July 31, 2020

Best of the Week

AP exclusive leads to release of migrant kids held in US hotels for deportation

Earmarked for deportation, the immigrant children, some mere toddlers, were parked in nondescript hotels – out of sight and, the Trump administration thought, out of mind.  But not out of reach of an Associated Press exclusive.

With an investigation based on source work, court records and witness accounts, immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant exposed how the Trump administration held children in hotels despite federal anti-trafficking laws and court rulings that mandate child-appropriate facilities.

Merchant’s exclusive sparked outrage and accusations of child abuse. Five days later, the Trump administration said it would not expel 17 people, including children, detained at one Texas hotel, and the hotels pledged to stop allowing the practice.

For his investigative story that punctured layers of secrecy and changed the fortunes of all-but-invisible immigrant children, Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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May 22, 2020

Best of the States

Inside the Navajo Nation as it endures the coronavirus outbreak

If the Navajo Nation were its own state, it would have the second highest per-capita rate of coronavirus cases in the United States, trailing only New York. 

AP’s Felicia Fonseca, one of the preeminent reporters covering Native issues for any news organization, and photographer Carolyn Kaster reported from the heart of the crisis. Donning full protective gear and a healthy measure of courage, they documented families, doctors and volunteers, while national writer Tim Sullivan added further reporting and masterful writing assistance from afar. 

The story and photos capture the vast beauty of the land and the intimate grief of the people, including one family that has lost four members to the virus. The package played heavily in the Southwest U.S. and was among AP’s most downloaded and viewed for several days.

For a revealing look at a Native community in the midst of the health crisis, Fonseca, Kaster and Sullivan share this week’s Best of the States honors.

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Jan. 24, 2020

Best of the Week

AP reporting reveals nonstop chaos in overburdened immigration courtrooms

Led by reporters Amy Taxin and Deepti Hajela, the AP harnessed its vast geographic reach and expertise on the topic of immigration to deliver a striking, all-formats examination of the nation’s beleaguered immigration court system. 

AP journalists fanned out to courtrooms across the U.S. to vividly illustrate chaos in the nation’s immigration courts, plagued by a 1 million case backlog. 

The reporting uncovered personal stories of immigrants entangled in the system, including an in-depth package from rural Georgia by reporter Kate Brumback and photographer David Goldman, and video by producer Noreen Nasir.

For a revealing look at a legal system struggling to cope with the influx of immigrants, and families caught up in the grinding legal process, Taxin, Hajela, Brumback, Goldman and Nasir share AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Nov. 08, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Closing of coal plant on tribal land upends a community and a culture

Coal-burning generating plants are closing in the U.S., and coal mines are shutting down amid worries of climate change and the new economies of renewable energy.

Against that backdrop, correspondents Felicia Fonseca and Susan Montoya Bryan traveled to Arizona’s remote Navajo Generating Station to the tell the story of workers, their families, a community and the tribal nations who have depended on coal and are feeling the profound effects of the plant’s impending closure. 

In their all-formats package, the pair let workers explain what they were losing, and how the local economy is taking a massive hit with millions of dollars of revenue no longer flowing to the Hopi and Navajo tribes.  

For a comprehensive, compelling look at the impact of coal’s decline on a community and a culture, Fonseca and Montoya earn this week’s Best of the States award. 

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Jan. 04, 2019

Best of the Week

Two AP exclusives: China’s forced labor and US detention of migrant youths

Welcome to the first Best of the Week of 2019. Among a series of very strong end-of-the-year nominations, the judges have selected two winners from opposite sides of the world.

A sweeping AP investigation by California-based investigative reporters Garance “Poppy” Burke and Martha Mendoza found that the U.S. is once again institutionalizing thousands of migrant children in crowded shelters, despite warnings that the experience could lead to lifelong trauma. Their national story, complemented with a comprehensive data package by Washington-based data editor Meghan Hoyer and NY-based data journalist Larry Fenn, was the first to provide shelter-by-shelter detention statistics, numbers the government had been withholding all year.

Our other winner comes from an equally impactful AP investigation by Beijing-based video journalist Dake Kang, newsperson Yanan Wang and Mendoza, again, which showed that clothing made inside a Chinese internment camp housing Muslim Uighurs is being shipped to a U.S. company that supplies sportswear to American schools and universities.

To do this, they cross-referenced satellite imagery, Chinese state media reports and the address of a Chinese supplier on bills of lading destined for Badger Sportswear in North Carolina. Kang then travelled to Kazakhstan to get multiple on-camera accounts of forced labor in the Chinese camps.

For enterprising, important work, the team of Burke, Mendoza, Hoyer and Fenn, and the team of Kang, Wang and Mendoza share AP’s Best of the Week.

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Sept. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Making the signature photo, discreetly, as family mourns McCain

Sometimes it takes a team. And a resourceful photographer.

Phoenix photographer Ross Franklin made a stunning image of Cindy McCain resting her head on the casket of her late husband Sen. John McCain during a family service in the Arizona state Capitol. Getting to this moment was a team effort, starting with great Washington contacts and relationships that gave the AP not one but two exclusive spots in the rotunda in Phoenix.

But given the solemnity of the event, there was no way to shoot the private ceremony using a motor drive to take bursts of frames – it would have been too loud and would have echoed throughout the rotunda. So Franklin agreed to shoot the entire event balanced on a ladder overlooking the scene from the balcony, with his camera in a noise muffling blimp – basically operating a camera that is wrapped in a big pillow.

When Cindy McCain approached the casket, Franklin had just one or two frames to capture the signature moment. He nailed it, and the photo was used everywhere, including a stunning display on the front of the Arizona Republic.

For his exceptional work, Ross Franklin wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 13, 2018

Best of the States

Two stories focus on young victims impacted by US immigration policy

In two moving pieces of journalism in the last week, Associated Press journalists cast a powerful spotlight on the toll of White House immigration policies on young children.

One story started with a question posed by immigration beat team reporter Nomaan Merchant: Could we profile a single block or community where multiple immigrants had been picked up, and explore the impact of those arrests?

Merchant, joined by video journalist Manuel Valdes and photographer Greg Bull, zeroed in on a community in Kentucky that was the site of a two-day Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid last December.

Their reporting turned up examples of people who were arrested by happenstance, and with no criminal records – despite the administration’s mantra that the raids are for public safety. Perhaps the most poignant reporting and images focused on a 4-year-old boy whose father was arrested.

Meanwhile, Arizona immigration reporter Astrid Galvan was looking for ways to tell the stories of children separated from their parents at the border. She found a juvenile docket in Phoenix immigration court and camped out there for the day.

What she found was a major story that affected the national debate on immigration – a 1-year-old boy who had a court appearance with a lawyer. Galvan described in vivid detail how he nursed from his bottle, asked his care giver for “agua” and cried when the care giver retrieved his diaper bag. And she captured the money quote as a judge expressed his bafflement at having to advise a defendant of his rights when the defendant was a 1-year-old boy in diapers.

For exclusive, compelling stories that drove the narrative on a subject of prevailing interest, Galvan, Merchant, Valdes and Bull win this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 20, 2018

Best of the States

AP's 50-state analysis: State legislatures lack public records of sexual misconduct claims

As the #MeToo movement spread to state capitols, AP statehouse reporters filed uniform FOIA requests with every legislature seeking information about past sexual misconduct cases and payouts to victims. The coordinated effort, overseen by State Government Team reporter David Lieb, produced some interesting numbers: roughly 70 complaints and nearly $3 million in sexual harassment settlements over the past decade.

But the real story was the information that wasn’t released.

In fact, a majority of states would not disclose records related to sexual misconduct among lawmakers. The most common response was that they had received no such complaints over the past decade, did not keep a record of any such complaints or were not legally bound to disclose the records. But Lieb's research revealed that even states with documented cases of lawmaker sexual harassment were not releasing records about those allegations – and potentially others.

Lieb worked with data editor Meghan Hoyer to organize and analyze the responses from our statehouse reporters in every state. The resulting spreadsheet was distributed to AP bureaus and customers weeks ahead of publication to allow for localizations. AP reporters in 19 states did just that, producing sidebars that in many cases landed on A1.

The mainbar and the state-by-state list of accused lawmakers received wide interest on the APNews app. The story also landed on at least 20 front pages.

For their 50-state accountability project on a topic that continues to rattle state capitols, Lieb and Hoyer win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Man charged with selling armor-piercing bullets to Las Vegas shooter

In the days after the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people, authorities said gunman Stephen Paddock acted alone. But search warrants showed that police and the FBI were looking at two "persons of interest."

One was Paddock's girlfriend, whom police had cleared, and the other was a man named Douglas Haig of Arizona.

Haig talked to various media, including the AP, and held a news conference characterizing his sale of tracer ammunition to Paddock as a lawful transaction.

But Phoenix newsman Jacques Billeaud wasn’t convinced. He called a source he has cultivated in law enforcement who was willing to help but didn’t know the answer to Billeaud’s questions. Then, a few days later, the official called to say that Haig indeed had been charged with a crime. Billeaud quickly checked an electronic court records system and found that armor-piercing ammunition with Haig's fingerprints had been found in Paddock's hotel room. Haig was charged with illegally manufacturing and selling the ammunition.

Billeaud's relationship with his source put the AP ahead, and customers used the AP as first word on a competitive story. For sticking with the story and using long-term source work to break news, Billeaud will receive this week’s Best of the States prize.

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May 05, 2017

Best of the States

Witnessing death: AP reporters describe problem executions

The last of four executions carried out by Arkansas in April highlighted concerns about the drug midazolam. The sedative has been adopted by many states in recent years as part of their lethal injection protocol in place of barbiturates and anesthetics no longer available because manufacturers don't want them used in executions.

How did that midazolam execution compare to others, some in other states, where problems were alleged?

It was a question the AP – with its nationwide profile – was uniquely positioned to answer. For its depth of coverage, the multi-state AP team wins this week's Best of States award.

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Feb. 09, 2017

Best of the States

Data-driven analysis localizes Trump's travel ban

Among the many questions raised by President Donald Trump’s surprise executive order targeting predominantly Muslim nations was how his administration arrived at the seven “countries of particular concern.” Take Libya, for example. By making the list, one might think the country was sending waves of refugees pouring into the U.S. Not so, according to data analyzed and packaged on deadline for AP customers by data journalist Meghan Hoyer.

Hoyer’s analysis of federal data in the chaotic days that followed the Trump administration order provided tremendous value for AP customers across the country, allowing them to localize a story of international significance. Hoyer wins this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

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Jan. 20, 2017

Best of the States

Lie detectors trip up border agency applicants

San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat was chatting with a longtime government source and she mentioned her son applied to Customs and Border Protection but was rejected after failing a polygraph test. She and her son were mystified by the result. Soon after, a member of Spagat’s running group – a military veteran with a stellar resume – told the same story of a failed Border Patrol test.

Intrigued, Spagat brought up the issue during a regular check-in call with an official involved in recruiting for the Border Patrol. The official told him the polygraph failure rate was very high. Spagat knew he was on to something and kept pressing, next talking to Border Patrol Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, who gave him a failure rate – 65 percent.

But Kerlikowske didn’t see the number as a negative – it meant the agency was applying tough standards to find its officers. Still, a two-thirds failure rate struck Spagat as abnormal but how could he prove it? Comparable data was hard to find.

So Spagat set about creating it.

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Oct. 13, 2016

Best of the States

Barely half of illegal border crossers caught

More than two years ago, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson ordered a comprehensive review of border security and, as part of that effort, commissioned a report looking at who and what gets into the U.S. from Mexico. It was completed in May but never publicly released.

San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat took note last month when The Arizona Republic and Fox News did stories about the secrecy surrounding the report. He also noted that U.S. House border security subcommittee Chairwoman Martha McSally sent a letter to Johnson demanding that the taxpayer-funded study be made public.

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Aug. 19, 2016

Best of the Week

Showcasing AP's college football poll

For 80 years, AP has organized the longest-running college football poll of its kind. Every week through each season, AP’s marquee listing tells who’s up, who’s down and most significantly, who’s No. 1. The 2016 preseason poll will start the buzz again when it comes out this Sunday.

But in this anniversary year, AP Sports wanted to do something extra: Produce a composite poll showing which 100 teams ranked highest over the full eight decades and 1,103 polls. The result – anchored by Ralph Russo, Paul Montella and Howie Rumberg – was an exclusive package that dramatically moved the needle on digital, social media and in print, while further boosting the profile of the AP Top 25 poll. It earns the Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 18, 2016

Best of the States

Shining a light on the origins of Arpaio’s campaign contributions

For years, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has made a name for himself as the tough-talking lawman from metro Phoenix who was unafraid of criticizing federal immigration enforcement, earning accolades not only from fellow conservatives but millions of dollars in donations from around the country.

Arizona law enforcement reporter Jacques Billeaud knew that much of Arpaio's campaign donations came from outside Arizona. That’s what his campaign had said. But exactly how much and from where was a mystery because the donations were catalogued in an unsearchable PDF format.

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