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

Feb. 15, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Ariana Grande fires back at Grammys producer after AP story

for raising with Ken Ehrlich, producer of the Grammys, the question of why Ariana Grande did not perform at the awards show. Ehrlich said that the singer had declined due to inadequate time to prepare. Within moments of the report, Grande took to Twitter, pointing to Fekadu’s story and telling her 61 million followers that Ehrlich’s explanation was untrue, blaming Ehrlich for “stifling” her and rejecting the songs she offered to perform. https://bit.ly/2S2IbiL

Feb. 08, 2019

Best of the Week

Exclusive AP analysis: The NFL keeps getting younger and cheaper

The unusually short careers of NFL players have long been a thorny issue among the players, the league and even fans of one of the most injury-prone leagues in sports. A pair of high-profile contract disputes during the 2018 season placed the topic front-and-center yet again.

But what more was there to say?

Denver-based national sports writer Eddie Pells and Global Sports Editor Michael Giarrusso came up with the idea of mining data to illustrate how average experience on NFL rosters has changed since 2011, when the league and players agreed to a contract designed in part to help veterans get a bigger share of revenue.

Pells was joined by New York-based data journalist Larry Fenn who started digging. After scouring season-opening rosters from the last 14 years, Pells and Fenn had the data: Average experience in the league was going down consistently as every team chose younger players over veterans who would earn more – even if the veterans were better players.

Pells then asked more than a dozen AP writers in the field for reaction from key players on the teams they covered, while Fenn worked with Top Stories designer Phil Holm, who produced insightful illustrations of the data. Pells also collaborated on videos that were used on social media and embedded in the story.

Other stories in the package included a profile of a typical 4-year player who is cut just as he became eligible for a larger contract, a piece on shortened careers at the center position, and a column foreshadowing collective-bargaining hurdles. Pells also did a story looking at how Super Bowl champions shed expensive players after winning the title.

The package was released in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, commanding attention across the football landscape and getting about double the usage of typical top sports stories. Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Sally Buzbee called it a blueprint for how to plan coverage around big events by timing enterprise and breaking news when attention is high.

For using data and creative storytelling to quantify one of the NFL’s central issues and break news during the biggest sports week of the year, Pells, Fenn and Holm share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 08, 2019

Best of the States

The ‘Left Behind’; AP profiles the other victims of opioids

As the opioid epidemic barrels into its third decade, it’s increasingly hard to find fresh ways to report on the problem. One group that has always been present, usually in the background of stories, are the parents, hundreds of thousands of them who desperately tried to save their children, then buried them anyway. Louisville, Kentucky-based national writer Claire Galofaro chose to focus on them, the survivors who have lost the most to the epidemic.

The project involved journalists across formats throughout the country – Jae Hong, Steven Senne, Pat Semansky, Jeff Roberson, Mark Humphrey, Rodrique Ngowi, Krysta Fauria, Dario Lopez, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Carla Johnson – teaming with Galofaro and enterprise editors Pauline Arrillaga, Jeannie Ohm, Raghu Vadarevu and Enric Marti to think creatively about how text, video, multimedia and photos could work together.

The result was two beautifully written narratives paired with photographs, an extensive Q&A about the epidemic, a full video story and three digital videos in which we hear three different mothers talking about the extreme lengths they went to to try and save their children.

The series struck a raw nerve – engagement was extraordinary: The main story was No. 1 on apnews.com the day it ran, and it appeared on newspaper front pages nationwide. A week later, news outlets were still using it. Hundreds of readers sent emails and tweets. More than one person said that they felt like they were sitting with these families in their living rooms.

For a cross-format effort so intimate, so devastating, it recaptured the attention of a nation that had been exhausted by stories about the opioid epidemic, the team that produced the Left Behind package wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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