Feb. 22, 2019

Best of the Week

AP breaks global news with unprecedented Maduro interview

“How quickly can you and your boss get here?”

The curt text message to Andean News Director Joshua Goodman from Venezuela’s normally evasive communications minister promised a tantalizing scoop. It set Goodman and Ian Phillips, vice president for international news, on an intercontinental dash to Caracas to secure embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s first-ever interview with an English-language news agency.

Among the exclusives from the interview, Maduro revealed that his foreign minister had twice met secretly in New York with a Trump administration envoy. It came against a tense backdrop as the U.S. joined other Latin American nations in calling for the leader’s ouster.

The unprecedented access came as the result of Goodman’s years of source development with the Venezuelan government, including cultivating pro-government sources and making sure cabinet ministers saw that AP’s coverage of the nation was fair and balanced.

The package was a dominating all-formats beat for the AP and a massive draw for customers, with video of the interview downloaded more than 840 by clients around the world. And in a surprise first, Venezuelan state TV also carried the 42-minute interview in its entirety in prime time.

For his masterful source development, resourcefulness and quick work to put the AP ahead, Goodman wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 22, 2019

Best of the States

Victims of the Paradise wildfire; stunning portraits of how they lived and died

The wildfire that consumed Paradise, California, claimed 85 lives while virtually burning the town off the map. But beyond those facts lay a rich narrative of the individuals who perished while calling Paradise home.

AP San Francisco reporters Janie Har and Jocelyn Gecker set out to tell the stories of the victims of the deadly Paradise fire far more comprehensively than was possible in the immediate aftermath: Who were they? Where and when did they die? Did they even have a chance to flee?

To paint a picture of how the tragedy unfolded, the pair spent months tracking down family members – many of whom were wary – to talk about their loved ones, assuring them that AP’s coverage would be more than a recitation of the grim facts. Interviews with California fire officials, a newly available simulation of the fire’s movement on the fateful morning and public records requests enabled AP to produce an interactive graphic giving the exact locations where people died and their approximate times of death.

The result was a riveting package that coupled intimate portraits of the victims with the circumstances of their death. Most never had a chance to flee their homes as the fast-moving fire barreled through.

The moving package was well-received by members throughout California and from coast-to-coast.

For carrying the Paradise story forward with enterprising, sensitive work that focused on the victims’ narratives, Har and Gecker share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 15, 2019

Best of the Week

Multiple APNewsBreaks in Virginia capital scandals

The Virginia governor’s medical school yearbook page was stunning. A photo in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook showed two people looking at the camera – one in blackface wearing a hat, bow tie and plaid pants; the other in white Klan robes.

Hours after a conservative news outlet first reported the racist photo late on a Friday afternoon, Gov. Ralph Northam apologized and acknowledged that he appeared in the photo. The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and several Democratic presidential candidates called for his resignation.

By the next day, however, he had a change of heart and Virginia statehouse correspondent Alan Suderman broke the news ahead of everyone else. Through a hard-won source he had cultivated during his five years at the statehouse, Suderman revealed that Northam did not believe he was in the photo and would not resign, hours before the governor made that decision public.

Then the scandal took a turn as sexual assault allegations were made against Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat who is only the second African-American to win statewide office in the state. Suderman secured a denial from Fairfax after the second woman’s accusation.

But Suderman wasn’t done. Again working his sources, he revealed that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, the potential successor to Northam and Fairfax, had admitted that he wore blackface during a party when he was a 19-year-old student at the University of Virginia.

The stories drew tremendous play with readers and customers, with more than 1,000 website matches on several days and 103,000 social media interactions in one day.

For his deft source-building and strong reporting on this highly competitive series of stories, Alan Suderman wins the AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 15, 2019

Best of the States

Freeze frames: Resourceful, creative visuals of old-school ice harvesting

It doesn’t get much cooler than this.

Portland, Maine-based photographer Bob Bukaty’s captivating video and photos bring to life the 120-year-old tradition of ice harvesting, a process that yields ice used for cooling beverages at a New Hampshire summer resort. Using a variety of techniques, equipment, angles, reflections and vantage points, Bukaty took the readers onto the ice on Squam Lake in Holderness, N.H.

Concord correspondent Michael Casey originated the story and wrote the text, while East digital presentation editor Samantha Shotzbarger adapted Casey’s text story into an audio script, voiced by broadcast journalist Warren Levinson.

Bukaty spent most of a frigid day on the lake, using a GoPro camera in a waterproof housing to record the activity under and over the 13-inch-thick ice. He also recorded interviews of group members who used chain saws, ice picks and a massive sled-mounted saw to harvest the blocks of ice from the lake surface.

The striking visuals were the talk of newsrooms in New England and at New York headquarters. By week’s end the story had nearly 30,000 page views, and the video spent three days among AP’s top U.S. newsroom-ready videos – even while competing against State of the Union coverage.

For their story that generated national interest with compelling visuals, the team of Bukaty, Shotzbarger and Casey wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Feb. 15, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Police sources reveal story behind deadly Paris fire

for obtaining two exclusive police reports that revealed surprising details behind Paris’ deadliest fire in more than a decade — one involving an argument involving a resident said to have a history of psychiatric problems who has been accused of arson, and a second detailing the woman’s arrest after she tried to set a car on fire. Hinnant’s well-placed sources put AP far ahead of other news organizations. https://bit.ly/2DK7NMa