Nov. 15, 2019

Best of the States

AP Investigation: At least 1,680 aging US dams pose a risk to thousands

Severe storms, extreme flooding and aging infrastructure present a rising peril throughout much of the U.S., but trying to assess the risks has been extremely difficult. The reason: The federal agency overseeing the nation’s dams has sealed off the most essential information about their condition and the potential threats to those living downstream.

Prying that information loose took the kind of dedicated, 50-state effort that the AP is uniquely positioned to pursue. Data journalist Michelle Minkoff and Northern New England correspondent Michael Casey, collaborating with state government team member David Lieb and a visual team led by video journalist Allen Breed – as well as a cast of AP state reporters, photographers and data journalists – produced a deeply reported and visually stunning package revealing the dangers of nearly 1,700 aging dams, from Hawaii to Massachusetts.

Some two years in the making, the package resulted in explosive play – more than 100,000 page views on AP News and more than 80 front pages. 

For their exhaustive efforts to unlock critical public information and relay the findings in an engaging fashion, Minkoff, Casey, Lieb and Breed win this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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Sept. 27, 2019

Best of the Week

‘Immersive’ account of coral reef restoration leads ‘What can be saved?’ series

The first installment of “What Can Be Saved?” – a ground-breaking new series from The Associated Press – was so deeply immersive that viewers could almost smell the sea-salt of Jamaica. The island nation was the first stop in what will be 12 installments reported from five continents focusing not on the well-documented gloom of climate change, but on often unsung people around the world who are combating environmental destruction in big ways and small.

From Jamaica, the AP reporting team of photographers David Goldman and David Phillip, science writer Christina Larson and video journalist Kathy Young came back with the astounding narrative of underwater nurseries where islanders are growing coral by hand, branch by branch on underwater lines, to reverse decades of destruction to Jamaican reefs.

The series is already attracting global attention, and with 10 more episodes to come, teamwork throughout the AP has been essential in pulling together all the pieces of “What Can Be Saved?” into a seamless product that AP clients can use in whole or in part.

For their thoughtful, painstaking and visually stunning reporting that launched a mammoth team effort to approach the climate-emergency story with fresh eyes and tell it in compelling new ways, Goldman, Phillip, Larson and Young win AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Coming soon to natural park trails: motorized bicycles

For source reporting and collaboration that enabled AP to break the story about the Trump administration's plan to open national park trails to motorized bikes. Sharp got a tip that the Interior Department was expected to lift a decades-long ban on any vehicles with motors on National Park hiking and biking trails. He began reporting to get reaction even before the rule change was announced. Meanwhile, Knickmeyer got a tip that evening from a non-profit foundation that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had without any public notice signed an order lifting the ban immediately and classifying e-bikes as non-motor vehicles.

https://apnews.com/d22c8bb8a83c48c0b421dc0da81efd0b

Aug. 29, 2019

Best of the Week

AP delivers powerful dispatches and visuals from the front line of climate change

“There are lucky journalists but no such thing as a lucky lazy journalist.” That industry adage was again proven true when the crack team of video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, photographer Felipe Dana and science writer Seth Borenstein captured global attention by squeezing every last drop out of being in the right place at the right time for The Associated Press and its clients.

The place was Greenland, so inhospitable and remote that it is infrequently visited by journalists despite being at the epicenter of planet-threatening climate change. And the timing couldn’t have been better: As the giant but often ignored frozen island was suddenly thrust into the news when U.S. President Donald Trump unexpectedly expressed interest in buying it, sparking a diplomatic spat with Denmark, which said the semi-autonomous Danish territory wasn’t for sale.

The stories, photos and videos were widely used by AP’s membership and resonated with the public. The Helheim Glacier story landed on 16 front pages and was downloaded 85 times on AP Newsroom.

For their shining example of how to turn a pre-arranged media trip into essential world-grabbing journalism with tireless enthusiasm, smart thinking and the sharpest of eyes, Chernov, Dana and Borenstein share AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Aug. 23, 2019

Best of the States

Foresight, persistence, sources put AP ahead on green card restrictions for legal immigrants

Few reporters were paying attention to a draft rule barring legal immigrants from getting green cards if they received benefits like Medicaid or food stamps – but AP’s Colleen Long was.

Long, AP’s Washington-based Homeland Security reporter, had spent months asking U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when the final rules would be published, making them official. With a heads-up from sources, she was eventually able to get an advance briefing and interview, writing the story just before heading off on vacation. Then, as soon as the rule appeared, she alerted the Washington desk to move the story, giving AP a major beat over other news organizations. By the time the White House and Homeland Security held briefings, Long already had all the key details on the wire.

For her skilled source-building, persistence and meticulous reporting, Long wins this week’s Best of the States honors.

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July 26, 2019

Best of the Week

AP hours ahead as Trump moves to end nearly all asylum at southern border

Washington-based homeland security reporter Colleen Long earned a key scoop – one that set the news agenda for days and left the competition scrabbling to catch up – when a source alerted her to a change in rules for those seeking asylum at the southern border: The rule would effectively end asylum for people coming from Central American countries and change decades of U.S. policy.

Following the tip, she also knew that she had a window of opportunity to drive her advantage home before the law was announced early the next morning. Long’s story caught other news organizations completely off guard and left major outlets to cite the AP for hours as they struggled to catch up.

For her deep knowledge of immigration policy, diligent reporting and outstanding speed of delivery on a story of vital interest, Colleen Long earns AP’s Best of the Week.

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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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July 05, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Potential conflict for Trump’s UN nominee

for exclusively obtaining documents that expose a potential conflict of interest for Kelly Craft, President Donald Trump’s nominee for United Nations ambassador, on the topics of climate change and fossil fuels. When senior Environmental Protection Agency officials sent an email to Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, the acknowledgment email they received wasn’t from the ambassador. It was from her husband, coal magnate Joseph Craft, a wealthy GOP donor who has joined the coal industry in pressing for access and regulatory relief from the EPA and the Trump administration. It wasn’t the first time the Crafts had blurred roles – and email accounts – raising questions as senators consider her nomination to the U.N. Knickmeyer found several other examples of potential conflicts. https://bit.ly/2LugYWy

June 28, 2019

Best of the States

AP Analysis: EPA data says US air quality is slipping; EPA regulation could make it worse

Washington science writer Seth Borenstein knew the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was not going to notify anyone when it posted new data on the nation’s air quality for 2018, but he knew where it would be posted. He also knew that the Trump administration was poised to replace an Obama-era clean-air rule with a new regulation that was friendlier to coal-fired power plants, so he kept checking for the agency’s data.

When the data finally showed up, Borenstein teamed with New York-based Health and Science data journalist Nicky Forster to evaluate the data, put it in context and run it by scientists. Forster even pointed out errors that the EPA was forced to correct.

Their persistence made AP the first to report that the annual number of days of poor air quality in the U.S. had increased for the second year in a row, after decades of improvement. The story ran on the eve of the EPA’s announcement of its loosened regulation, undermining the rationale for the new standards with the government’s own numbers. Trump’s new rule, experts told the AP, could turn what is so far a modest backslide into a deadly trend.

For diligent reporting and sophisticated analysis to hold a federal agency accountable for its data and regulatory policy, Borenstein and Forster earn 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 28, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats: New threat for endangered Great Lakes bird

for gaining exclusive all-formats access to an already endangered shorebird’s primary nesting area. The AP team documented the plight of the piping plovers being squeezed out by surging Great Lakes waters during this spring’s Midwestern flooding. The package put the birds’ story into the broader context of climate change, explaining that the rising waters result from prolonged heavy rainfall and snowmelt that some experts believe will become a “new normal,” threatening the fragile Great Lakes coastline habitat. https://bit.ly/2NhTVB4

June 07, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Reporting on border graveyards prompts change in wall construction

for a story on two 19th-century cemeteries that stood in the way of the president’s border wall. The Trump administration had refused to give specifics about its plans for the cemeteries, but after the story, including interviews with family members of people buried there, the administration shifted course, avoiding the graveyards in the wall construction project. https://bit.ly/2QNsxJe

May 10, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Lawmakers target loopholes for spouses who drug, rape their partners

for a distinctive and deeply reported legislative story on the so-called “marital rape exemption” or “spousal defense,” a legal loophole in many states that allows spouses to escape criminal prosecution for raping partners who are drugged, unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. Smyth and Karnowski reported that previous state legislative attempts to remove those exemptions have a mixed record, but that’s starting to change. https://bit.ly/2vLmScQ

April 05, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Florida targeting massage parlor prostitution, trafficking

When police busted several massage parlors engaging in prostitution in Florida in February, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft drew all the attention, but hundreds of other men were also charged in what seemed like a new approach for Florida authorities.

AP Florida reporters Mike Schneider, Orlando, and Terry Spencer, West Palm Beach, seized on the Kraft-driven attention to dig into legal issues surrounding massage parlors and prostitution in Florida. With a deep dive into state records and a key interview with a local source, the pair landed an AP Exclusive that showed a change in strategy: Usually only low-level massage therapists were arrested. Owners were rarely charged and typically faced only fines and probation. Johns typically were not charged at all.

But the recent investigation had instead focused heavily on the possibility of widespread human trafficking. Several spa owners were charged with felonies, and authorities also charged 300 men accused of being patrons, including Kraft and the former president of Citigroup. The Martin County sheriff told Spencer that he wanted to shut down the sex-massage industry in part by targeting the demand side.

Strong play included prominent display in The Washington Post.

For their enterprising use of state records and source-building to find an AP Exclusive in a story that drew enormous global attention, Schneider and Spencer win this week’s Best of States award.

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April 05, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

APNewsBreak: Records request reveals pardons by ex-governor, expedites policy change

for using Maine’s open records law to reveal the names of more than 100 people pardoned by former Gov. Paul LePage. A 2017 law prohibited law enforcement agencies from releasing the names of pardoned individuals, but Villeneuve noted that the secretary of state’s office, which is custodian of the list, is not a law enforcement agency. Her request under the Freedom of Access Act led to the release of the names and an executive order by the current governor reversing the 2017 policy. https://bit.ly/2UhnxSa