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

May 24, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Military prosecutors sent tracking software to defense team, reporter

Los Angeles courts reporter Brian Melley was enjoying a Sunday afternoon when a longtime legal source reached out with a remarkable tip in the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL facing a court martial on charges he murdered a teenage Islamic State fighter in Iraq in 2017.

The source told Melley that military prosecutors, frustrated by leaks in the case, planted tracking software in emails sent to defense lawyers and a reporter. The unsophisticated software was quickly discovered by the recipients.

Melley worked up the story, including an interview with a military law expert who thought the tactic was ethically, legally and intellectually dubious. His story hit the wire the next morning, quickly gaining traction online. AP was widely credited everywhere it appeared and no major media outlet matched it.

For giving AP an exclusive on an important military justice story, Melley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 03, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Back-to-back scoops reveal details of Louisiana police cases

for two accountability scoops in his native Louisiana. Mustian tapped sources to get the state police there to reveal an embarrassing security breach at the governor’s mansion – a man accused of breaking in, damaging property and then falling asleep on a couch. That APNewsBreak was published just hours after he revealed the full body-camera footage of the police-involved shooting of Juston Landry in Lake Charles. A grand jury cleared the officer of the shooting, but Landry’s attorney characterized the footage as “murder on camera.”https://bit.ly/2GQx9tvhttps://bit.ly/2LfQv0B

April 26, 2019

Best of the Week

AP dominates all-formats coverage of historic release of Mueller report

The AP bulletin rocketed around the world just minutes after the release of the much-anticipated report by special counsel Robert Mueller:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mueller’s report reveals Trump's efforts to seize control of Russia probe and force the special counsel’s removal.

That set the tone for a day of dominant AP coverage in every format on the historic findings in the Mueller report.

The success was the result of planning and deep knowledge of the subject matter by AP’s Russia team – Eric Tucker, Mike Balsamo, Chad Day and Mary Clare Jalonick – along with lightning-fast speed and precision execution by White House news editor Nancy Benac and the entire Washington bureau.

As soon as they were allowed to open the report, Tucker and Balsamo called the Washington bureau and kept two open lines to the newsroom, where they fed material Day and Jalonick, while Benac began crafting the story that hit the wire right after the report was posted online.

By then, the AP was off and running with outstanding all-formats coverage, including sharp handling of photos and live video. Our speed was so impressive that clients were able to get a complete set of critical and comprehensive edits by mid-afternoon. Our interactive had unheard-of play for a non-election story, while the Trump Investigation hub on APNews more than doubled its previous high pageviews. The standout coverage also ran on front pages of newspapers around the country.

“While we were sending bulletins saying that Trump had tried to stop the investigation, everyone else was still saying, ‘We have the report, we’re reading it, we’ll get back to you,’” Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said.

For their efforts, Balsamo, Tucker, Day, Jalonick and Benac win AP’s Best of the Week.

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March 29, 2019

Best of the Week

Planning, execution and teamwork deliver outstanding coverage of Mueller report

For weeks, journalists in Washington had been chasing tips that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 race for the White House was winding down. Knowing that appetite for the story was huge, our Washington team created a comprehensive coverage plan for the day the report would be delivered to Attorney General William Barr.

Eric Tucker, Justice Department reporter, and Chad Day, Trump investigations reporter, kicked off the coverage with “Mueller in Plain Sight,” a sweeping narrative of everything that had already been revealed by Mueller in his public indictments.

As speculation intensified, Tucker and law enforcement reporter Mike Balsamo alternated shifts at the Justice Department, while AP photographers and videojournalists staked out Mueller and Barr. Photographer Andrew Harnik scored with images of Mueller arriving at the Justice Department, the first image of Mueller by a news photographer in more than a year.

Word finally came on Friday, March 22 that Mueller’s work had ended. Within minutes of moving an alert, the AP sent a series of richly reported stories by the team that led AP’s coverage for months: Tucker, Day, Balsamo and Congress reporter Mary Clare Jalonick.

And on Sunday morning AP scored another visual scoop when freelance photographer Cliff Owen learned that Mueller was at church. Owen’s photos of Mueller exiting St. John’s church ricocheted around the internet.

Later Sunday, when a Justice Department official handed reporters copies of Barr’s summary, Tucker calmly read the highlights over an open phone line to the bureau while Balsamo sent full quotes. AP’s first alert, that Mueller had not exonerated Trump on obstruction of justice, moved a full 10 minutes before the Washington Post and five minutes before the New York Times.

The video team also provided unmatched live coverage from a wide range of locations in Washington, at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and in New York throughout the weekend.

For exceptional planning, teamwork and execution, Eric Tucker, Chad Day, Mike Balsamo, Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Harnik and Cliff Owen win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 22, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

International exclusive: Amazon tribe claims atrocities by Brazil dictatorship

for making the AP the only international news organization to gain access – in all formats – to a historic hearing on a reserve in the Amazon where members of the Waimiri-Atroari tribe recounted the slaughter of numerous members, allegedly by the army, as Brazil’s dictatorship government in the 1970s pushed to build a road through the jungle.https://bit.ly/2u6spdmhttps://bit.ly/2TKlZih

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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Jan. 25, 2019

Best of the Week

All-formats team dominates coverage of Nairobi terror attack

From the first blasts, gunfire and panicked phone calls, the Nairobi bureau immediately assumed a terror attack, aggressively mobilizing resources in a textbook example of cross-format journalism that put the AP ahead on every element of a major breaking story: an extremist attack on a hotel complex that left 21 people dead, in addition to the five attackers.

Senior video producer Khaled Kazziha called freelance video journalist Joe Mwihia, who slipped into the scene with Kenyan special forces, filming exclusive footage as officers cleared rooms, guns drawn, and ran down rumors of a grenade. His three hours of exclusive reporting earned him the byline on the text story based on his detailed contributions.

Meanwhile, staff video journalist Josphat Kasire rushed to the scene with a LiveU and quickly scooped competitors with the first live shot showing burning cars, injured people, survivors fleeing in droves and witness accounts. His compelling footage became the heart of the text story, and the live images continued overnight as the attack unfolded.

Contributing to the outstanding video coverage were freelance cameraman Idi Ali Juma, freelance camera assistant Moses Ndungu and freelance producers Geoffrey Kaviti and Desmond Tiro.

“Sheer bravery,” international editor Ian Phillips said later of the team’s work.

Around the same time, Nairobi photographers Ben Curtis and Khalil Senosi captured gripping images of people fleeing the mayhem and security forces aiming weapons at attackers, among their standout photos.

The play for the photos, video and text was off the charts, including major client Sky News running live and packaged videos on a day busy with Brexit news.

For their formidable breaking news coverage across all formats, the Nairobi team of Kazziha, Curtis, Senosi, Mwihia, Kasire, Ali Juma, Tiro, Kavita and Ndungu wins AP’s Best of the Week.

Special Citation

The Best of the AP committee has also awarded a special lifetime citation to Libya freelance photographer and video journalist Mohamed Ben Khalifa, who died Jan. 19 when the military convoy with which he was traveling came under missile fire in southern Tripoli.

The committee honored Ben Khalifa for the body of his work, carried out with integrity and courage for The Associated Press and his other media clients.

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Jan. 11, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Documenting the US surge in identifying molester Catholic priests

In the months after a shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report on sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests, scattered dioceses across the country started putting out their own lists of molester priests. Some state and local authorities also announced they would investigate the church.

News outlets began reporting the varied efforts piecemeal. But no one was capturing the big picture – including the sudden urgency being shown by the church to open its books on past abuse.

Reporter Claudia Lauer in the Philadelphia bureau set out to fix that. Starting in November, she began systematically documenting every investigation taking place around the country and every instance of a diocese naming abusive priests in the wake of the Pennsylvania report.

With the number of US dioceses totaling 187, it was a time-consuming task. But that work paid off with her Jan. 3 exclusive. Lauer tallied more than 1,000 names publicized by 50 or so dioceses and established that over 50 more dioceses were committed to naming names. She also identified nearly 20 outside investigations taking place across the country, both criminal and civil.

The story won phenomenal play online and in print and generated huge interest on social media. Some Catholic publications used her story to provide an update on developments in the church.

For her painstaking and dogged work to document what has been happening in the church nationally in the wake of the Pennsylvania report, Lauer wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Nov. 30, 2018

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Acting AG Whitaker erroneously says NY-area bomber had help

for being first to report that acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker made a glaring error when he told an audience of law enforcement officials that a terrorist who set off bombs in New York City and New Jersey had two co-conspirators overseas and that one was in custody. They checked it out and found none of it was true. The Justice Department was forced to issue a correction and the reference to Rahimi having co-conspirators was taken out of a transcript posted on the Justice Department website. https://bit.ly/2DS1k3r

Nov. 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Iowa diocese covered up priest’s abuse of 50 boys

A source called Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley with a tip: He had a shocking letter that he couldn’t share in which the Catholic Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, acknowledged a priest admitted to abuse of 50 boys in Iowa over 20 years.

Foley eventually tracked down a copy of the letter, and it was stunning: The diocese admitted the Rev. Jerome Coyle reported his pedophilia in 1986 but was simply shuffled to New Mexico for treatment. The diocese also offered to pay Coyle to stay in New Mexico, warning that his desired return to Iowa would retraumatize his victims, now grown men.

Yet sources said he returned to Fort Dodge, Iowa, which is where Foley and photographer Charlie Neibergall found him. The priest wouldn’t talk, but the diocese confirmed Foley’s story and acknowledged two victims had come forward in recent weeks with allegations against Coyle that would now be turned over to police. The 32-year coverup was over.

Reaction to Foley’s story – the lead story in newspapers across the state – was quick, with Coyle removed from the home, the Iowa attorney general’s office launching an inquiry, and the diocese promising to identify all priests who have faced credible allegations.

The diocese said it was taking this action due to the continuing investigations of “the AP reporter.”

For breaking a story in vivid detail that had been kept hidden for decades, Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 12, 2018

Best of the Week

All-formats team overcomes logistics to report devastation, heartbreak and heroism in Indonesia

An enormous story struck quickly on Sept 28 and unfolded at breathtaking speed – a magnitude 7.5 earthquake followed by a tsunami that washed over the Indonesian city of Palu. Communications collapsed and government reports were sketchy, but the few posts on social media provided the first indications of the enormous scope of the disaster.

The AP team shot into action to move cross-format personnel to the hardest-hit areas, texting details for the wire and squeezing out initial images for photos and video. In the days that followed, the breadth of coverage expanded to include rolling live video of rescues, grim portrayals of the retrieval of the dead, and personal stories of those whose homes and neighborhoods were now rubble.

For impressive work across all platforms despite enormous obstacles, the Best of the Week award goes to the following team:

– Jakarta staffers: office manager Elis Salim, reporter Niniek Karmini, photographers Tatan Syulfana, Dita Alangkara and Achmad Ibrahim, business writer Stephen Wright, newsperson Ali Kotarumalos, medical writer Margie Mason, videojournalist Fadlan Syam and senior producer Andi Jatmiko.

– Bangkok staffers: global enterprise writer Todd Pitman, videojournalist Tass Vejpongsa, video editor Jerry Harmer and special events coordinator Keiko Fujino.

– And: Kuala Lumpur videojournalist Syawall Zain, Manila photographer Aaron Favila, Malaysian correspondent Eileen Ng, Beijing facilities coordinator Xiao Wei Gong and Hanoi producer Hau Dinh.

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