over 50,000 people.

As a global media organization headquartered in the Middle East, the tremors hit close to home. Yet even as messages of condolence for deceased loved ones from among our colleagues began trickling in, we swiftly put together a plan to cover the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes.

Reporting on such crises is always challenging, but we had an advantage: years of experience covering Turkey and Syria in depth, a reliable rolodex of contacts there; and our rich understanding of both countries and the broader region.

That allowed our news desks in Doha, London, Washington and Kuala Lumpur to get to work within minutes of the first alerts about the earthquakes. Our editors reached out to correspondents on the ground, survivors and aid workers in the worst-hit areas. Our short documentaries unit immediately deployed its chief correspondent to the quake’s epicenter.

We built our reporting around a few key pillars: quick, accurate news updates our readers could trust; audiovisual and text-based explainers decoding and contextualising what had happened; and human stories capturing the pain, hope, compassion, heroism and anger of the moment.

Anchoring our coverage was a live blog that we set up almost immediately. As rescue teams worked around the clock, survivors defied death for days under rubble, communities shared their meagre resources with each other, and foreign aid workers and diplomats arrived, the blog was a one-stop window for millions of readers into the myriad facets of the frantic relief efforts. Al Jazeera’s reporters fed powerful ground reporting to the blog in difficult circumstances.

Meanwhile our data lab put together multiple timely infographics showing the location of the earthquakes, how big they were and how more than a hundred aftershocks had struck to flatten what little had remained standing after the main temblors. We used satellite images to show the scale of the devastation.

On Twitter, we posted detailed threads explaining what had happened and what was happening, with maps, graphics and links to our features, analyses and other articles. Our marquee video shows pivoted in real time: Start Here, which breaks down big news events in ways that are easy to understand, put out an explainer on the web and on Instagram.

And through it all we made sure that the rising death toils, the mounting economic loss and the simmering geopolitics did not mask the faces and people at the center of the story: internally displaced Syrians digging though ruins without help; ordinary women and men opening their doors to strangers needing a roof; or an infant baby born under the rubble.

All of this laid the foundation for weeks of subsequent sustained coverage across digital, video and social platforms — like this short documentary on the tireless rescue teams that saw life and loss up close, day after day, but stuck to the call of duty.