Nov. 01, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Ukraine’s Zelenskiy pressured by Trump months before call

Desmond Butler and Michael Biesecker, global investigations reporters in Washington, wanted to fill out the timeline of the diplomatic scandal at the heart of House impeachment inquiry. While Biesecker worked sources in Washington, Butler traveled to Ukraine to meet with associates of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and with other sources developed over years of investigating wrongdoing in the former Soviet Union.

What they learned moved the needle on a complex narrative — associates of the Ukrainian leader said that pressure from the Trump White House started much earlier than was known previously, dating from shortly after Zelenskiy’s election in April, and before he took office as president. 

The scoop was the latest in a series of breaking stories and exclusives by the pair that have defined coverage of the impeachment investigation and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s role in it.

For meticulous work that led to a major scoop and widened the horizons of the ongoing Ukraine-Trump story, Butler and Biesecker share AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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Nov. 01, 2019

Best of the States

Experience, persistence pay off with breaking news: US to collect asylum seekers’ DNA

Immigration and Homeland Security reporter Colleen Long’s ears perked up in early October when she heard agency officials mention “CODIS” as they briefed reporters on the likelihood they would expand their practice of collecting DNA from migrants. 

CODIS, she knew from experience, was an FBI database usually associated with violent crimes, so Long was surprised to hear of its use in connection with migrants whose only crime was crossing the border illegally. Long followed up with detailed questions at the briefing but didn’t get answers, so she kept pressing officials.

Her persistence was rewarded with an advance briefing on the new rule, and additional details about how the DNA policy would be implemented. Long’s story moved hours ahead of the official announcement, becoming one of the most-read stories of the day. 

For making the early connection to the policy implications of the DNA database, then pressing the issue with officials until she had the exclusive details, Long earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 25, 2019

Best of the States

Two all-formats exclusives on discovery of Japan’s sunken Midway warships

How are you guaranteed to get an exclusive if and when researchers locate Japanese ships sunken during the World War II Battle of Midway? 

One sure way is to be the only journalist accompanying researchers aboard a vessel in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific. That’s exactly what Hawaii correspondent Caleb Jones did, delivering two exclusive packages on the discovery of warships in northwestern Hawaii, first by convincing the search company to invite only the AP, and then singlehandedly producing the all-formats content from the research ship.

For successfully pitching AP’s reach, then following up with strong storytelling that led to worldwide exclusives, Caleb Jones wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the Week

Anatomy of a phone call: New details of Trump’s Ukraine call revealed

President Donald Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s president, and the ensuing impeachment investigation, has been the hottest story in Washington for weeks. It’s extremely challenging to find new ways to report on the conversation and gather new details of how a rough transcript of the call was created and handled. 

Deb Riechmann managed to do it all, with a deeply reported 1800-word story that laid out everything we know about who was on the call, how such conversations are memorialized and what happens to the rough transcripts once they are created.

For uncovering tantalizing new details about Trump’s fateful phone call with the Ukraine president, AP’s Best of the Week citation goes to White House reporter Deb Riechmann.

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Oct. 04, 2019

Best of the States

AP reveals research into a rare-but-severe infection carried by family pets

It could have been a routine follow-up story, but Milwaukee video journalist Carrie Antlfinger found a way to tell that story and break news. 

Very little was known last year when Greg Manteufel, a perfectly healthy Wisconsin man, developed a severe blood infection attributed to a bacterium commonly found in the saliva of cats and dogs. 

While reporting on Manteufel’s effort to reclaim his life after more than 20 surgeries and the loss of his limbs, Antlfinger discovered an angle that had not been pursued by other outlets: Researchers had identified a genetic factor that appears to make otherwise healthy people susceptible to the disease.

Antlfinger shot video, photos and wrote the story, which received strong play in all formats.

For a compelling story of recovery that also broke medical news, Antlfinger receives this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 20, 2019

Best of the States

Going to extremes to tell the story of sexual violence and shortcomings of enforcement

In western Alaska, rape survivors and their supporters say Nome’s police department has often failed to investigate sexual assaults, especially when the victims are Alaska Native women.

Delivering sensitive-but-powerful coverage from a challenging environment, enterprise photographer Maye-E Wong and freelance correspondent Victoria Mckenzie tell the story of average Americans struggling with sexual violence and law enforcement in small communities. Their work made clear that Nome’s struggles don’t represent an isolated case; it is a microcosm of how police and towns and cities across the U.S. have failed survivors of sexual assaults.

For going to extremes – literally and figuratively – to shed light on a remote corner of the larger issue of sexual violence and enforcement, Wong and Mckenzie share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 13, 2019

Best of the States

Only on AP: Singer says Domingo harassed her, grabbed her breast; more women come forward

In the weeks after Jocelyn Gecker’s bombshell investigation detailing multiple sexual harassment allegations against Placido Domingo, competitors were out in full force, trying to produce their own stories about women who had encounters with the opera superstar.

But only the AP was able to advance the story, offering the accounts of an additional 11 women who said the legend had behaved inappropriately, including one who said on the record that Domingo insisted on kissing her and later forcefully grabbed her bare breast under her robe. In addition, backstage staff told the Jocelyns – AP’s Gecker and Noveck – how they strove to keep young women from ever being alone with Domingo.

No one could match the pair’s reporting, which produced one of the most-read stories on AP’s platform and formed the basis of stories by many other media outlets. Meanwhile, more opera companies announced they were canceling or reassessing their relationship with Domingo.

For remarkable source building and reporting that continued to give AP ownership of this highly competitive story, Gecker and Noveck earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 13, 2019

Best of the Week

AP data project shows women facing restrictions increasingly seek abortions out of state

Legislative debates over restricting abortion access in the U.S. have been among the most hotly contested and thoroughly covered state government topics of recent years. But what of the women affected by those laws? A distinctive, data-driven investigation by the state government and data teams provided answers: Each year thousands of women travel to get abortions in another state, and the share of non-resident women getting abortions had risen significantly in states where conservative legislatures passed measures restricting the procedure.

To arrive at that conclusion, state government team reporter Christina Cassidy went state-by-state to gather the most recent abortion data, while data team editor Meghan Hoyer oversaw the methodology and analysis. Cassidy also worked sources to find women who had left their home state for an abortion, humanizing the story behind the data. Colleagues Alina Hartounian, Susan Montoya Bryan, Gillian Flaccus and Francois Duckett produced compelling all-formats content for the package.

A unique dataset released before publication allowed AP’s member publications to produce localized graphics and stories. The project checked all the boxes for customer and reader engagement, which was extraordinarily strong.

For putting the AP out front on one of the most contentious issues roiling American politics, Cassidy, Hoyer, Flaccus, Montoya Bryan, Hartounian and Duckett share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats reveal: California to build world’s largest animal crossing

for reporting about the world’s largest animal crossing, planned for the U.S. 101 freeway northwest of Los Angeles. California transportation officials didn’t have much to say about the plan, but Weber connected with a source at the National Wildlife Federation, a major backer of the project. They gave AP access to plans, renderings and other images, and eventually the site itself. The organizers allowed the AP all-formats package, which received extraordinary play, serve as the project’s public announcement. https://bit.ly/2KXSGnl

Aug. 23, 2019

Best of the Week

Chance encounter, tenacious reporting reveal harassment allegations against Placido Domingo

Jocelyn Gecker’s bombshell investigation of sexual harassment allegations against opera superstar Placido Domingo started with a song.

San Francisco-based Gecker was at a party about 18 months ago when she noticed the beautiful voice of the woman next to her singing “Happy Birthday,” and complimented her. The woman was a former opera singer who confided that the industry had a dark underbelly, offering her assessment that “Placido Domingo is the Bill Cosby of the opera world.”

The discussion sparked months of work by Gecker to publicly reveal what many said had been an open secret in the opera world. In all, Gecker would find nine women who accused Domingo of sexual harassment and a half-dozen more who said the star made them uncomfortable. Getting people to go on the record proved challenging, but a breakthrough came when one of Domingo’s accusers agreed to tell her story on camera. The resulting 5,200-word story – and Domingo’s response – commanded instant attention and heavy engagement in global media.

For finding a major international story in an unlikely setting, and her care in dealing with sources while reporting tenaciously on a sensitive topic, Gecker earns AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Aug. 09, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Resourceful all-formats teamwork on remote Greenland ice melt

for impressive all-formats coverage of Greenland’s heat wave and the ensuing ice melt. From the outset the story was a logistical challenge, 2,000 miles from the nearest bureau, with few sources for photos or video of the heat wave’s impact. Initial attempts to secure images from a scientist on the island were unsuccessful due to poor internet, so staffers brainstormed other options. A London staffer was able to get recent family photos showing melt water lakes, elevating the story and winning play, but the team did not stop there. Overnight they were able to establish a connection with the research scientist, who shared exclusive photos and video of the melting ice sheet, including the rampaging melt water, in addition to an on-camera interview.https://bit.ly/2Kw8rR9https://bit.ly/2MHjfhU

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Aug. 02, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Unique, enterprising video stories win Tour de France viewers

for a series of nearly 20 videos from the Tour de France, using iPhone and GoPro to create short-form, customer-ready products. The videos drove traffic to their comprehensive text coverage of the race itself as well as “Taste of the Tour,” their daily series of entertaining, informative and entirely exclusive cross-format stories exploring the people, places, cuisine and hidden tales in the regions crossed by the Tour. They shot video and interviews in the early morning, before starting long days covering each stage, then edited their video stories in the car as they drove hundreds of miles to the stage finish, where they then leapt back into race coverage. On Twitter alone, the video series racked up close to 300,000 views, more than covering the pair’s modest wine tab.https://bit.ly/2yvemQshttps://bit.ly/2Ktu58Dhttps://bit.ly/2SUr7O2https://bit.ly/2K9dvMihttps://bit.ly/2YvHXbj

July 12, 2019

Best of the States

Only on AP: Big farms find easy ways around caps on tariff aid

An AP Best of States mention in February about the hundreds of companies avoiding President Donald Trump’s steel tariffs raised questions about Trump’s $12 billion aid package to farmers hurt by the tariffs. What happened next shows how states can produce sharp, data-driven journalism – simply by calling on the data team for help.

AP filed Freedom of Information Act requests for U.S. Department of Agriculture data that was analyzed by Balint Szalai, a Hungarian investigative reporter embedded with AP’s data team, and Washington data team intern Riin Aljas.

Among their findings: Many big farming operations were legally collecting far more than the supposed caps on aid.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis reporter Steve Karnowski spoke to longtime USDA critics and interviewed farmers who defended taking the big checks, saying they didn’t even cover their losses under Trump’s trade war.

The Only-on-AP story ran on dozens of sites, and because the data and analysis were released to AP members in advance, many chose to localize their stories.

For sophisticated data analysis and on-the-ground reporting that shed light on a key consequences of trade policy, Karnowski, Szalai and Aljas share this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 28, 2019

Best of the Week

AP team exposes perilous conditions and spurs action for 250 kids at Border Patrol lockup

First word came from a trusted source cultivated by AP investigative reporter Garance Burke – Customs and Border Protection was holding 250 migrant infants and children at a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, without enough food, water or basic sanitation. “Are you available today?” the source asked, and AP swung into action.

El Paso, Texas, correspondent Cedar Attanasio met with attorneys who had just interviewed the children, while investigative reporter Martha Mendoza set to work contacting lawmakers and government officials. Burke, with the help of attorneys, found parents of the young children who were locked inside and inconsolable. The trio worked through the night, drafting a story focused on the fact that girls as young as 10 were caring for a toddler handed to them by a guard.

The story had enormous impact almost immediately. National outlets scrambled to match the story, citing AP extensively. The reporters’ next-day story was about lawmakers’ calls for change, and on Monday Mendoza and Burke again broke news: The Trump administration was moving most of the children out of Clint.

For a highly significant scoop that dominated the news cycle on multiple days and returned world attention to the border crisis, Mendoza, Burke and Attanasio win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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June 07, 2019

Best of the States

Teamwork and drone visuals lead coverage after tornadoes rip western Ohio

There’s a real difference between straight aerial photography and the bird’s-eye view that AP’s audience had of the destruction after a series of tornados touched down in western Ohio late on Memorial Day. Using a drone, Cincinnati photographer John Minchillo and video journalist Angie Wang provided those images from a rare perspective – both still photos and video – showing residents coping with the wreckage and sorting through their gutted homes.

The resulting video coverage was our overall top U.S. video story for the week, and Minchillo’s still photos were widely played, including front pages of the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Two of his photos appeared in NBC’s The Week in Pictures.

From small details to sweeping landscapes of destruction, their dedication, teamwork and speed of delivery make John Minchillo and Angie Wang this week’s Best of the States winners.

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May 17, 2019

Best of the Week

AP examines patient consent before pelvic exams; states, med schools split on legislation

“Don’t dismiss a [story] idea just because it’s unfamiliar. Pelvic exams aren’t exactly in the wheelhouse of the State Government Team, but it turned out to be a really terrific and distinctive topic.”

That’s one editor’s takeaway from a story by Providence, Rhode Island, reporter Jennifer McDermott and Seattle medical writer Carla Johnson, both of whom, acting on a heads-up from New York photo editor Jenny Kane, found that it’s common practice for medical students to perform a pelvic exam on women under anesthesia as part of their training. Whether the patients have given consent for that exam is not clear, drawing the interest of state lawmakers.

The pair faced multiple obstacles in reporting the story, including initial reluctance by doctors and harried legislators to discuss the issue, but McDermott and Johnson succeeded in defining the conflict between medical schools and elected officials seeking to protect patient rights. Their efforts resulted in a unique story that received heavy play among major AP customers, both online and in print.

For their teamwork, execution and sensitive handling of a complex topic, McDermott, Johnson and Kane win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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April 05, 2019

Best of the Week

Money madness: AP analyzes, how much is that NCAA berth worth?

It’s no secret that the NCAA college basketball tournament is big business. But just how big, and how has the pie been divided?

The New York-based team of college sports reporter Ralph Russo and data journalist Larry Fenn took on that reporting and accounting challenge, making AP the first news organization to document who received more than $3 billion in March Madness payouts over two decades.

Complicating their task was the fact that the NCAA referred to payments with a complex “unit” formula, while 32 different athletic conferences had their own rules for distributing the funds back to schools. Russo peppered the NCAA with questions, ultimately getting detailed numbers back to 1997. Fenn parsed tournament results to quantify wins and bids that qualified for payment under the system.

The work led to several stories by Russo and his colleagues in Sports detailing the money side of the annual tournament, including diminishing shares for smaller conferences, an explainer on the system itself and the value of the final invitations to the field. Fenn also collaborated on a data distribution for members doing their own stories focused on individual schools, as well as a robust interactive.

The AP-exclusive stories drew extensive play in the heat of March Madness, showcasing the power of AP when we think ambitiously and outside the box, even around annual events already in the glare of the media spotlight. For their outstanding work, Russo and Fenn win AP’s Best of the Week.

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March 08, 2019

Best of the States

Only on AP: Death of ‘hood CNN’ video pioneer exposes gangland reporting risks

There’s always a better story behind a statistic.

Chicago’s homicide rate is one of the worst in the United States. By digging into one drive-by shooting, Chicago-based legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm and Houston-based video journalist John Mone found out how one victim’s life had inspired a generation of gang territory storytellers.

Telling it took a lot of sourcework.

Tarm had already been working on a story about social media and gangs, and he’d watched a few of Zack Stoner’s reports on Chicago street gangs and rappers on his ZackTV1 YouTube channel. When reports surfaced that Stoner was gunned down, Tarm began to look deeper, stumbling across a wider story – about a new brand of gutsy gangland reporters in Chicago and elsewhere who have avid followers on YouTube.

Getting access to the storytellers was tough, but eventually the name of Texas-based reporter Shawn Cotton emerged. Cotton was eager to discuss Stoner, his impact on the genre and the effect his killing had on him and others. Mone rode along with Cotton to the Meadow Brook subdivision in Fort Worth, dubbed “Murder Brook” by some of the kids on the street where Cotton filmed.

The multi-platform work played prominently with impressive reader engagement.

For relentless sourcework to show how a generation of storytellers is impacting its communities, Tarm and Mone win this week’s Best of the States.

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March 01, 2019

Best of the Week

Months of planning, smart execution result in dominating Oscars coverage

The envelope was opened, “Green Book” was announced as best picture at the 91st Oscars, and entertainment writer Andrew Dalton’s eyes shifted over to Spike Lee.

The director threw up his hands in exasperation and attempted to storm out of the Dolby Theatre before being told to return to his seat. Social media quickly lit up with disdain for the selection by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and Dalton’s eyewitness reporting quickly fueled the criticism.

In a packed theater filled with actors and other journalists, Dalton reported what few saw and the television cameras didn’t show, giving the AP exclusive material and driving audiences to its comprehensive Oscars coverage.

Later that night, entertainment producer Mike Cidoni Lennox interviewed “Green Book’s” producers outside the Oscars’ official after-party, helping drive the following day’s coverage of the controversial win.

The reaction to the best picture winner capped dominating all-formats team coverage of the Oscars, the result of months of planning and preparation. AP customers received a steady stream of photos, video and stories, including film writer Jake Coyle’s deadline story which was viewed more than 88,000 times. Coyle had crafted prep for all the likely winners, allowing for fast updates when the envelopes were opened.

For their extensive planning, professional expertise and swift work, Dalton, Coyle and Lennox win 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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