Oct. 09, 2020

Best of the States

AP ties Supreme Court nominee to faith group said to subjugate women

When President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Barrett and her supporters clearly did not want to discuss the nominee’s reported ties to a religious group called People of Praise.

Enter reporters Michelle Smith and Michael Biesecker. Using on-the-record interviews and an archive of deleted web pages, the pair documented Barrett's deep ties to the charismatic Christian group and painted a detailed picture of the organization’s beliefs and practices from its early days to the present. And the reporters went on to reveal how the organization had systematically deleted all mentions of Barrett and her family from its website.

For deep, resourceful reporting that sheds new light on the current Supreme Court nominee on the cusp of her confirmation hearings, Smith and Biesecker share 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

Dec. 20, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exceptional AP coverage of UK elections

of London bureau text and photo staffers, Europe planning desk and visiting text reporters, staff and freelance video journalists and photographers, all of whom worked tirelessly, many through the night, after weeks of buildup to cover every developing line on the U.K. election night and into the following day. In addition to Boris Johnson’s win, the all-formats report included a profile of the Conservative leader, Labour’s implosion, the implications for the Scottish independence movement, key takeaways, the effect on markets and currency, the view from the EU and – working with the team in Washington – a look at what lessons the Democrats can take from these results ahead of the 2020 election. https://apnews.com/Brexit

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Sept. 13, 2019

Best of the Week

AP data project shows women facing restrictions increasingly seek abortions out of state

Legislative debates over restricting abortion access in the U.S. have been among the most hotly contested and thoroughly covered state government topics of recent years. But what of the women affected by those laws? A distinctive, data-driven investigation by the state government and data teams provided answers: Each year thousands of women travel to get abortions in another state, and the share of non-resident women getting abortions had risen significantly in states where conservative legislatures passed measures restricting the procedure.

To arrive at that conclusion, state government team reporter Christina Cassidy went state-by-state to gather the most recent abortion data, while data team editor Meghan Hoyer oversaw the methodology and analysis. Cassidy also worked sources to find women who had left their home state for an abortion, humanizing the story behind the data. Colleagues Alina Hartounian, Susan Montoya Bryan, Gillian Flaccus and Francois Duckett produced compelling all-formats content for the package.

A unique dataset released before publication allowed AP’s member publications to produce localized graphics and stories. The project checked all the boxes for customer and reader engagement, which was extraordinarily strong.

For putting the AP out front on one of the most contentious issues roiling American politics, Cassidy, Hoyer, Flaccus, Montoya Bryan, Hartounian and Duckett share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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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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Oct. 05, 2018

Best of the States

Oklahoma Republicans targeted by GOP colleague, dark money

Oklahomans widely assumed that 12 Republican state lawmakers who lost their bids for re-election came up short at the polls because of their opposition to raising pay for the state’s public school teachers.

While opposition to education funding may have been one factor in incumbent losses in the GOP primaries, Oklahoma City-based reporter Sean Murphy began hearing scuttlebutt about an organized effort from within the Republican Party to kick out incumbents from their own party.

Using campaign finance reports and solid sourcing at the Capitol, Murphy was alone in showing that the rumors were true.

Public records showed a top state House GOP leader had given money to opponents of two of his own colleagues, and the opponents unseated the incumbents. Murphy also leveraged a relationship developed over years of reporting to get the lawmaker to talk. He acknowledged a plan to punish fellow Republicans for taking hardline stances that forced a compromise with Democrats on a plan to raise taxes to pay for teacher raises.

For combining shoe-leather reporting with smart document work, Murphy wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 31, 2018

Best of the States

Tibbetts murder suspect lived, worked on land linked to GOP fundraiser

Within hours of the news that the man charged with killing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts was a Mexican citizen believed to be in the United States illegally, Republican leaders from President Donald Trump to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds injected the case into the political debate, blaming lax immigration policies for allowing the man into the community.

Amid such comments, Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley got a tip from two longtime Republican Party sources: The suspect lived on land partly owned by Nicole Schlinger, one of the party’s most prolific national fundraisers, the sources said.

Foley was determined to discover whether that was true. He obtained property records showing Schlinger and her husband owned the farm trailer where Rivera had lived, and her husband was president of the farm. Foley then got confirmation from Schlinger, who had avoided his questions for days.

Further, Schlinger’s fundraising client list included anti-illegal-immigration hard-liners, including Reynolds, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and even the Stop Sanctuary Cities PAC.

The story was used extensively by Iowa newspapers and was a big online hit, with hundreds of postings and 40,000 Facebook interactions.

For scooping local and national competitors on a high-interest topic even as he reported on spot developments, Ryan Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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Dec. 08, 2017

Best of the Week

AP reveals how dirty US fuel byproduct contributes to India’s dangerously polluted air

Oil extracted from the tar sands of Canada has contributed to booming production among American refineries, but it also has created a messy legacy: Ton upon ton of a filthy byproduct called petroleum coke. U.S. utilities don’t want it because of its extremely high sulfur content, leaving refineries with one option – getting rid of it – because stockpiling had stirred community outcries. Tammy Webber, a Chicago-based reporter with the environmental beat team, wondered: If refineries couldn’t offload the substance in the U.S., what were they doing with it?

Through a year’s worth of detective work, Webber and her beat team colleague in New Delhi, Katy Daigle, traced the shadowy network that trades in oil refineries' bottom-of-the-barrel leftovers. They found that India was the leading destination of “petcoke” from the U.S., and Indian officials had no idea the amount of petcoke flowing into the country was 20 times more than just six years before. Nor did they know how it was being used in a country already choking on some of the world’s dirtiest air.

Within 24 hours of the story hitting the wire, India’s government announced it would phase out imports of petcoke and had begun working on a policy to end the practice.

For revealing the secretive transport of petroleum coke from the U.S. to one of the world’s most polluted countries, and for drawing an immediate reaction from the government of India, Webber and Daigle win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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April 07, 2017

Best of the Week

AP Exclusive: North Carolina’s costs for ‘bathroom bill’ calculated in billions

It began as an anniversary story, but one that would break news. With North Carolina’s hotly-contested “bathroom bill,” HB2, in place for nearly a year, AP’s Raleigh bureau was asked by the South Desk to assess the economic impact of the law limiting protections for the LGBT community.

Reporters Jonathan Drew and Emery Dalesio created a spreadsheet tallying the results of their digging, including searches of public records, among them previously unseen state calculations of lost business; they interviewed corporate leaders and state and local officials. And they were able to put a hard minimum figure on huge losses to the state economy even as legislators were negotiating a revision of HB2. “The deal was struck,” The New York Times noted, “days after The Associated Press reported that the backlash against the law would cost North Carolina at least $3.7 billion in business over 12 years.”

The timely exclusive by Drew and Dalesio is the Beat of the Week.

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March 02, 2017

Best of the Week

Pushing back against access limits at White House briefing, AP’s Julie Pace lauded for walking out

After eight years on the White House beat, AP’s Julie Pace is a leader among correspondents in fighting for access to the president and his advisers, and over those years she routinely has resisted any efforts to exclude the press unreasonably from news events or obscure the president’s schedule.

On Friday, she recognized instantly that what was happening at the White House was anything but routine: a first-in-memory, invitation-only daily briefing by the presidential press secretary from which other news organizations were excluded. Her spot-on instinct to walk out put The Associated Press at the forefront of the fight for access and openness.

Pace’s quick decision reverberated across Washington and the country – and earns the Beat of the Week.

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