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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Sept. 06, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP gets first live video, photos of Iranian plane on surprise visit to G-7 summit

AP was first to spot an Iranian government plane at the G7 summit in France, providing the world the first visual evidence of French President Emmanuel Macron's surprise diplomatic gambit at a key global meeting with Donald Trump. When flight tracking websites showed an Iranian government plane unexpectedly landing in the locked-down French city of Biarritz during the G-7 summit, AP's well-prepared team snapped to action, confirming that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was aboard and getting the back story of the visit. Crucially, Chernov and de Cristofaro rushed to the tightly guarded Biarritz airport. Although police turned them away at multiple checkpoints, they eventually found a hole in a fence that allowed them a view of the tail of the Iranian government plane.

https://www.apnews.com/f19d28009bc94db387ac238dffa27348

July 12, 2019

Best of the States

Only on AP: Big farms find easy ways around caps on tariff aid

An AP Best of States mention in February about the hundreds of companies avoiding President Donald Trump’s steel tariffs raised questions about Trump’s $12 billion aid package to farmers hurt by the tariffs. What happened next shows how states can produce sharp, data-driven journalism – simply by calling on the data team for help.

AP filed Freedom of Information Act requests for U.S. Department of Agriculture data that was analyzed by Balint Szalai, a Hungarian investigative reporter embedded with AP’s data team, and Washington data team intern Riin Aljas.

Among their findings: Many big farming operations were legally collecting far more than the supposed caps on aid.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis reporter Steve Karnowski spoke to longtime USDA critics and interviewed farmers who defended taking the big checks, saying they didn’t even cover their losses under Trump’s trade war.

The Only-on-AP story ran on dozens of sites, and because the data and analysis were released to AP members in advance, many chose to localize their stories.

For sophisticated data analysis and on-the-ground reporting that shed light on a key consequences of trade policy, Karnowski, Szalai and Aljas share this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 07, 2019

Best of the Week

Rich, compelling coverage of D-Day 75 years on, an all-formats collaboration across 2 continents

It was a story that took months of planning and coordination across a half-dozen countries and two continents: the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that marked the turning point for the Allied victory in World War II. The Associated Press has had a presence on the beaches of Normandy since the actual invasion in 1944, but AP’s teams in Europe knew that the 2019 event would require an extra effort – it was likely the last major anniversary that veterans who fought in the battle would be alive to tell their stories.

Staffers in Europe and the U.S. went to work months in advance of this crucial anniversary to lay out detailed plans of the distinctive coverage, bringing together reporters in all formats and in multiple countries.

Thanks to the cross-continent teamwork and significant planning and customer outreach, the play was superb. Dozens of customers used the video packages, and the photos and text stories have been mainstays on front pages since the package rolled out, culminating with standout spot coverage of the anniversary.

For outstanding effort, sensitivity and creativity that gave AP’s audiences unparalleled D-Day anniversary coverage, Schaeffer, Leicester, Combaldieu, Camus, Turnbull and Santana – in coordination with their many colleagues – share AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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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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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. 04, 2019

Best of the Week

Two AP exclusives: China’s forced labor and US detention of migrant youths

Welcome to the first Best of the Week of 2019. Among a series of very strong end-of-the-year nominations, the judges have selected two winners from opposite sides of the world.

A sweeping AP investigation by California-based investigative reporters Garance “Poppy” Burke and Martha Mendoza found that the U.S. is once again institutionalizing thousands of migrant children in crowded shelters, despite warnings that the experience could lead to lifelong trauma. Their national story, complemented with a comprehensive data package by Washington-based data editor Meghan Hoyer and NY-based data journalist Larry Fenn, was the first to provide shelter-by-shelter detention statistics, numbers the government had been withholding all year.

Our other winner comes from an equally impactful AP investigation by Beijing-based video journalist Dake Kang, newsperson Yanan Wang and Mendoza, again, which showed that clothing made inside a Chinese internment camp housing Muslim Uighurs is being shipped to a U.S. company that supplies sportswear to American schools and universities.

To do this, they cross-referenced satellite imagery, Chinese state media reports and the address of a Chinese supplier on bills of lading destined for Badger Sportswear in North Carolina. Kang then travelled to Kazakhstan to get multiple on-camera accounts of forced labor in the Chinese camps.

For enterprising, important work, the team of Burke, Mendoza, Hoyer and Fenn, and the team of Kang, Wang and Mendoza share AP’s Best of the Week.

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Nov. 30, 2018

Best of the Week

AP Exclusive: Chinese researcher claims first gene-edited babies

When a source told AP’s chief medical reporter Marilynn Marchione that a Chinese researcher had edited the DNA of several human embryos and implanted two into a woman, their conversation launched an aggressive but delicate reporting effort by AP journalists in the U.S. and China. That reporting led to the AP’s exclusive coverage of one of the most important and controversial claims in medical and science history. It was nothing less than an attempt to alter the trajectory of human heredity.

Science writer Christina Larson, videographer Emily Wang, researcher Fu Ting and photographer Mark Schiefelbein set out to interview the researcher and his colleagues in Shenzhen and Beijing, while Marchione and videographer Kathy Young worked the story from the U.S.

He's claim raised a laundry list of concerns. After talking with current and former colleagues and outside scientists, it became clear that his claim, while unverifiable, was plausible. AP knew it would be worthwhile reporting the claim, because the claim itself would be major scientific news. And it was – AP's exclusive on He's claim of the world’s first gene-edited babies made headlines worldwide.

The response from readers, customers and other scientists was immediate and intense. The inventors of the gene-editing technology He used condemned the claim. U.S. and Chinese universities that He was affiliated with launched investigations, and more than 100 Chinese scientists called for a ban on work of this kind in China.

AP’s reporting was credited or linked to by at least 44 media outlets and generated numerous downloads. At more than half a million page views it was by far the most read story on APNews for the week.

For responsibly breaking a story in all formats of a major scientific claim while exploring the ethical quandaries that He’s research has raised, Marchione, Larson, Wang, Young, Ting and Schiefelbein earn AP's Best of the Week.

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Oct. 26, 2018

Best of the Week

AP unmatched in multiformat coverage of Saudi consulate investigation

The disappearance and killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey has been one of the biggest, and most competitive, stories in the world this month, and the AP’s team in Turkey dominated coverage last week with its reporting surrounding a crime scene search of the consulate.

When crime scene investigators arrived at the consulate without notice on Oct. 15, Turkey news editor Ayse Wieting already had one camera fixed on the consulate door for 24-hour live coverage and quickly scrambled two more cameras with LiveU units. The AP beat the competition by more than two hours with the first edit of investigators entering the consulate.

On the text side, Ankara correspondent Suzan Fraser later got a high-level Turkish source to confirm that the consulate search turned up “evidence” that Khashoggi was killed there, a scoop that was cited across international and Turkish media.

And AP’s photo coverage of the story was also dominant, complementing the outstanding the video and text efforts. Photographers worked hard to find new angles on a visually challenging story, where often the only visible activity was people walking in and out of a building.

For impressive efforts and ingenuity in covering a worldwide top story of paramount importance to AP members and customers in all formats, the AP team earns Best of the Week honors.

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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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Aug. 09, 2018

Best of the Week

Of Peacock and Gypsy: New Australian law helps unite sperm donors and offspring

The best stories sometimes present themselves not in the newsroom but in our personal lives, in the most random of ways. We just have to be paying attention – and thinking like reporters – to notice them.

That’s what Sydney-based enterprise writer Kristen Gelineau was doing when a friend mentioned he’d found out through an Ancestry.com DNA test that his biological father was a sperm donor. The friend then told Gelineau about a new law in the Australian state of Victoria, which gave offspring of long-anonymous sperm and egg donors the right to know who the donors were. Gelineau had missed the news of the law, but immediately started researching it and thought “Wow. Now THIS is a story!!”

She was right – and her multi-format account of one such unique reunion, told in ways both comic and moving, wins Beat of the Week for Gelineau, enterprise photographer Maye-E Wong, NY-based digital storytelling producer Natalie Castañeda and New Delhi-based videojournalist Shonal Ganguly.

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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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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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May 17, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Texas biker accused of killing man who was shot by police

In the three years since the deadliest biker shooting in U.S. history, Fort Worth correspondent Emily Schmall has meticulously gathered documents, reports and court records to put together a spreadsheet that integrates autopsy reports, firearms analyses and ballistics evidence, including the names and serial numbers of the weapons, to whom they were traced, where they were recovered from and whether they were linked to a death or injury.

Her work paid off last week when prosecutors handed down the first murder charges in the case. Schmall was able to exclusively report that prosecutors had charged one of the bikers for murdering a man who was shot twice by a SWAT officer.

For persistent, investigative reporting that exclusively illuminated potential problems with a shifting strategy in a closely-watched case, Schmall wins this week’s Best of the States.

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May 17, 2018

Best of the Week

Russian hackers posed as Islamic State to harass US military wives

The threat over her phone to Army wife Angela Ricketts was terrifying. “Dear Angela!” it said. “Bloody Valentine’s Day!”

“We know everything about you, your husband and your children,” it continued, claiming that Islamic State militants had penetrated her computer. “We’re much closer than you can even imagine.”

More than three years after Ricketts and four other military wives received this and other alarming messages, AP London-based cybersecurity reporter Raphael Satter unraveled the secret behind it all. Satter drew on a massive hit list of Russian hacking targets, focusing on a group of five women whose names were clustered together on the list. All reported having received death threats from a mysterious group calling itself CyberCaliphate back in 2015.

The threats were not from Middle Eastern terrorists at all, but hackers from the Russian group widely dubbed Fancy Bear – the same gang who later broke into the Democratic Party’s emails and interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

For revealing the latest wrinkle in the Russian hacking story, Satter earns the Beat of the Week.

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May 04, 2018

Best of the States

FOIA reveal: Governor shields ally and agency in alleged harassment case

When Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds abruptly fired a longtime friend and political ally last month, she said it was due to “credible” sexual harassment allegations. But her staff said no other information would be available about the behavior of Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison.

Statehouse reporter Barbara Rodriguez and Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley knew there was more to the story, but after filing FOIA requests, the governor's office told them there were no such records, prompting a rare case where reporting the denial would be newsworthy: that there was no evidence, correspondence or investigation into the allegations before Jamison was terminated.

Hours after that story moved, the governor’s office acknowledged they had made a mistake. There was a written detailed complaint against Jamison, but the office insisted it was exempt from FOIA.

Rodriguez and Foley didn’t stop there. They appealed the denial, leading the governor’s office to reverse course again and release the document, which immediately caused a firestorm.

It showed that Jamison had allegedly been harassing female subordinates for years, and that senior officials in the agency were aware of his behavior but apparently didn’t report it – which led to calls for an independent investigation. The governor initially rejected those calls but as pressure built, she announced she had hired a prominent outside lawyer to conduct such an investigation.

For aggressive reporting that shed light on accusations of sexual misconduct by a public official – including the lack of transparency surrounding the charges – the pair shares this week's Best of the States award.

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Feb. 16, 2018

Best of the Week

AP staffers on three continents scramble to fact-check the pope on Chile abuse

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield sensed a potentially explosive development in Chile's long-running sex abuse and cover-up scandal when she noticed a cryptic tweet from a former member of the Pope Francis' abuse advisory board.

Board member Marie Collins had tweeted that Francis was well aware that victims of Chile's most infamous predator priest had placed Bishop Juan Barros at the scene of their abuse. Collins herself had been involved in relaying those concerns to him.

Intrigued and sensing an important twist in a story that AP has already dominated, Winfield and Santiago correspondent Eva Vergara kicked off an extraordinary effort that would culminate in a three-day, multinational, cross-format papal fact-check, prompting calls for the pope to come clean about a scandal that now threatens his legacy.

Over the course of one frantic weekend the enterprise involved a Paris airport stakeout by senior TV producer Jeff Schaeffer, a missed Super Bowl party hosted by Philadelphia-based TV producer Yvonne Lee and a surreal TV interview conducted by AP reporters on three continents.

For teamwork that spanned the globe, in service of a story of immense global interest, Winfield, Vergara, Schaeffer and Lee are recognized with Beat of the Week.

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