Nov. 01, 2019

Best of the States

Experience, persistence pay off with breaking news: US to collect asylum seekers’ DNA

Immigration and Homeland Security reporter Colleen Long’s ears perked up in early October when she heard agency officials mention “CODIS” as they briefed reporters on the likelihood they would expand their practice of collecting DNA from migrants. 

CODIS, she knew from experience, was an FBI database usually associated with violent crimes, so Long was surprised to hear of its use in connection with migrants whose only crime was crossing the border illegally. Long followed up with detailed questions at the briefing but didn’t get answers, so she kept pressing officials.

Her persistence was rewarded with an advance briefing on the new rule, and additional details about how the DNA policy would be implemented. Long’s story moved hours ahead of the official announcement, becoming one of the most-read stories of the day. 

For making the early connection to the policy implications of the DNA database, then pressing the issue with officials until she had the exclusive details, Long earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 29, 2019

Best of the States

Early Epstein accuser: Police could have stopped him in 1997

It’s exceedingly rare to get any details from a police report in California and even rarer to get a glimpse inside a detective’s notebook. But Jennifer Peltz and Katie Campione did just that. Peltz and Campione convinced police to finally explain how they handled one of the earliest known sex crime accusations against Jeffrey Epstein, a 1997 case that the accuser has called a massive missed opportunity to bring the financier to justice years before he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls and young women.

Their story turned out to be one of the most popular stories of the week on the AP News mobile site and was also one of the most engaging with readers. Even the Los Angeles Times had no choice but to put the AP story on its website front page.

For going the extra mile to get an explanation for a case that could have stopped Epstein from the start, Katie Campione and Jennifer Peltz win this week's Best of the States.

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Aug. 09, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigative team reveals how Michigan-based group quietly helped abusive priests

It was a piece of investigative journalism that yielded stunning revelations about the role of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a small nonprofit in Michigan that has been quietly providing money, shelter and legal help to hundreds of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse.

Investigative reporters Martha Mendoza, Garance Burke and Juliet Linderman launched an aggressive effort using shoe leather and Freedom of Information requests to unravel the story behind the organization. Photographer Paul Sancya told the story through a powerful set of images, while videographer Mike Householder produced his own compelling piece.

The riveting story received prominent play and gathered growing interest as it was translated and published in predominantly Catholic countries around the world.

For a story that revealed a startling but little-known group in the shadows of the church’s sexual abuse scandals, Mendoza, Linderman, Burke, Householder and Sancya win AP’s Best of the Week.

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Aug. 09, 2019

Best of the States

AP mobilizes cross-formats response to deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio

AP’s U.S. staff has a lot of practice in responding to mass shootings. But two major events in 24 hours tested even the most experienced staff.

They rose to the challenge.

Soon after noon Central time on Saturday, Aug. 3, reports began to surface about an active shooter at an El Paso, Texas, mall. A local news station initially reported that 18 people were shot inside a Walmart – a number which by Monday would rise to 22 dead and two dozen injured.

The quick reaction of AP staff around the country and beyond – in the office, at home and even on vacation – ensured the AP was fast, accurate and leading the way on what would become one of the biggest stories of the year. Text, photo and video staffers converged on El Paso, while colleagues around the country worked sources, contributed to the stories and managed the coverage.

Among the standout reporting was an early interview with a woman who told the heartbreaking story of her sister who died while shielding her 2-month-old son – just a small part of the terrific cross-format continuing coverage.

As the Texas team was just catching its breath, reports of another massacre emerged overnight, this time in Ohio. AP’s initial alert was followed four minutes later by the alert that a shooter killed nine people, including his own sister, before police shot him dead. The East Desk immediately dispatched Ohio staff and others to Dayton.

AP beat competitive agencies with photos and numerous live shots, as well as an incredibly compelling interview with a man who watched his father die in his arms. Elsewhere, many of the same supporting cast already working the El Paso story from afar stepped in on Ohio as well, complementing the coverage on the ground.

For its quick, nimble response, precise reporting and robust, cross-format content on two highly competitive breaking stories, the U.S. staff is recognized with this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 05, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Outstanding video coverage from Hong Kong and Pyongyang

for deftly directing unmatched video coverage of two major stories in Asia. Amid recent clashes in Hong Kong, Wober was fully committed to coverage on July 1, the anniversary of the territory's 1997 handover. But he was also keenly aware of the unprecedented meeting that took place the previous day between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung Un at the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. Wober had asked Pyongyang for video reaction from the North Korean capital. While monitoring the building tension on the ground in Hong Kong, he checked in with the team in North Korea, coordinating the video feed from Pyongyang. As a result, only AP was able to deliver North Koreans’ reaction on video. And while working the two stories, Wober accommodated an interview request from client Sky News, describing the tense situation in Hong Kong.

As an already long day wore into the evening of July 1, hundreds of Hong Kong protesters smashed their way into the territory’s legislature, vandalizing the main legislative chamber before being cleared by police firing tear gas into the crowd. Wober and another member of his crew stayed on to deliver hours of powerful live and recorded video unmatched by competitive agencies. https://bit.ly/2RNfGY2

June 21, 2019

Best of the States

25 years after unresolved killings, O.J. Simpson tells AP: ‘life is fine’

Two weeks before the 25th anniversary of the killings that led to O.J. Simpson’s “Trial of the Century,” special correspondent Linda Deutsch was summoned from retirement to try to coax an interview from the fallen football star. Simpson hadn’t submitted to an interview since being released from prison in 2017, and he turned down an interview request from Deutsch last year. But Deutsch tried again, this time by phone. O.J. didn't want to talk, but he relented after Deutsch reminded him that if he spoke to her, AP’s story would reach all media.

Simpson wouldn’t discuss the crime, but he provided a glimpse into a life now very much outside the public eye, telling Deutsch “life is fine,” a quote that stung any who believed he got away with murder.

Deutsch’s story, including two photos of Simpson at home that were exclusive to the AP, was the day’s top-read AP story online, and the centerpiece of a multi-story package looking back at Simpson’s trial, its key figures and its impact.

For a timely, exclusive interview with a man who remains the focus of intense public interest, Linda Deutsch receives AP’s Best of the States award.

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June 14, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Top US cardinal accused of mishandling abuse allegations against deputy

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s five-month investigation revealed the stunning allegations: A high-ranking Catholic priest had a sexual relationship with a Houston woman for more than a year, counseled her husband on their marital problems, pressed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the couple and continued to hear her confession.

But the cardinal overseeing the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations in the United States approved the priest’s transfer to a church two hours away.

The fallout from Winfield’s revelations was swift: The priest was suspended and church officials reopened their inquiry into the handling of parishioner Laura Pontikes’ accusations.

To tell the sensitive story, Winfield – and a team that included Raleigh-based national writer/video journalist Allen Breed, New York global enterprise photographer Wong Maye-E and Houston correspondent Nomaan Merchant – meticulously planned coverage in each format, including on-camera interviews with Pontikes and her husband, and photos and video of the cardinal and the accused priest.

For an investigation that cast doubt on a top church official’s handling of a case involving startling allegations of abuse, Winfield, Breed, Wong and Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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May 31, 2019

Best of the States

The one that got away: Survivor of serial killer adds emotion, depth to execution coverage

Execution coverage often focuses on the condemned inmate or the manner of death. So, faced with covering his eighth execution – a Florida serial killer – Tallahassee correspondent Brendan Farrington told the extraordinary personal story of a victim who escaped and helped police find the man after he raped her decades ago. That woman had chosen to witness the man’s execution.

Farrington doggedly tracked down the woman, now a sheriff’s deputy, who finally agreed to an interview on the eve of the execution. Her compelling story resonated with readers everywhere.

For his persistence and sensitivity in telling a personal and emotional victim’s story in what could have been a rote story on a serial killer’s execution, Farrington wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 10, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: California synagogue hadn’t used security funds received shortly before shooting

After a gunman opened fire in a Southern California synagogue on Passover, killing a woman and wounding a man, his 8-year-old niece and the rabbi leading the service, the inevitable question was asked: Could anything have been done to stop the violence?

Reporters Don Thompson and Adam Beam in Sacramento and Julie Watson in San Diego combined to report exclusively that the synagogue itself had recognized security deficiencies and even received a state grant to address them.

But it hadn’t spent the money, the AP team revealed.

For their exclusive follow-up to a crime that generated global attention, Thompson, Watson and Beam win this week’s Best of the States.

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May 03, 2019

Best of the Week

Impressive all-formats response to Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday bombings

It was a merciless attack in a part of the world not immediately associated with Islamic extremism. But what was behind the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka that killed more than 300 people, and why did the government fail to stop it despite early warnings?

Getting images and news out to the world was a monumental task, but one that AP reporters, photographers and videojournalists took on with tremendous skill and dedication.

The initial reporting came from the Colombo-based team of reporters Krishan Francis and Bharatha Mallawarachi and photographer Eranga Jayawardena. They were backed by correspondent Emily Schmall in Delhi, who would join them, breaking news with a live interview of the prime minister.

Local stringer Jay Palipane shot the first video, reinforced by Delhi-based videojournalists Shonal Ganguly and Rishabh Jain, who joined Palipane in providing hours of live coverage.

Bangkok-based Sri Lankan photographer Gemunu Amarasinghe flew in, covering intimate moments of grieving relatives, soon to be joined by Delhi-based Manish Swarup who produced a moving photo essay from one of the attack sites.

Other highlights included coverage of a raid on militants and an Only on AP story about the first post-attack church service by Gulf News Director Jon Gambrell. Seoul Chief of Bureau Foster Klug examined the little-known local terror cell behind the attack.

Play was tremendous in all formats as the world remained fixated on the continuously developing story.

For their outstanding work in the face of stiff challenges, the team of Francis, Mallawarachi, Jayawardena, Palipane, Schmall, Ganguly, Jain, Amarasinghe, Gambrell, Swarup and Klug wins this week’s Best of the AP.

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April 26, 2019

Best of the States

A powerful retrospective and breaking news, 20 years after Columbine mass shooting

Twenty years have passed since the Columbine high school massacre, which was, to many people, the beginning of school shootings as we know them. In those years, life has changed: Mass shootings happen again and again, schoolchildren participate in lockdowns instead of fire drills, and many reflect on the moment in time when two young men took 13 lives with them on their suicidal quest.

AP was uniquely positioned to cover the two decades since the massacre, with journalists who were there, those who cover the Colorado community every day, and experts in polling, education and guns. Stories by Denver reporter Kathleen Foody and videojournalist Peter Banda led a deep all-formats package by dozens of journalists across the AP telling not just of the carnage but of those who survived it, their struggle, and the future.

But all the planning couldn't prepare anyone for this spot development: Early in the week, Sol Pais, a young Florida woman, prompted panic over a possible attack at Columbine, later taking her own life near the Colorado school. Miami reporter Kelli Kennedy tracked down a good friend of Pais who not only filled in personal details about her in an exclusive interview, but supplied photos of Pais and cast doubt on the official narrative about her friend.

The overarching theme of the spot and enterprise coverage focused on the short and long-term mental health issues from school shootings. The result was a unique, meaningful package that received impressive play nationally – online and in print. The video was among the top-used AP videos of the week.

For their work spearheading the package, and breaking news, Foody, Banda and Kennedy win this week’s Best of the States.

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April 19, 2019

Best of the States

FOIA checklist enables reporter to break news in case of missing boy’s impostor

Knowing what information can be obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIAs) from various public agencies is critical to breaking news. And keeping a checklist of those information gold mines is key to accessing that knowledge, Columbus, Ohio-based reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins has found.

Welsh-Huggins used those skills to great effect in the case of the man accused of pulling a cruel hoax by pretending to be a long-missing Illinois boy. The story captured the nation’s attention and set reporters in motion trying to flesh out the background of a 23-year-old ex-con who Ohio authorities say faked being Timmothy Pitzen. Pitzen was 6 years old when he disappeared in 2011.

Welsh-Huggins’ checklist for enterprise off the news includes FOIAs to all agencies a suspect has had contact with. He filed a FOIA with the Ohio corrections department to obtain access to the disciplinary records of suspect Brian Rini, knowing from experience that the agency would release them.

A few days later the agency handed him 15 disciplinary reports showing that Rini was someone who liked to fabricate stories – including things as mundane as being short of toilet paper and as serious as being raped by a guard.

The AP was alone with the story, which got strong play in Ohio and across the country.

For using his knowledge of FOIA to break news on this highly competitive story, Welsh-Huggins wins this week’s Best of the States.

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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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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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March 22, 2019

Best of the Week

Quick, resourceful response dominates coverage of Christchurch mosque attacks

AP staffers are often called the “Marines of journalism.” First in, last out.

Our small New Zealand team of Mark Baker and Nick Perry showed what that looks like as they responded to horrific mass shootings at two mosques. Their swift response securing early, definitive images and witness accounts laid the foundation for the AP’s dominant, agenda-setting coverage of the tragedy in the hours and days that followed.

Baker, the Southeast Asia photo editor known widely as “Crusty,” lives in Christchurch, where the attack happened. He heard radio reports of a possible shooting at a mosque and quickly alerted Perry, the Wellington correspondent, to get words on the wire. Baker headed immediately to the scene, where his early images of survivors became the definitive shots of the tragedy.

Back in Wellington, Perry aggressively filed on breaking developments before going to Christchurch, where he scored another major win for AP by interviewing an Afghan refugee who would be hailed as a hero for confronting the gunman, likely preventing more deaths.

Asia quickly deployed reinforcements, with cross-format teams ensuring AP kept up its advantage on the ground while colleagues from afar kept the story fresh as Asia slept.

For their quick response that showcased AP’s fundamental advantage when news breaks across the world, Baker and Perry share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 22, 2019

Best of the States

Sunshine Week investigation: Public regularly denied access to police videos

Police videos of officers shooting unarmed black men have sparked angry protests in Chicago, Sacramento and other U.S. cities. But AP’s Ryan Foley wondered: Is it the norm for departments to release footage from body-worn and dashboard cameras?

Foley, based in Iowa City, Iowa, a member of AP’s state government team, investigated and found that many departments routinely deny public access to their videos of officer-involved shootings and other uses of force.

Foley filed open records requests related to roughly 20 recent use-of-force incidents in a dozen states. His letters were met with denial after denial as police departments routinely cited a broad exemption to state open records laws: They claimed that releasing the video would undermine an ongoing investigation. But critics say the exemption is often misapplied to keep embarrassing or compromising video footage from public view.

To tell the story visually, Central Region video journalist Noreen Nasir dug through AP’s archives to highlight the moments and emotions that followed the deaths of unarmed black men, including the fatal police shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. She also interviewed a woman in North Dakota whose brother died after being shot in the back of the head during a struggle with police, adding a crucial perspective to the video.

At the same time, Panagiotis Mouzakis, multimedia animation producer in London, used the many denial letters Foley had collected to create a video graphic that was incorporated into Nasir’s video, and Beat Team visuals editor Alina Hartounian developed a social plan that helped the package find a huge audience.

For shining a light on how police departments continue to withhold visual evidence and for devising creative ways to illustrate the story, Foley, Nassir and Mouzakis share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 11, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Documenting the US surge in identifying molester Catholic priests

In the months after a shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report on sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests, scattered dioceses across the country started putting out their own lists of molester priests. Some state and local authorities also announced they would investigate the church.

News outlets began reporting the varied efforts piecemeal. But no one was capturing the big picture – including the sudden urgency being shown by the church to open its books on past abuse.

Reporter Claudia Lauer in the Philadelphia bureau set out to fix that. Starting in November, she began systematically documenting every investigation taking place around the country and every instance of a diocese naming abusive priests in the wake of the Pennsylvania report.

With the number of US dioceses totaling 187, it was a time-consuming task. But that work paid off with her Jan. 3 exclusive. Lauer tallied more than 1,000 names publicized by 50 or so dioceses and established that over 50 more dioceses were committed to naming names. She also identified nearly 20 outside investigations taking place across the country, both criminal and civil.

The story won phenomenal play online and in print and generated huge interest on social media. Some Catholic publications used her story to provide an update on developments in the church.

For her painstaking and dogged work to document what has been happening in the church nationally in the wake of the Pennsylvania report, Lauer wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Jan. 11, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation exposes sex abuse suffered at hands of priests by India’s nuns

New Delhi-based investigative reporter Tim Sullivan spent months looking into whispers that Indian nuns had endured sexual pressure by Catholic priests. What he found, after months of reporting into the closed-off world of Catholic convents, was a pattern of abuse that went back decades, ranging from drunken priests barging into nuns’ rooms to outright rape. He also found a culture of silence that had long kept these attacks hidden. Slowly, though, Sullivan found sisters willing to open up about their attacks, and others who could give perspective on why they’d been kept secret for so long. Finally, he and New Delhi photographer Manish Swarup traveled to southern India’s Catholic heartland to meet with nuns who had become pariahs in their community for defending a sister who accused a bishop of rape.

Sullivan’s powerful narrative attracted widespread attention. Accompanied by Swarup’s evocative photos, it was one of the AP’s most-read stories for the week, with excellent reader engagement. AP clients specializing in Catholic affairs ran the story prominently.

The standout work by Sullivan and Swarup contributed to the week’s remarkable body of work across the AP in covering abuse by clergy. For exposing long-held scandals in India’s Catholic ministries, Sullivan and Swarup share AP’s Best of the Week.

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Dec. 21, 2018

Best of the Week

AP first with exclusive video and photos of Strasbourg Christmas market attacker

For several intense weeks, AP’s all-formats Paris team had been contending with the violent street protests of the yellow vest movement. But a new threat to France’s peace suddenly arose when a man opened fire near the well-known Christmas market in Strasbourg.

On the evening of Dec. 11, the gunman shot and fatally wounded five people and injured a dozen more at the market. French authorities soon identified the suspect and said that the attack was being investigated as an act of terrorism. With that, France and Benelux Bureau Chief Angela Charlton and her all-formats crew quickly pivoted from the street protesters to focus on the attack, just as a massive manhunt was getting under way.

After AP confirmed that that police in Strasbourg had shot and killed the suspect on Dec. 13, Charlton scoured online white pages for potential witnesses, reaching a neighbor who, amazingly, was able to share images from directly across the street.

The exclusive video and photos that they negotiated were the result of teamwork and lessons learned from covering past attacks in identifying sources and deploying AP forces. And the close-up images told the story: the shooter’s body is seen slumped in a doorway as police and forensic officers move in.

The content, which had not yet appeared anywhere, was heavily used by broadcast and online clients around the world, both as video and for screengrabs.

For their resourceful, determined efforts to obtain exclusive images on this breaking story, the team of Angela Charlton, Alex Turnbull, Chris Noelting, Mstyslav Chernov, Jeff Schaeffer and Masha Macpherson receives the AP’s Best of the Week award.

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