Jan. 15, 2021

Best of the States

AP reporting reveals some front-line health care workers balking at COVID vaccine

The AP team of Bernard Condon, Matt Sedensky and Carla K. Johnson assembled the most detailed national look yet at one of the most vexing snags in the coronavirus vaccine rollout: Surprising numbers of health care workers — who have seen firsthand the misery inflicted by COVID-19 — are refusing the shots.

The deep reporting, with contributions from colleagues across the country, found the paradox occurring in nursing homes and hospitals, with some individual facilities seeing a refusal rate as high as 80%. The story, one of AP’s most-read on an extremely busy news week, quoted both health workers expressing fears of vaccine side effects and frustrated facility administrators.

For bringing to light an important part of the stumbling early rollout of the much-anticipated vaccine, Condon, Sedensky and Johnson win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP explores racial double standard in Capitol attack

explored the apparent disparity between the response to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and last year’s racial justice protests.New York-based race and ethnicity writer Aaron Morrison had watched President Donald Trump’s supporters storm the Capitol and reasoned that the protesters who called out racial injustice over the summer wouldn’t have been allowed to get close enough to the Capitol to breach it. Morrison and the AP team set out to examine the circumstances.Sources gave Morrisons interviews or statements saying that Black people who protest systemic racism are often met by police or National Guard troops equipped with assault rifles and tear gas. However, they pointed out, the mostly white mob that attacked the Capitol was met by an underwhelming law enforcement presence.Urban affairs reporter Gillian Flaccus contributed to Morrison’s reporting from Portland, Oregon, where Black Lives Matter advocates quickly noted the discrepancy between Trump’s response to racial justice protests in the Pacific Northwest city and his encouragement of the violence in the halls of Congress.Washington-based broadcast producer Padmananda Rama interviewed newly sworn-in St. Louis Rep. Cori Bush, who said the race of the Capitol rioters played a big part in their ability to breach the building; her video was packaged with the text piece. And Top Stories Hub photo editor Alyssa Goodman pulled together several images contrasting how the last week’s insurrection was handled as opposed to the racial justice protests.The violent breaching of the halls of power on Capitol Hill represented “one of the plainest displays of a racial double standard in both modern and recent history,” Morrison wrote.https://bit.ly/3bCEcqvhttps://bit.ly/38HK0x2

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Jan. 11, 2021

Best of the States

He’s a ‘Soul Man’: AP profiles Steve Cropper, a low-key musical legend

Correspondent Adrian Sainz drew on his deep knowledge of Memphis’ musical history to tell the fascinating but sometimes overlooked story of Steve Cropper, the 79-year-old guitarist who worked at Stax Records alongside Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and others, leaving an indelible imprint on the American songbook.

Complemented by Kristin Hall’s engaging video and Mark Humphrey’s striking portraits, Sainz lays Cropper's story out in rich detail, from the birth of Redding’s “(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay” to his work with the Blues Brothers and current projects.

For an illuminating, unexpected holiday offering that reveals the low-key man whose music everyone celebrates, Sainz earns AP’s Best of the States award for the week of Dec. 28.

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Jan. 11, 2021

Best of the Week

AP traces child labor from Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields to major brands, Girl Scout cookies

For the third installment of their groundbreaking investigation into labor abuse in Asia’s palm oil industry, reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason linked child labor to the supply chains of the makers of popular cereals, candies and ice creams, including KitKats, Oreos and Cap’n Crunch. They also traced the oil to that most American treat: Girl Scout cookies. 

Joined by photographers Binsar Bakkara and Mark Humphrey, and video journalist Allen Breed, their reporting found that some tens of thousands of children toil in the palm fields, some kept from school and forced to work for free or for little pay. Some are trafficked.

The framing of the story — through the eyes of a young girl in the fields in Indonesia and a Tennessee Girl Scout campaigning to have palm oil removed from the cookies — resonated with readers; reaction on social media led the Girl Scouts to address the issue with their suppliers.

For shedding unprecedented light on the children toiling in Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields, and connecting the abusive practice to major consumer brands, McDowell, Mason, Bakkara, Breed and Humphrey share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 28.

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP confronts network on Native American criticism of ‘Big Sky’

turned a routine feature into a news-breaking story by successfully pressing ABC to address Native American groups’ criticism that its show “Big Sky’ failed to acknowledge the problem of missing and abused women on native land. Few outlets had reported on it, and none had gotten a response from ABC.Elber spoke to native groups and pressed ABC, but was repeatedly told the network would have no response. But just before filing her story, Elber received a statement from ABC acknowledging the concerns and vowing to work with native groups to rectify them. The network gave the AP a day’s beat on all other outlets, and that night’s “Big Sky” episode carried for the first time a message about missing women and exploited children. https://bit.ly/39TR0YU

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Nov. 30, 2020

Best of the States

AP documents the surge in non-COVID deaths due to nursing home neglect

An exclusive analysis conducted for AP showed that in the shadow of the pandemic, a quiet surge in non-COVID “excess deaths” in U.S. nursing homes could top 40,000 above and beyond what is normal. 

To find out why, the AP team of reporters Matt Sedensky and Bernard Condon, with video journalist Allen Breed and colleagues, interviewed nursing home authorities and family members, documenting severe cases of neglect and prolonged isolation for residents not infected with the virus, much of it due to chronic understaffing. The text story and video piece received prominent play and were among the most widely viewed on the AP News app on the day of publication. 

For exposing a grim consequence of the pandemic affecting an already vulnerable population, the team of Sedensky, Condon and Breed earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP connects palm oil industry, top brands to abuse of women

followed up on their initial reporting that exposed widespread labor abuse in the palm oil industry, conducting a comprehensive investigation into the brutal treatment of women in the production of the omnipresent ingredient, including rapes by plantation supervisors, serious health issues from toxic chemicals and injuries from back-breaking loads. The pair then traced the oil produced by these women to the supply chains of top Western beauty brands — including conglomerates that make billions of dollars as they market the empowerment of women.Mason and McDowell persuaded dozens of female workers to tell their searing stories, spending months getting the women to trust them and then arranging clandestine meetings in an effort to protect the workers from retaliation by plantation owners. They bypassed the stonewalling of major Western brands that refused to say whether their products contain palm oil by using company data and U.S. Customs records to link the workers’ abuse to the brands’ palm oil supply chains.The package featured striking digital display, video and evocative photos by Indonesia-based stringer Binsar Bakkara, as well as a powerful series of closeups of workers’ hands cradling familiar products containing the fruits of their labor.The story is nearing 250,000 page views on AP News. The Clorox Company, which owns Burt’s Bees Inc., said it would raise the allegations of abuses with its suppliers, calling AP’s findings “incredibly disturbing.” https://bit.ly/3liKAV3https://bit.ly/2VeVUXRhttps://bit.ly/3mlXgfd

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Nov. 20, 2020

Best of the States

Using voters’ voices and hard data, AP analyzes Black support in Biden’s win

While there is little dispute that Black voters pushed Joe Biden into the presidential winner's column, AP wanted to know: How big of a factor were they?

Race and ethnicity writers Kat Stafford and Aaron Morrison began reporting on what Black voters said they wanted Biden to deliver once in office. Using the voices they collected as the foundation of the story, Stafford and Morrison teamed with data journalist Angeliki Kastanis and polling journalist Hannah Fingerhut, who infused the piece with data and voter survey findings that bolstered the anecdotes with hard numbers. 

Their collaboration put the AP days ahead of other news organizations’ pieces on Black voters’ support of Biden. For resourceful and insightful reporting and analysis on a major factor in the 2020 election, the team of Stafford, Morrison, Kastanis and Fingerhut wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 13, 2020

Best of the States

Tenacious source work leads to national newsbreak on census fraud

The on-the-record accounts from two census workers were stunning: Under pressure from supervisors amid the Trump administration’s push to bring the census to an end, they were encouraged to falsify records in the 2020 headcount.

Whom did they reveal this to? Not surprisingly, they spoke to Mike Schneider, AP’s authority on the census, who leveraged months of source development and reporting to break the story. Posted just an hour before the presidential race was called for former Vice President Joe Biden, the story still broke through with strong play and reader engagement.

For keeping the AP ahead in a critical coverage area with a terrific scoop, Schneider wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 16, 2020

Best of the States

11 weeks in the bubble: AP writer’s exhaustive NBA report goes well beyond the games

Through 78 days at Walt Disney World, basketball writer Tim Reynolds proved himself virtually unstoppable, turning out game stories on deadline while also spinning insightful pieces that examined the major topics of 2020, from coronavirus concerns to racial injustice issues and the presidential election – not to mention the league’s work stoppage. The so-called bubble may have confined him to an arena in central Florida, but Reynolds’ relentless NBA coverage reminded readers that sports illuminate our lives in ways big and small.

In all, Reynolds wrote an eye-popping 200-plus stories, collecting exclusives along the way. He capped his efforts with his insightful analysis of LeBron James’ legacy after James led the Lakers to their record-tying 17th NBA title. 

For his exhaustive, and exhausting, work that went well beyond the games in the NBA bubble, Reynolds wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 18, 2020

Best of the States

Putting a human face to the numbers: A waiter made homeless by the pandemic

Since the pandemic took hold in America, myriad stories have covered the broad economic impact of millions laid off or underemployed. But few have captured how the chilling trickle-down effect is changing lives.

Enter Kelli Kennedy. The Florida reporter produced a compelling, poignant story on one man's struggle with the devastating effects of the coronavirus shutdowns. Orlando resident Jeff Lello lost his waiter job, ended up homeless and briefly lived in a tent in the woods. 

The story was among AP’s most-read of the week, drawing feedback from readers, colleagues and even politicians.

For a stark narrative of unemployment wrought by the pandemic, Kennedy’s story wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 04, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Despite reports to the contrary, AP finds redwoods still standing

broke the news that the massive and renowned old-growth redwood trees at Big Basin Redwoods State Park had largely survived the region’s devastating wildfires. After other media reported that the ancient trees were “doomed” and had been “wiped out,” Mendoza and Sanchez hiked several smoky miles over waist-high fallen trees to find that the old-growth trees in the park – including the iconic Father and Mother of the Forest – were most definitely standing and had not burned. Even the signs marking the trees were unscathed.The positive news resonated with readers as far away as Iran and India, generating heavy engagement. https://bit.ly/31RxYOh

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Aug. 21, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

An intimate look at LA’s Watts, 55 years after violence erupted

traced the Watts neighborhood of South Los Angeles from the 1965 riots to the Watts of today. While Watts did not experience the violent protests that shook parts of LA and other cities in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, the AP team found a neighborhood still bearing scars 55 years after a traffic stop of a Black motorist by a white police officer led to a mass uprising and widespread violence. Through words, photos, video and archival images, the trio takes an intimate look at the challenges facing Watts at a time when racial justice and police violence are central issues in America.https://bit.ly/2E90pxThttps://bit.ly/2Ei193Whttps://bit.ly/34b1wbo

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May 15, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Even Trump claims surprise after AP bombshell on Flynn case

scooped everyone with news that the Justice Department was moving for dismissal of the case against Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Balsamo, acting on a tip, worked sources and obtained exclusive access to court documents showing the case was being dropped, before they were even filed in court. Tucker, AP’s Mueller investigation expert, drafted the story, pulling together details and information from other sources on how this case could have ended in such a spectacular and unusual way.The AP exclusive forced virtually every major news outlet to use the story, including CNN. Even Trump proclaimed he didn’t know it was coming – and he’d been railing for weeks about the case, mulling whether to pardon Flynn.https://bit.ly/2ArlBNRhttps://bit.ly/2WRm8Ae

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May 15, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Resourceful, innovative coverage of virtual Supreme Court

broke new ground for AP, creating popular new features for the court’s first-ever arguments by telephone with live audio. The pair revived the AP SCOTUS Twitter account @AP_COURTSIDE to live-tweet trivia, analysis and details during the arguments, they worked with the AP broadcast team to get AP pool access to the live audio, and they came up with a brand-new wire feature they also called “Courtside” – a more live-blog style of breaking news to help the public understand what they were hearing (including that weird toilet flush sound during one argument). That approach could become a model for covering future live news events.The features introduced by Sherman and Gresko attracted readers and followers, and complemented AP’s comprehensive stories on the court sessions.https://bit.ly/2WWadB9https://bit.ly/2YYAf9lhttps://bit.ly/2Wuubnk

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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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March 13, 2020

Best of the Week

AP Decision Desk caps stellar Super Tuesday with instant call: California for Sanders

On Super Tuesday afternoon, AP’s Stephen Ohlemacher and Emily Swanson were locked away in a conference room – isolated from their colleagues in the Washington bureau – reviewing incoming results from AP VoteCast. AP’s survey – developed to be more accurate than traditional exit polling – was already revealing what was about to happen on the biggest night of the Democratic presidential primary campaign.

The VoteCast data revealed trends in absentee voting and shifting preferences as Democratic candidates dropped out of the race, giving AP the evidence it needed to call California for Bernie Sanders as the state’s polls closed at 11:00 Eastern. News outlets relying on exit polls would not make that call for more than a week. 

Meanwhile, Seth Borenstein was crunching the numbers on the all-important delegate count, a task that required days of painstaking analysis of incomplete data to reach this conclusion: Joe Biden won more delegates on Super Tuesday than did Sanders.

Like the Caliofornia race call, news of Biden’s delegate victory rocketed around the world. 

For completing in-depth, accurate analysis of election data on deadline, enabling AP to tell the complete story of Super Tuesday before all others, Swanson, Ohlemacher and Borenstein win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 28, 2020

Best of the Week

With speed and smarts, AP Germany team dominates mass shooting coverage

As news of a racially motivated café shooting started trickling out shortly before midnight on Feb. 19, the AP team in Germany burst into action with an all-hands-on-desk effort that dominated coverage of this major story. 

AP’s success included a huge win on live video coordinated by Kerstin Sopke, brisk filing of the breaking story by Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans, and Michael Probst’s photos from the scene that landed on the front pages of major publications.

Their effort was supplemented by a strong effort from other corners of the AP as journalists interviewed survivors and members of the immigrant community, wrote about the rise of far-right violence in Germany and followed the written trail left by the killer. Play for the story was phenomenal. 

For their speed, smart news judgment and superior coordination that gave AP a massive lead on a big story as it broke, Probst, Moulson, Sopke and Jordans are AP’s Best of the Week winners.

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Feb. 28, 2020

Best of the States

Be Prepared: Source work, planning deliver top coverage of Scouts’ bankruptcy

David Crary heard from his legal sources that something big was coming for the Boy Scouts of America, which has been besieged by sexual abuse lawsuits: a bankruptcy filing.

Weeks before the paperwork was filed, Crary, who has been covering the organization for 20 years, set into motion plans to ensure the AP was well-covered. When the Scouts’ filing finally came out late on a holiday, his sharply written prep had the story on the wire within minutes, explaining the gravity of the filing and the reasons behind it.

AP journalists around the country pitched in, including Brady McCombs who gathered reaction from Scouts and local councils, spinning it into an engaging follow-up, and correspondent Randall Chase who attended the Scouts’ first bankruptcy hearing in a Delaware court. Their efforts were rewarded with outstanding play.

For their careful planning and flawless execution of coverage of the Scouts’ bankruptcy filing, Crary, McCombs and Chase win this week’s Best of the States award.

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