Jan. 22, 2021

Best of the States

AP investigation: Capitol rioters included highly trained ex-military, law enforcement

AP reporters Michael Biesecker Jake Bleiberg and James LaPorta joined with colleagues across the country to reveal the influence of current and former members of the military or law enforcement on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The AP team surveyed public records, social media posts and videos, and the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies, finding at least 22 current or former members of the U.S. military or law enforcement have been identified as part of Capitol riot, with more under investigation. The story gave specific examples of how such training played out in rioters’ tactics and equipment during the attack.

The all-formats package received prominent play from AP customers and was the top offering on the AP News app on a busy news day. 

For timely and insightful reporting that sheds light on the backgrounds and capabilities of Capitol Hill rioters, Biesecker, Bleiberg and LaPorta win AP’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 22, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Criminal charges for ex-governor in Flint water crisis

worked sources to report exclusively that criminal charges would be filed against former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and others in the Flint water crisis, one of the worst human-made environmental disasters in U.S. history.White was reporting an unrelated story when he asked a source about any developments in the Flint investigation. That paid off with a tip — confirmed with a second source by Eggert — about the imminent charges.The bombshell exclusive hit a full two days before the official announcement and was AP’s most-used story by customers online that day, widely credited by local and national news outlets, including the Detroit Free Press and the New York Times. https://bit.ly/35T67z6

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Jan. 11, 2021

Best of the Week

AP traces child labor from Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields to major brands, Girl Scout cookies

For the third installment of their groundbreaking investigation into labor abuse in Asia’s palm oil industry, reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason linked child labor to the supply chains of the makers of popular cereals, candies and ice creams, including KitKats, Oreos and Cap’n Crunch. They also traced the oil to that most American treat: Girl Scout cookies. 

Joined by photographers Binsar Bakkara and Mark Humphrey, and video journalist Allen Breed, their reporting found that some tens of thousands of children toil in the palm fields, some kept from school and forced to work for free or for little pay. Some are trafficked.

The framing of the story — through the eyes of a young girl in the fields in Indonesia and a Tennessee Girl Scout campaigning to have palm oil removed from the cookies — resonated with readers; reaction on social media led the Girl Scouts to address the issue with their suppliers.

For shedding unprecedented light on the children toiling in Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields, and connecting the abusive practice to major consumer brands, McDowell, Mason, Bakkara, Breed and Humphrey share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 28.

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Dec. 24, 2020

Best of the States

Joint investigation reveals ‘leadership vacuum’ after backlash against public health officials

AP reporter Michelle Smith was working on another project in June when she came up with the names of a dozen or so public health officials who had quit, retired or been fired. Sensing a trend, Smith and reporters at Kaiser Health News continued to track those departures as the pandemic worsened and the backlash against public health restrictions became more strident.

The journalists contacted officials in all 50 states and interviewed dozens of people, finding a public health leadership vacuum developing at a critical time in the pandemic. They told the stories of public servants who toiled through the pandemic only to be reviled by their neighbors — including the wrenching story of an official whose husband would not even follow her recommendation to require masks in the family store. The timely all-formats story included a data distribution, interactive graphics and a sidebar with portraits and quotes of public health officials. 

For a deeply reported package that examines a vital component of the pandemic response, Smith, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Hannah Recht and Lauren Weber earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation: States spent billions on medical supplies

took the lead in obtaining and analyzing public records that disclosed state coronavirus-related spending that had largely been kept from the public. The reporters filed Freedom of Information Act requests in all 50 states seeking purchase order records to determine how much was being spent on what items, which suppliers the states were using and how the spending compared across the states.The findings revealed that overall the states spent at least $7 billion on medical gear in the first few months of the pandemic, a massive amount that had not been reported until AP’s investigation. Even lawmakers in most states did not know the scope of spending, much of which was inflated by competition between states and huge price markups for routine items.The project reflected a signature goal of the AP news department this year: to “connect the dots” across the states for our U.S. customers in a way that only AP can. After months spent analyzing the state-by-state information, the data team made all the information available in an easy-to-use format for AP members and for our own state reporters. In addition to the national stories, more than a dozen AP reporters wrote state sidebars, receiving prominent play online and in print. https://bit.ly/37HJS07

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Dec. 11, 2020

Best of the Week

In exclusive AP interview, AG Barr says no evidence of widespread election fraud, undermining Trump

Justice Department reporter Mike Balsamo has spent months cultivating sources at the Department of Justice, earning a reputation as an objective journalist who reports fairly and accurately. 

His relationships paid off with an exclusive interview of U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in which Barr said the DOJ could find no evidence of widespread voting fraud, dramatically undercutting President Donald Trump’s insistence to the contrary.

“I knew ... he had made probably the biggest news he has in his tenure as AG,” said Balsamo. His story topped the news cycle and resonated for days. No other news outlet could match it and AP was widely cited for the scoop.

For persistent, evenhanded reporting on the Justice Department beat resulting in the interview that netted one of AP’s most consequential news coups of the year, Balsamo wins AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation: China’s virus testing suffered from secret deals

used sourcing and documents to reveal that early in the coronavirus outbreak, widespread test shortages and other testing problems in China were caused largely by cronyism and a lack of transparency at the top disease control agency, including secret deals made with testing companies.Through interviews with more than 40 people and hundreds of documents he obtained, Kang traced the problems back to secret deals that China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention made with three then-unknown companies with which officials had personal ties. Those companies paid for exclusive rights to the test kit design and distribution.Shortages and flaws in the kits meant that thousands of people either didn't get tested or tested false negative; they were sent home to spread the virus while scientists and officials were unable to see how fast the virus was spreading.The level of detail in Kang’s story would be impressive anywhere, but is extraordinary coming from China which has tried to cover up its missteps. The story was also carefully balanced in its portrayal of China, pointing out that many other countries made similar mistakes.The story was widely praised, with experts and journalists calling it “vital, damning” and “another blockbuster AP report on the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in January.”https://bit.ly/37RAuGbhttps://bit.ly/372ZkUc

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP wins first Rome interview after acquittal of Cardinal Pell

landed the first interview with Cardinal George Pell after his return to the Vatican following acquittal in Australia on sex abuse charges. Winfield worked for months to win the access, triangulating with Pell’s publisher, his secretary and the former Australian ambassador to the Holy See to give AP the edge.Pell’s comments to AP about a swirling Vatican corruption investigation made headlines, since he had tried to root out financial corruption when he was Vatican treasurer but was forced to abandon the efforts when he had to return to Australia to face trial.https://bit.ly/37KclRQhttps://bit.ly/3m3gzJx

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP connects palm oil industry, top brands to abuse of women

followed up on their initial reporting that exposed widespread labor abuse in the palm oil industry, conducting a comprehensive investigation into the brutal treatment of women in the production of the omnipresent ingredient, including rapes by plantation supervisors, serious health issues from toxic chemicals and injuries from back-breaking loads. The pair then traced the oil produced by these women to the supply chains of top Western beauty brands — including conglomerates that make billions of dollars as they market the empowerment of women.Mason and McDowell persuaded dozens of female workers to tell their searing stories, spending months getting the women to trust them and then arranging clandestine meetings in an effort to protect the workers from retaliation by plantation owners. They bypassed the stonewalling of major Western brands that refused to say whether their products contain palm oil by using company data and U.S. Customs records to link the workers’ abuse to the brands’ palm oil supply chains.The package featured striking digital display, video and evocative photos by Indonesia-based stringer Binsar Bakkara, as well as a powerful series of closeups of workers’ hands cradling familiar products containing the fruits of their labor.The story is nearing 250,000 page views on AP News. The Clorox Company, which owns Burt’s Bees Inc., said it would raise the allegations of abuses with its suppliers, calling AP’s findings “incredibly disturbing.” https://bit.ly/3liKAV3https://bit.ly/2VeVUXRhttps://bit.ly/3mlXgfd

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Nov. 20, 2020

Best of the States

Using voters’ voices and hard data, AP analyzes Black support in Biden’s win

While there is little dispute that Black voters pushed Joe Biden into the presidential winner's column, AP wanted to know: How big of a factor were they?

Race and ethnicity writers Kat Stafford and Aaron Morrison began reporting on what Black voters said they wanted Biden to deliver once in office. Using the voices they collected as the foundation of the story, Stafford and Morrison teamed with data journalist Angeliki Kastanis and polling journalist Hannah Fingerhut, who infused the piece with data and voter survey findings that bolstered the anecdotes with hard numbers. 

Their collaboration put the AP days ahead of other news organizations’ pieces on Black voters’ support of Biden. For resourceful and insightful reporting and analysis on a major factor in the 2020 election, the team of Stafford, Morrison, Kastanis and Fingerhut wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 13, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Dogged reporting, spycraft expose Texas attorney general scandal

used source work, non-public documents and a technique borrowed from spycraft to connect recent criminal allegations against the Texas attorney general to the conservative Republican’s previously unreported extramarital affair.In late September, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s top deputies accused him of criminally abusing his office to help a wealthy donor. Bleiberg spent weeks building sources in his aggressive pursuit of answers to what was behind these explosive, but unspecified, allegations.Those efforts paid off last week when Bleiberg was able to obtain a private transcript of real estate developer Nate Paul acknowledging that the attorney general recommended he hire a woman whom Paxton was rumored to have had an affair with. The sensitive document was picked up at a “dead drop” – a prearranged drop spot – by Austin reporter Paul Weber.Bleiberg then worked sources he’d developed while breaking earlier stories to identify people whom the attorney general may have told about his affair. His relentless outreach ultimately turned up two people with firsthand accounts of Paxton acknowledging the affair in 2018.The reporting allowed AP to draw back the curtain on one of America’s most prominent conservative legal crusaders and break major news on a highly competitive story. It revealed a relationship that’s almost certainly at the center of an ongoing federal public corruption probe. https://bit.ly/2UnuZc1

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Nov. 06, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Use of racial slurs not ‘isolated’ at Louisiana State Police

reported exclusively on a string of racial slurs used by Louisiana State Police troopers, both in their official emails and spoken on the job, refuting the contention of the agency’s superintendent that the use of such demeaning language was just “isolated.”Mustian reviewed hundreds of police records and found at least a dozen instances over a three-year period in which employees forwarded racist emails or demeaned minority colleagues with racist nicknames. He also exclusively obtained documents of an accidental “pocket-dial” of sorts in which a white trooper sent a voice mail to a Black trooper that blurted out his name and then a vile racist slur. The state police superintendent made an abrupt retirement announcement in the midst of Mustian’s reporting, which follows weeks of his coverage on the still-unexplained death of Ronald Greene, a Black motorist taken into custody last year following a police chase. Reeves faced criticism for his secretive handling of the case, including the refusal to release body-cam video that, according to those who have seen it, shows troopers beating, choking and dragging Greene. The case is now the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. Mustian’s story on the racial slurs received strong play, including on the front page of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune/Advocate. https://bit.ly/34VHCkp

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Oct. 30, 2020

Best of the States

AP breaks news on the opioid epidemic and Purdue Pharma, with focus on victims

AP reporters from three different teams broke distinctive, significant stories on the continuing drug overdose crisis in the U.S., which has been overshadowed this year by the coronavirus pandemic:

— A state-level report showing that overdose deaths are on pace to reach an all-time high this year, and that overdoses increased after the virus began spreading in the U.S.— An accountability story on President Donald Trump’s handling of the opioid crisis, and how the issue has been overlooked in the presidential race.— A major scoop on a settlement between the federal government and Purdue Pharma, complete with details of criminal charges and the $8 billion settlement. 

But the depth of coverage didn’t end with the major news beats. All three stories put victims at the center of the reporting. 

For revealing stories that broke news and provided a powerful reminder of an ongoing epidemic that has contributed to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans, Mike Stobbe, Adrian Sainz, Farnoush Amiri, Geoff Mulvihill, Meghan Hoyer and Michael Balsamo win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 16, 2020

Best of the Week

Joint AP/‘Frontline’ investigation reveals deadly failures in US medical supply chain

With exceptional multiformat journalism, AP investigative reporters Martha Mendoza and Juliet Linderman exposed the collapse of the U.S. medical equipment supply chain that led to deadly shortages of crucial personal protective equipment during the pandemic.

In collaboration with public television’s “Frontline,” the Center for Global Reporting and AP reporters worldwide, “America’s Medical Supply Crisis” identified a series of missteps in the U.S. that contributed to one of the highest death rates per capita in the world.

The investigation elicited strong public engagement, praise from public health experts and response by bipartisan members of Congress.

For breaking down a complex topic to show the critical importance of medical supply chains and the human cost when those supply chains fail, Linderman and Mendoza share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Oct. 16, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP finds diversity of US attorneys declining under Trump

used years of data on U.S. attorneys to reveal how any diversity gains made under previous administrations have faltered under President Donald Trump. AP’s analysis found the 85% of Trump’s Senate-confirmed U.S. attorneys are white men, significantly more than the three previous administrations going back to 1993. But the numbers were just part of the story. The AP team reported on why it mattered in this moment of national reckoning over racial inequality and the fairness of the criminal justice system. The story articulated how Black and brown people are disproportionately imprisoned but underrepresented in the system that puts them there. The piece included an impressive photo combo of all the attorneys, showing row after row – predominantly of white men – and video interviews on the value of diversity in the U.S. attorney ranks.https://bit.ly/3drn6e6https://bit.ly/318gc8J

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Oct. 16, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Families push to reopen cases of Black men killed by police

pivoted off the nationwide protests against racial injustice to reveal that families around the country are pushing authorities to reinvestigate police killings of Black men in which no officers were charged.Lavoie had developed a relationship over two years with the family of a man who was killed in 2018 by Richmond, Virginia, police during a mental health crisis. When nightly protests began in Richmond after George Floyd’s killing, she noticed that protesters made reopening the local investigation one of their top demands for reform. Additional reporting found at least a dozen calls to reinvestigate such cases around the country. Lavoie focused on three of those in different states, with victims of different backgrounds who were killed under different circumstances. Over the course of two months she convinced the families to talk about their loved ones and their efforts to persuade prosecutors to reopen closed investigations. https://bit.ly/36ZC36d

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Oct. 09, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Tip, source work reveal Pence immigration order to CDC

worked sources and turned a tip into an exclusive story detailing how Vice President Mike Pence ordered the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use the pandemic as justification to halt immigration into the U.S., over the objections of the agency's scientists who twice refused to take the action.

Burke notified Dearen, who started working CDC sources. After a couple of fruitless weeks, he succeeded in identifying a person close to the events who agreed to talk, and a former Pence aide who confirmed the story on the record.

Meanwhile Burke moved the story beyond politics to bring home the order’s human toll. She gathered data that showed nearly 150,000 people, including 8,800 migrant children, already had been expelled under the order, and she interviewed the father of a 16-year-old Honduran boy who had been held in government custody under the order.

Even on a weekend dominated by news of Trump’s hospitalization, the piece was the top story on AP News and was widely used and cited by local and national news outlets. https://bit.ly/2SvTB14

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Oct. 09, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive audio: Black man died after beating by Louisiana trooper

exclusively obtained an audio clip from the body-camera footage of a Louisiana state trooper implicated in the death of a Black motorist last year, capturing the trooper saying, “I beat the ever-living f--- out of him.” It is the most direct evidence yet to emerge in the death last year of Ronald Greene, which troopers initially blamed on injuries from a car crash at the end of a chase. The long-simmering case has now become the subject of a federal civil rights investigation and growing calls for authorities to release the full body-cam video.

Mustian, a former investigative reporter for The New Orleans Advocate, is deeply sourced on the Louisiana State Police and has been consistently out front on this story. He broke the news that federal investigators were stepping in, and his scoop on the trooper’s 27-second audio received strong play through several busy news cycles. https://bit.ly/3d4CwoH

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Oct. 02, 2020

Best of the States

Planning, teamwork, fast filing lead to all-formats wins on Breonna Taylor story

With weeks to prepare, the Louisville, Kentucky, news staff and all-formats reinforcements from other AP bureaus were well positioned for the closely watched grand jury decision in the Breonna Taylor case. 

When the announcement finally came – no officers charged with Taylor’s death – the breaking news was expedited to the wire, cutting through confusion over the decision. Video and photo coverage excelled with fast edits and filing from the protests that followed, capturing the anguish and despair expressed by many in Louisville and keeping the AP well ahead of other agencies.

For their fast, in-depth work on a sensitive, highly competitive story, the team of Lovan, Schreiner, Blackburn, Galofaro, Minchillo, Cummings, Morrison and Householder wins 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