Aug. 16, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Reshaping of federal courts concerns gun control supporters

for a forward-looking piece amid the blizzard of gun-related news that followed the most recent mass shootings, looking at how the reshaping of the federal courts under President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate could undermine strict gun-control laws passed by Democratic-leaning states. That scenario is already playing out in California, where a Republican-appointed federal judge has blocked a state law limiting the number of rounds allowed in ammunition magazines. Thompson’s story, turned around in a day and a half in the wake of the latest shootings, resonated with readers and editors, scoring heavy play online and in print. https://bit.ly/2KDN1BC

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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March 15, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Twin Texas scoops: UT fires former football star; GOP governor packing courts

for breaking two completely unrelated Texas scoops: that the University of Texas had fired former star quarterback Vince Young from his part-time job as an ambassador and development officer for the school, and for reporting that after barely three months after Democrats showed signs of cracking Republican dominance in state elections, Gov. Greg Abbott used the power of his office to appoint GOP judges who had been rejected by voters to new positions on the bench.https://bit.ly/2J6ZNe3https://bit.ly/2TB5fe3

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. 16, 2018

Best of the States

Multiple AP exclusives in all formats from mass shooting at California bar

Just before midnight on the day after California staffers were up late covering the midterm election came reports of a shooting at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Over the next 12 hours, as the scale of the carnage emerged, Sacramento correspondent Kathleen Ronayne, Washington-based reporters Mike Balsamo and Tami Abdollah, and photographer Mark Terrill and video journalist Krysta Fauria, both based in Los Angeles, combined to provide exclusive all-formats content for AP customers.

Despite the hour, Fauria and Terrill were on the scene within 90 minutes of the first reports coming in. Terrill made tight shots of the scene that no one else could match – his photos were used heavily by numerous outlets. Meanwhile, Fauria quickly set up a live shot, the first of four she would do over 12 hours at three locations. She also got AP’s first interview from a survivor.

Reporter Ronayne, bleary-eyed from the long election night, provided the first live video of authorities searching the shooter's home, while Balsamo used a source to break the widely played news that the murder weapon was a handgun, not an assault weapon.

As other news organizations pulled photos of the gunman from social media, Balsamo’s Washington colleague – and fellow AP-Los Angeles alumnus – Tami Abdollah used a source to obtain a driver’s license photo that is believed to be the first and still perhaps the only rights-cleared image of the gunman.

For providing news, photos and video that others couldn’t, Ronayne, Terrill, Balsamo, Abdollah and Fauria win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 19, 2018

Best of the Week

The Battle for Alexa: How deported parents could lose their kids to US adoptions

When family separations began under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, widespread rumors circulated that some separated children could end up being adopted by families in the United States – without their deported parents even being notified. California-based investigative reporters Garance Burke and Martha Mendoza set out to learn if this was true and eventually uncovered the case of 5-year-old Alexa Flores, exposing holes in the U.S. legal system that could allow deported mothers and fathers to lose their children.

Alexa’s story illustrates the fate that could await some of the hundreds of children who remain in federal custody after being separated from their parents at the border.

Burke and Mendoza sifted through hundreds of court records and dozens of interviews with immigrants, attorneys, and advocates in the U.S. and Central America. Teaming up with multiformat colleagues David Barraza and Rebecca Blackwell in El Salvador, Mike Householder and Paul Sancya in Michigan, and Mexico City-based Dario Lopez, they revealed how migrant children can become cloaked in the maze of state and federal courts, which are rarely in contact with each other.

For producing a complex, powerful story that spanned two countries in heartbreakingly human terms, Burke, Mendoza, Lopez, Blackwell, Sancya, Householder and Barraza win this week’s Best of the Week.

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Oct. 05, 2018

Best of the Week

Planning and preparation pay off in all formats at Bill Cosby sentencing

The two-day sentencing hearing and imprisonment of former TV star Bill Cosby ended a decades-long battle over sexual assault accusations against the comedian once known as “America’s Dad.” An AP team of reporters, photographers and video journalists drew on strong planning and coordination to excel in all formats while fending off a throng of competition.

The AP was ahead at all key moments in the sentencing, from a judge’s decision to label Cosby a sexually violent predator to the moment he handed down a sentence of 3 to 10 years and then denied bail. Staffers moved top photos to the wire almost instantly after they were shot, and provided live video of the scene.

For their excellent work in covering the Cosby sentencing, the team of Michael Sisak, Maryclaire Dale, Claudia Lauer, Pete Brown, Alyssa Goodman, Matt Rourke, Matt Slocum, Jackie Larma, Mike Householder and Joe Frederick share the Best of the Week award.

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Sept. 28, 2018

Best of the States

How 65 women came to Kavanaugh's defense in a matter of hours

Within hours of their high school friend being accused publicly of sexual assault against a young woman 36 years ago, 65 women stepped forward to sign a letter supporting Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was now at risk.

Many in newsrooms asked themselves, how was it possible that 65 people could be marshalled so quickly to attest to someone’s moral character, including people who may not have seen Kavanaugh in decades. Reporters in four states, Jennifer Peltz in New York, Michael Kunzelman in Baltimore, Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston and Dan Sewell in Ohio, set out to reach every single one.

They learned that the campaign had started with phone calls among several high-school friends of Kavanaugh, and organizers used social media to expand their search.

The story, demonstrating AP's ability to marshal staffers across state lines on a tight timeline, was the top non-spot story of the week.

For their efforts, Shafner, Peltz, Kunzelman, Richer and Sewell share this week's Best of the States award.

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Aug. 31, 2018

Best of the Week

AP Exclusives: National Enquirer’s secret safe, Cohen subpoenaed on Trump Foundation

“What’s in the safe?”

The headline on the cover of the New York Post editions on Aug. 23 spoke volumes about the impact, power and reach of AP reporting on the legal chaos surrounding President Donald Trump.

Washington investigative reporter Jeff Horwitz exclusively reported that the National Enquirer kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Horwitz's story quickly went to No. 1 on AP Mobile and led websites around the world.

It was one of two AP exclusives touching on Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen that seized the nation’s attention last week. In addition to Horwitz, Albany statehouse reporter David Klepper was first to report that New York state investigators subpoenaed Cohen as part of their probe into the Trump Foundation. Klepper reported that Cohen is a potentially significant source for state investigators looking into whether Trump or his charity broke state law or lied about their tax liability.

For their exclusives, Horwitz and Klepper win the Beat of the Week.

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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 13, 2018

Best of the States

Two stories focus on young victims impacted by US immigration policy

In two moving pieces of journalism in the last week, Associated Press journalists cast a powerful spotlight on the toll of White House immigration policies on young children.

One story started with a question posed by immigration beat team reporter Nomaan Merchant: Could we profile a single block or community where multiple immigrants had been picked up, and explore the impact of those arrests?

Merchant, joined by video journalist Manuel Valdes and photographer Greg Bull, zeroed in on a community in Kentucky that was the site of a two-day Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid last December.

Their reporting turned up examples of people who were arrested by happenstance, and with no criminal records – despite the administration’s mantra that the raids are for public safety. Perhaps the most poignant reporting and images focused on a 4-year-old boy whose father was arrested.

Meanwhile, Arizona immigration reporter Astrid Galvan was looking for ways to tell the stories of children separated from their parents at the border. She found a juvenile docket in Phoenix immigration court and camped out there for the day.

What she found was a major story that affected the national debate on immigration – a 1-year-old boy who had a court appearance with a lawyer. Galvan described in vivid detail how he nursed from his bottle, asked his care giver for “agua” and cried when the care giver retrieved his diaper bag. And she captured the money quote as a judge expressed his bafflement at having to advise a defendant of his rights when the defendant was a 1-year-old boy in diapers.

For exclusive, compelling stories that drove the narrative on a subject of prevailing interest, Galvan, Merchant, Valdes and Bull win this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 06, 2018

Best of the States

AP multiformat teams give voice to separated, reunited families. And break news too.

AP journalists have worked tirelessly across formats and locations to chronicle the stories of immigrant parents and children struggling to reunite after being separated at the border as a result of White House zero-tolerance enforcement policies.

Their work paid big dividends last week with exclusive images, videos and stories about separated families and White House policies by reporters Martha Irvine, Morgan Lee, Michael Tarm and Elliot Spagat, photographers Charlie Arbogast and Matt York and video journalist John Mone.

For compelling multiformat coverage of families affected by immigration policy, and for expanding AP's reach on this closely watched story, Irvine, Lee, Spagat, Tarm, Arbogast, York and Mone share this week's Best of the States award.

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May 31, 2018

Best of the States

Mentally disabled man made false confession to murder in 1998 – now it's used against him

A mentally disabled Louisiana man walked free last week after 20 years in prison for a killing his attorneys say he didn't commit. But New Orleans reporter Janet McConnaughey questioned why his plea agreement blames him for obstructing justice.

Corey Williams was a 16-year-old who still sucked his thumb, often wet himself and had been hospitalized for extreme lead poisoning when Shreveport, Louisiana, police brought him in for questioning in 1998 about a shooting that killed a pizza deliveryman.

For hours, he said he was innocent. Finally, Williams told police he did it and wanted to go home and lie down.

Two decades later, with doubts swirling around his murder conviction and the case submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court for review, Williams accepted a plea agreement, pleading guilty to manslaughter and obstructing justice.

McConnaughey asked the district attorney's office for documentation outlining the plea deal. There it was: Williams said he’d obstructed justice by removing evidence from the crime scene and by providing “a false inculpatory statement to police." Williams’ signature was in inch-high printing, with big circles over the i’s.

McConnaughey’s story received strong use by AP customers. For pursuing the underlying details and shining a light on a deal that set Williams free – but only after putting the blame on himself for a false confession – McConnaughey wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 10, 2017

Best of the Week

50-state investigation reveals arbitrary patchwork of justice for juvenile lifers

After the U.S. Supreme Court told states that juveniles who had been given mandatory life without parole sentences should get the chance to argue for their release, national writers Sharon Cohen and Adam Geller wanted to know how judges, prosecutors, lawmakers and parole boards were dealing with the inmates.

Aided by reporters in all 50 states, their exhaustive investigation showed for the first time that the high court’s mandate in 2016 to give inmates a chance at freedom is being applied inconsistently, varying from state to state, even county to county, “in a pattern that can make justice seem arbitrary.”

The resulting three-day series featured deeply reported text stories, an expansive photo report of inmates from across the country, a 16-minute audio extra, a video animation on teen brain development, a video story, and a searchable trove of state-by-state details – all hosted in a dynamic hub on APNews.com.

Cohen and Geller’s work wins this week’s Beat of the Week prize.

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July 06, 2017

Best of the States

Long leads team coverage of fatal hospital shooting

New York City police reporter Colleen Long was taking the elevator at police headquarters on a quiet Friday afternoon before the Fourth of July weekend when she overheard a couple of patrol officers suddenly talking with alarm. “Oh my God,” one of them said. “Something’s going on at Bronx Lebanon Hospital. I think an active shooter.”

Long got off on the next stop and immediately called a source as she took the stairs down to her office in the second-floor press room, known as “the shack.” By the time she got to the desk, she had enough information to call the New York City bureau with a barebones APNewsAlert: “NEW YORK (AP) — Police are responding to a report of shots fired inside a New York City hospital.”

So began a bureau-wide reporting effort on a story that would unfold in unusual detail, even in the long litany of American gun violence. For leading a team effort that put the AP out front and kept us there, Colleen Long wins the Best of the States Award and the $300 that goes with it for the second week in a row.

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June 23, 2017

Best of the States

AP gets first juror comment in Philando Castile trial

When Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in the fatal shooting of black motorist Philando Castile, a question on the mind of every reporter in the courtroom was this: How did jurors reach their verdict?

One of those reporters, Minneapolis’ Amy Forliti, had been laying the groundwork to answer that question for two weeks. Her efforts paid off with The Associated Press getting the first interview with a juror – critical insight into a case that had generated global interest since millions of people saw the aftermath of Castile's death from his girlfriend's livestream on Facebook.

Meanwhile, colleague Steve Karnowski’s subsequent interview provided details in AP’s story that no one else had: The jury had been split 10-2 earlier in the week in favor of an acquittal, and neither of the two jurors who favored conviction was black.

For smart reporting and strong execution that put the AP ahead on a competitive aspect of a competitive story, Forliti and Karnowski win this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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April 21, 2017

Best of the States

AP investigation reveals federal judge impaired by alcoholism

Baton Rouge-based reporter Michael Kunzelman was reporting on the police killing of a black man outside a convenience store last summer when a source called to encourage him to look into a case in front of a federal judge that had been mysteriously reassigned. It wasn’t the easiest time to be chasing down tips: the Alton Sterling shooting was swiftly followed by the killings of three law enforcement officials and then catastrophic flooding in Louisiana’s capital.

But Kunzelman didn’t forget about it.

When he was free, he began an investigation into the performance of U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi, work that would take months and aggressive use of public records. It culminated with the discovery last week she’d been ordered to seek treatment for alcoholism so severe that a colleague believed she couldn’t take care of herself. For his work Kunzelman wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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