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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July 20, 2018

Best of the Week

APNewsBreak reveals renewed investigation into Emmett Till killing

The killing of black teenager Emmett Till remains one of the most notorious crimes in American history, unresolved more than 60 years later. The 14-year-old boy was lynched after being accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955, a case that shocked the nation and helped inspire the civil rights movement. Alabama correspondent Jay Reeves has doggedly pursued any developments in the case over the years, and last week came away with a bombshell: the investigation was being reopened.

For that exclusive, Reeves wins the Beat of the Week.

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July 20, 2018

Best of the States

AP investigation: Pence family’s failed gas station empire cost taxpayers millions to clean up

Indianapolis correspondent Brian Slodysko’s investigative story started from one sentence buried in a news release. It said that the public was paying for environmental cleanup at a contaminated petroleum storage site in Indianapolis that Vice President Mike Pence’s family abandoned after their gas station empire went bankrupt in 2004. The release didn’t mention Pence, just Kiel Brothers.

After attending a demolition celebration, where he photographed a crew tearing down a massive tank that had long-blighted a neighborhood, Slodysko worked over the coming months to detail how extensive contamination from the business was – and quantify the public cost.

The result: Indiana taxpayers paid more than $21 million to clean up after the company, in all likelihood a conservative figure because many of the documents were redacted, missing or incomplete.

But cost alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Slodysko’s review of public records showed that the Pence family business – which was run by Mike Pence’s older brother Greg, who is now running for Congress – repeatedly received favorable treatment from the state.

The story ran, or was teased, on the front page of at least eight Indiana papers, including the Indianapolis Star, which ran the story and photo across the top. It was also featured on the website of the Columbus Republic, Mike Pence’s hometown newspaper.

For an investigation that revealed the millions of tax dollars used to clean up more than 85 contaminated sites in three states, Slodysko earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 27, 2018

Best of the Week

Fast and furious: AP is hours ahead with sought-after Comey memos

The moment James Comey let slip that he had written “contemporaneous notes” detailing his dealings with President Donald Trump, those memos became the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The memos quickly became fodder for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections as it related to possible collusion with the Trump campaign – and in particular, whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Prosecutors perused them, members of Congress demanded them and the public speculated about them.

In the end, The Associated Press got them.

Thanks to the resourceful reporting of the Washington bureau’s Mary Clare Jalonick, Chad Day, Tom LoBianco and Eric Tucker, the AP was the first news organization to publish the contents of those 15 pages of notes, hours ahead of the competition. And that major scoop is the Beat of the Week.

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April 13, 2018

Best of the States

AP tracks record number of women running for US House seats

The Women’s March shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration energized its backers with a message to get politically engaged. The emergence of the #MeToo movement later that year provided even more momentum. But would women follow through? At the start of 2018, a midterm election year, the state government and data teams decided to find out.

The goal was ambitious: Track every woman running for Congress, statewide office and state legislature in the country, get historical numbers for comparison and follow their electoral fates through Election Day to see if the movements had led to real change. That effort, which will be ongoing throughout the year, produced its first scoop last week when AP declared a record number of women running for the U.S. House of Representatives.

For breaking significant news on one of the most dominant political trends of the year, state government team reporters Christina Cassidy and Geoff Mulvihill, and data team visual journalist Maureen Linke share this week’s Best of the States.

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Dec. 01, 2017

Best of the States

AP staffers get exclusive interview with U.S. Rep. John Conyers

When BuzzFeed broke the news that the longest-serving current U.S. House member had settled a sexual harassment complaint, one notable thing missing was comment from U.S. Rep. John Conyers himself. The 88-year-old Conyers rarely gives interviews anymore, deferring to his staff to issue statements or simply not responding.

Congress was on Thanksgiving break, but News Editor Roger Schneider suggested that video journalist Mike Householder and reporter Corey Williams drop by Conyers’ Detroit home. They knew it was a long shot – Corey and Mike had been to Conyers’ house before, and knew it was gated.

To their surprise, Conyers answered their ring.

Conyers answered a few questions, giving Williams and Householder a major beat: He denied settling sexual harassment claims and other allegations of inappropriate touching of staffers.

For aggressive reporting that paid off with an exclusive on one of the week’s top stories, Williams and Householder share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Oct. 27, 2017

Best of the States

​APNewsBreak: Mike Pence's brother plans to run for Congress

Indiana political reporter Brian Slodysko knew Vice President Mike Pence’s older brother Greg, who for months had been eyeing a run for Congress, would soon announce that he was jumping into the race for his brother’s old seat.

Slodysko wanted to get the news out first and had been pushing Greg Pence’s advisers. But Slodysko became increasingly concerned the campaign would seek to bypass the media with an announcement directly to their supporters.

Looking for another way to get at the story, Slodysko found an IRS form submitted just days before to establish the Greg Pence for Congress political organization. Armed with that info, Slodysko was able to pull together a story, drawing not only on the IRS filing, but also his own in-depth research of the Pence family.

For finding a way to break a competitive story, Slodysko wins this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Oct. 13, 2017

Best of the Week

Exclusive visuals, reporting distinguish Vegas shooting coverage

It was just one of the many mysteries surrounding the Las Vegas concert shooting: How did the gunman, perched up on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort, fire off as many as 90 rounds onto thousands of concert-goers in just 10 seconds, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds?

Reporters Sadie Gurman and Mike Balsamo found the answer. Through sourcework, they learned that Stephen Paddock was able to carry out his assault in moments because he had used two “bump stocks,” devices that allow a semi-automatic rifle to repeatedly fire like a machine gun.

The scoop was part of an impressive week of coverage by staff in the Las Vegas bureau and across the AP that also included photographer John Locher’s dramatic images of police screaming for people to take cover as the gunman sprayed the crowd with bullets.

For their work in bringing critical details and images of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Gurman, Balsamo and Locher win this week’s Beat of the Week prize.

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Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the States

Request denied? Sunshine Hub sheds light on state efforts to block public access

Beyond its dramatic effects, the audio from 911 calls can provide the kind of context that is essential to the public's understanding of what happened during a newsworthy crime or emergency. Those recordings are, with few exceptions, a matter of public record. That almost changed this year in Iowa, where the state House passed – unanimously – a bill that would end the public's ability to access many 911 calls. The bill eventually died after an outcry from the media, watchdog groups and civil rights organizations, but it was not unusual. A months-long project by AP reporters and data journalists found more than 150 bills introduced in state legislatures this year that were intended to eliminate or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings.

To help reporters find, track and provide input on those bills, Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen of the data team created a unique online tool that provided full access to AP customers.

Called the Sunshine Hub, it helps users keep track of legislative activity related to government transparency, suggest new bills, search for and categorize bills for research purposes, and discuss legislation with others. The Sunshine Hub directly complemented stories by Ryan Foley in Iowa, Andrew DeMillo in Arkansas and Laurie Kellman in Washington.

For their groundbreaking reporting and software development, Tumgoren, Rasmussen, Foley, DeMillo and Kellman win this week's Best of the States award.

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July 20, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Anti-outsourcing senator's family business uses Mexican labor

One of the most vulnerable senators up for re-election in 2018 – Democrat Joe Donnelly of Indiana - has staked his nearly two-decade political career on opposition to outsourcing and free-trade agreements that ship American jobs abroad.

Following up on a tip from Washington, D.C., colleague Erica Werner, Indiana Statehouse reporter Brian Slodysko pulled together public documents and customs records to reveal that Donnelly has benefited financially from the very free trade policies he has decried since his first run for Congress. As Slodysko reported in his “Only on AP” story, Donnelly earned thousands of dollars in 2016 alone from stock in the arts and crafts business his family has owned for generations, which ships raw materials to its Mexican factory that produces ink pads and other supplies.

For shining light on something a politician would have preferred left unknown to his constituents, Slodysko wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 29, 2017

Best of the Week

AP analysis: How gerrymandering benefited GOP in 2016

How is it that Republicans and Democrats can split the vote about equally in races for Congress and state legislatures, yet the GOP wins significant majorities in the House of Representatives and in statehouses across the country? Partisan gerrymandering, which manipulates legislative districts for one party’s benefit, has been suspected, but there has been no way to actually quantify it – until now.

An Associated Press team of David Lieb, Meghan Hoyer and Maureen Linke, applying a new statistical method that calculates partisan advantage, analyzed U.S. House and state legislative races across the country last year and found that redistricting controlled by Republicans had given their party a distinct advantage and one that will be hard for Democrats to overcome in upcoming election cycles.

Their multi-format report – including easy-to-grasp interactives and a trove of localized data – is the Beat of the Week.

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March 09, 2017

Best of the States

Minnesota: Projecting the GOP health plan's statewide impact

It’s no secret that the repeal and replacement of Obamacare could have a significant impact both on those holding insurance and on the finances of states that have embraced the health care law. But over the last few months, few details had emerged on what that precise impact might be.

In an “Only on AP” story, St. Paul, Minnesota, statehouse reporter Kyle Potter revealed that Minnesota officials were bracing for additional costs that could reach $6 billion by 2029 to maintain a low-income health care program that covers more than 900,000 state residents. For providing one of the first concrete glimpses into the possible ramifications states envision, Potter wins this week's Best of States recognition.

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Jan. 13, 2017

Best of the Week

AP first with word US taxpayers to pay for US-Mexico wall

“Build the wall!" That chant became a frequent rallying cry at rallies for Donald Trump, who vowed to stem illegal immigration by building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The candidate, now president-elect, would routinely engage in a back-and-forth with crowds. "Who's going to pay for it?" Trump would ask. "Mexico!" they'd shout back.

Not so, as it turns out. In an APNewsBreak, congressional correspondent Erica Werner and new White House reporter Jill Colvin were the first to report that Trump and congressional Republicans were exploring ways to use existing law – and U.S. taxpayer dollars – to build the border wall.

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