Nov. 20, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP breaks news on Justice Department election investigations

both delivered scoops on the U.S. Department of Justice and election investigations.Balsamo kept hearing rumors of the DOJ looking into election cases, but he knew there were rules prohibiting such investigations during an ongoing election. He kept asking until a source revealed a memo Attorney General William Barr had sent to prosecutors nationwide authorizing federal prosecutors across the U.S. to pursue any “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities before the election is certified, despite the fact there was no evidence of widespread fraud giving prosecutors the ability to go around the longstanding policy. The scoop reverberated nationwide, especially as concerns grew over Trump’s ability to use the levers of government to hang on to power. The story was widely used, with Politico, Axios and NBC citing AP in their coverage of Barr’s memo. AP’s alert and a full story were on the wire more than 40 minutes before other major news organizations obtained a copy of the memo.Meanwhile, Las Vegas reporter Michelle Price was digging into how the DOJ was pursuing allegations from the Trump campaign that voters may have cast improper ballots in Nevada. Price and Balsamo teamed up with voting reporter Anthony Izaguirre to report out two ongoing investigations, and how they may not hold up to scrutiny. Price used her contacts to get exclusive first-person accounts from U.S. military members who thought they’d been wrongly accused of fraud for voting by mail from out of state by Nevada authorities and DOJ officials.https://bit.ly/2Kqu09ehttps://bit.ly/3lOlxKR

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Nov. 13, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Dogged reporting, spycraft expose Texas attorney general scandal

used source work, non-public documents and a technique borrowed from spycraft to connect recent criminal allegations against the Texas attorney general to the conservative Republican’s previously unreported extramarital affair.In late September, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s top deputies accused him of criminally abusing his office to help a wealthy donor. Bleiberg spent weeks building sources in his aggressive pursuit of answers to what was behind these explosive, but unspecified, allegations.Those efforts paid off last week when Bleiberg was able to obtain a private transcript of real estate developer Nate Paul acknowledging that the attorney general recommended he hire a woman whom Paxton was rumored to have had an affair with. The sensitive document was picked up at a “dead drop” – a prearranged drop spot – by Austin reporter Paul Weber.Bleiberg then worked sources he’d developed while breaking earlier stories to identify people whom the attorney general may have told about his affair. His relentless outreach ultimately turned up two people with firsthand accounts of Paxton acknowledging the affair in 2018.The reporting allowed AP to draw back the curtain on one of America’s most prominent conservative legal crusaders and break major news on a highly competitive story. It revealed a relationship that’s almost certainly at the center of an ongoing federal public corruption probe. https://bit.ly/2UnuZc1

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Oct. 16, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP finds diversity of US attorneys declining under Trump

used years of data on U.S. attorneys to reveal how any diversity gains made under previous administrations have faltered under President Donald Trump. AP’s analysis found the 85% of Trump’s Senate-confirmed U.S. attorneys are white men, significantly more than the three previous administrations going back to 1993. But the numbers were just part of the story. The AP team reported on why it mattered in this moment of national reckoning over racial inequality and the fairness of the criminal justice system. The story articulated how Black and brown people are disproportionately imprisoned but underrepresented in the system that puts them there. The piece included an impressive photo combo of all the attorneys, showing row after row – predominantly of white men – and video interviews on the value of diversity in the U.S. attorney ranks.https://bit.ly/3drn6e6https://bit.ly/318gc8J

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Oct. 02, 2020

Best of the States

Planning, teamwork, fast filing lead to all-formats wins on Breonna Taylor story

With weeks to prepare, the Louisville, Kentucky, news staff and all-formats reinforcements from other AP bureaus were well positioned for the closely watched grand jury decision in the Breonna Taylor case. 

When the announcement finally came – no officers charged with Taylor’s death – the breaking news was expedited to the wire, cutting through confusion over the decision. Video and photo coverage excelled with fast edits and filing from the protests that followed, capturing the anguish and despair expressed by many in Louisville and keeping the AP well ahead of other agencies.

For their fast, in-depth work on a sensitive, highly competitive story, the team of Lovan, Schreiner, Blackburn, Galofaro, Minchillo, Cummings, Morrison and Householder wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP pauses to get story of ‘discarded’ Trump ballots right

resisted competitive pressure, holding off on a Department of Justice press release on an investigation into “discarded” military ballots for President Donald Trump, instead taking the time to do a more deeply reported story.Most media rushed to publish when a U.S. attorney in the battleground state of Pennsylvania took the unusual step of announcing the ongoing investigation, saying nine mail-in ballots for the president had been “cast aside” in a county elections office. The county manager later blamed the incident on confusion over the appearance of the envelopes, but conservative social media quickly seized on the initial announcement while the Trump campaign blamed Democrats for “trying to steal the election.”The original press release, however, was short on details and no one, federal or local, was talking. Pennsylvania news editor Christina Paciolla brought the story to the attention of AP’s voting team, and a deeper examination began.The AP drew on expertise across the organization to produce a far more well-informed story the following day, providing essential context and new information, including the U.S. attorney defending his announcement of the votes for Trump, and that Attorney General William Barr had previously briefed the president on the case. https://bit.ly/3if2LJZ

July 02, 2020

Best of the States

AP scoops everyone on dramatic ouster of federal prosecutor

After a heads-up tip to Justice Department reporter Michael Balsamo, what unfolded on that Friday night was strange: The top Manhattan federal prosecutor – the one investigating President Donald Trump’s allies – was said to be resigning his job. 

The AP was out with the story for at least a half hour before the competition. But that was just the beginning, as U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman reported for work the next day, only to step down amid conflicting statements from the White House and Justice Department. Balsamo and Neumeister were out front again, making sense of the shifting story with well-sourced detail and context.

For work that put the AP way ahead with both the breaking news and the meaning of the maneuvering, Balsamo and Neumeister share this week’s Best of the States honors.

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June 12, 2020

Best of the States

AP Analysis: After previous police killings, states slow to reform use-of-force

Calls for police reforms after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis have echoed the calls to action after a wave of killings of young black men by police in 2014. 

So what happened after those killings? 

Ohio statehouse reporter Julie Carr Smyth, working with AP colleagues around the country, found that while nearly half the states have since enacted some type of reform, only a third passed legislation limiting use of force. The reporting revealed that contributions from politically influential police unions were a key factor in stalling legislation, while a separate analysis by the data team showed that Minneapolis police disproportionately used force against blacks when compared with other racial groups. 

The day Smyth’s story moved, a number of states made proposals to limit the use of deadly force.

For quickly reporting out and leading a national look at what reforms have taken place in the last six years, Smyth wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 22, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP interview: Mom threatened by crowd leaned on faith

gave AP the first national interview with a black woman who faced down an armed all-white group – led by a sheriff’s deputy – that tried to force its way into her home. The woman, Monica Shepard, had talked to two local television stations but was avoiding further media contact. Foreman, however, felt there was a deeper story to be told.

He eventually reached Shepard and her son through their attorney, arranging for an online interview to capture video. “I was vulnerable. They had the crowd. They had the weapons. I had nothing,” Shepard told Foreman. “I was standing before a crowd, but I had the faith.” Foreman’s compelling story gave AP the beat on other media that were trying to interview the family, and was used even by outlets that had previously covered the incident.https://bit.ly/2Xfxtdnhttps://bit.ly/2zl3sB5

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May 08, 2020

Best of the States

Sourcing, records yield scoop: Texas AG helped donor fight Colorado lockout

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he’d sent a letter leaning on Gunnison County, Colorado, to end an order expelling non-residents during the pandemic, AP’s Paul Weber immediately wondered: Why was the top law enforcement official in Texas picking a fight with a remote county two states away in the middle of the crisis? And did Paxton have donors there? 

Weber and colleague Jake Bleiberg started combing campaign finance and property records, quickly finding that some of Paxton’s biggest donors have homes in the wealthy mountain resort town of Crested Butte, Colorado. 

Persistent reporting and extensive public records work revealed that Paxton’s push against the Gunnison health order stood to benefit an exclusive group of Texans, including campaign donors who gave the attorney general a total of nearly $2 million. AP Texas members jumped on the story, using it in print and online.

For alertly connecting the dots between a puzzling press release and a conflict of interest in the attorney general's office, Weber and Bleiberg earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 24, 2020

Best of the Week

AP gets ‘blockbuster’ scoop on China’s delay in warning of the coronavirus

What and when did authorities in China know about the coronavirus’ initial spread and did they react fast enough? Those have become burning questions as COVID-19 tears a deadly and destructive path across the globe.

Among the toughest to answer, too. 

The Associated Press cracked open China’s lockdown on information with an exclusive story – based on internal documents and expert testimony – revealing that top officials in Beijing knew about a likely pandemic, but held off on warning the public for at least six days – while tens of thousands attended a banquet in Wuhan and millions more travelled for Lunar New Year festivities.

The story’s byline – “By The Associated Press” – testified to the risks run by the reporter who secured and developed the major scoop.

For breaking through China’s tightly policed walls of information control about the critical first days of the pandemic, with a scoop secured in one of the world’s toughest media environments, the unnamed but not unsung AP reporter is this week’s Best of the Week laureate.

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April 03, 2020

Best of the States

Surviving the coronavirus upheaval may depend on your paycheck – a tale of 2 families

California's Bay Area is full of extremes: poverty and wealth; homelessness and opulence; high-end industry and the service workers who support it. Those extremes matter when it comes to weathering the shutdown in response to the coronavirus.

 Jocelyn Gecker and Olga Rodriguez set out to show how that divide plays out, telling the stories of Rebecca Biernat, a San Francisco attorney, and Sonia Bautista, a hotel worker, and their families. With photographer Jeff Chiu they developed an intimate portrait of the two families – what they have in common and the differences in how they are adjusting to the shutdown.

 For doggedly seeking out the right subjects, overcoming distancing restrictions and expertly weaving together two tales to tell a deeper story about inequality amid turmoil, Gecker, Rodriguez and Chiu earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 27, 2020

Best of the States

Fast, definitive work on US price gouging complaints amid coronavirus crisis

When reporters Justin Pritchard and Reese Dunklin were asked to look into price gouging and profiteering off the coronavirus crisis, they  sought to go deeper by employing a key part of their investigative reporting toolkit: a systematic reporting strategy.

The pair quickly executed a plan to question attorneys general in all 50 states, resulting in the most comprehensive look yet at the problem across the nation. In just two days of reporting, Pritchard and Dunklin uncovered more than 5,000 reports of everything from price gouging on toilet paper and masks, to scams offering tests and even cures for the illness. 

Their brightly written story won strong play on a busy day of coronavirus news, hitting the wire hours before Attorney General William Barr announced new actions against such crimes.

For fast, aggressive work that tapped into a topic on the public’s mind, AP recognizes Pritchard and Dunklin with this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 06, 2020

Best of the Week

AP’s tour de force coverage of Weinstein verdict sweeps all formats

Coverage by an Associated Press team dominated the closely watched Harvey Weinstein verdict, delivering wins in all formats with speed, depth and exclusivity. Superior planning and preparation, and outstanding coordination on the day of the verdict, gave AP the edge.

Highlights included the breaking news story moving on the wire within a minute of the verdict, exclusive video of Weinstein leaving the courthouse by ambulance, and an enterprising behind-the-scenes photo essay on the women journalists covering the trial that earned remarkable play.

For quick, comprehensive and distinctive coverage that kept the AP ahead on one of the biggest trials of the year so far, Mary Altaffer, Michael R. Sisak, Tom Hays, David Martin, Ted Shaffrey, Robert Bumsted, John Minchillo, Craig Ruttle and Sophie Rosenbaum win AP’s Best of the Week award.

 

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Feb. 14, 2020

Best of the States

Records reveal Virginia attorney-lawmaker privilege that delays court proceedings

Sometimes accountability stories are hiding in plain sight, but getting to them requires first recognizing the potential and then doing a whole lot of digging. Virginia reporter Sarah Rankin did both of those things. 

After seeing a one-sentence mention in a legal trade publication, Rankin began the hunt for a deeper story about a continuance privilege granted to lawyer-legislators, and how one Virginia lawmaker used the privilege to consistently delay court hearings. 

Rankin plowed through records of cases that involved Virginia lawmaker Jeff Campbell, the defense attorney for a one-time NASCAR race driver accused of domestic violence. She found that Campbell had employed the continuance privilege at least 30 times over three years, more than double any other lawyer-legislator.

For seizing on the brief mention, then following up with determined reporting that revealed a potential for abuse by lawyer-lawmakers in Virginia and elsewhere, Rankin wins the week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 06, 2019

Best of the States

Dual labors of love: Documenting a Chicago neighborhood that would not die

Chicago-based national writer Martha Irvine has always been interested in stories about the city’s neighborhoods that buck stereotypes. So when she learned of a grassroots project to “reclaim” abandoned housing on the city’s South Side, Irvine began what she calls “a labor of love.” 

She spent months getting to know the people of the Chicago Lawn neighborhood and their stories. Residents – ex-cons, immigrants, members of the urban working class – were not prepared to let their neighborhood succumb to the malaise that had engulfed other areas of the city, so they came together to make Chicago Lawn a desirable place to live. 

Irvine did it all – not just writing this remarkable story, but shooting the photos and video. The package received heavy play and elicited rewarding feedback. One woman called the work “incredibly uplifting,” adding, “Loved the video, too. Inspiration station.”

For a compelling all-formats package that shed light on a Chicago neighborhood’s success story and resonated with readers, Martha Irvine earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Records show Montana official’s misuse of state vehicle

When the Helena Police Department cited the statute of limitations in declining to bring charges against Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton for misuse of a state-owned vehicle, Helena reporter Amy Hanson dug deeper.

After multiple public-records requests Hanson found that Secretary of State Corey Stapleton traveled tens of thousands of miles more than what had been previously reported, including many times when he had no official events on his calendar. And she found that the misuse continued until he turned in the vehicle in March, well within the statute of limitations.

For determined reporting that resulted in a textbook example of accountability journalism, Amy Hanson wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Best of the States

In Mississippi Delta, Catholic abuse cases settled on cheap

As allegations of sexual abuse by clergy have proliferated across the Catholic Church, millions of dollars in settlement money has been paid to victims. Some have received as much as $500,000 apiece.

Not La Jarvis D. Love.

At an IHOP in the Mississippi Delta, a white official from the Franciscan religious order offered to pay him just $15,000 to keep years of alleged abuse secret.

“He said if I wanted more, I would have to get a lawyer and have my lawyer call his lawyer,” Love told The Associated Press. “Well, we don’t have lawyers. We felt like we had to take what we could.”

The story, the latest in AP’s investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church, revealed deals struck with two black men for abuse they said happened in grade school that represent far lower amounts than what other clergy abuse survivors have received. It also revealed the men had been asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, which had long been banned by U.S. Catholic leaders.

Despite the challenges, the team – investigative reporter Mike Rezendes, photographer Maye-E-Wong, video journalist Sarah Blake Morgan, digital storytelling producer Samantha Shotzbarger and researcher Randy Herschaft – produced extraordinary work. Herschaft discovered several critical threads that showed an alleged abuser was working with children even after the church had known about one of the men’s allegations.

For their sensitive work on a complex, emotional and previously untold story, the team of Rezendes, Morgan, Wong, Shotzbarger and Herschaft win this week’s Best of the States.

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Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Breaking news of top US prison official’s ouster after Epstein death

for breaking the news that the head of the long-troubled federal prison system was being removed in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. Balsamo had been pressing sources at the Justice Department about the fate of Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons. Two guards and the warden had been disciplined, but nothing was said about the senior leadership. Balsamo worked up prep in case Hurwitz resigned or was fired.

Nine days after Epstein’s death, Balsamo heard from a source who had just met with Attorney General William Barr: Barr was going to remove Hurwitz. The decision was extremely sensitive; even Hurwitz didn't know yet. Balsamo had just a brief window to break the news before it became public, but because he had the prep in place, he was able to move quickly. AP had a 650-word story before any other outlet had even sent an alert. Hurwitz’s removal quickly became one of the top stories of the day, with Balsamo’s story receiving wide play, even by some news organizations with their own Justice Department reporters. https://bit.ly/2NBYC7k

July 19, 2019

Best of the Week

One face of immigration policy: 9-year-old in Texas still separated from Guatemalan family

Houston-based immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant uncovered a heartbreaking tale in his coverage of the lingering toll of President Donald Trump’s family separation policy: a 9-year-old boy, Byron Xol, who is still separated from his parents. The boy eventually landed in the home of a Texas family who took custody of the child, while his parents were deported to Guatemala.

Merchant had been looking for an opportunity to write a detailed narrative that would illustrate the stress that separations have on families. When he learned on short notice of Byron’s upcoming birthday, he decided it was the perfect time to tell the tale.

Merchant and his Houston colleagues – video journalist John Mone and photographer David Phillip – went to the boy’s current foster home outside Austin. Meanwhile, photographer Santiago Billy, reporter Sonny Figueroa and video stringer Sergio Alfaro went to the Guatemalan village of the Xol family. Together they captured the emotion of the day and the sharp contrast between the two worlds, as the dad phoned Byron on his birthday.

The story they produced was gripping, used by more than 400 AP members in the U.S. It was just one of a series of strong pieces that have put names, faces and personal narratives to the immigration story, keeping AP’s coverage ahead.

For recognizing the moment and mobilizing quickly across formats and borders, Alfaro, Billy, Figueroa, Merchant, Mone and Phillip share AP’s Best of the Week.

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July 05, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Outstanding video coverage from Hong Kong and Pyongyang

for deftly directing unmatched video coverage of two major stories in Asia. Amid recent clashes in Hong Kong, Wober was fully committed to coverage on July 1, the anniversary of the territory's 1997 handover. But he was also keenly aware of the unprecedented meeting that took place the previous day between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung Un at the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. Wober had asked Pyongyang for video reaction from the North Korean capital. While monitoring the building tension on the ground in Hong Kong, he checked in with the team in North Korea, coordinating the video feed from Pyongyang. As a result, only AP was able to deliver North Koreans’ reaction on video. And while working the two stories, Wober accommodated an interview request from client Sky News, describing the tense situation in Hong Kong.

As an already long day wore into the evening of July 1, hundreds of Hong Kong protesters smashed their way into the territory’s legislature, vandalizing the main legislative chamber before being cleared by police firing tear gas into the crowd. Wober and another member of his crew stayed on to deliver hours of powerful live and recorded video unmatched by competitive agencies. https://bit.ly/2RNfGY2