April 16, 2021

Best of the States

AP team embeds in West Virginia city seeing a resurgence of addiction amid the pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic killed more than a half-million Americans, it also quietly inflamed what had already been one of the country’s greatest public health crises: addiction. 

To tell that story, a multiformat AP team — writer Claire Galofaro, photographer David Goldman and video journalist Mike Householder — spent time in Huntington, West Virginia, exploring the resurgence of addiction in a community that had made progress against drug abuse. The AP team embedded with the city’s Quick Response team for a week, providing a unique window into the suffering those with addiction have endured as the pandemic brought despair and cut off access to support systems and health care resources.

The evocative package resonated with readers, and the story’s main subject said she was “ecstatic” over how well the story captured the world she sees every day.

For sensitive and compelling coverage that furthers the AP’s efforts to explore the rippling consequences of COVID-19, the team of Galofaro, Goldman and Householder wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 19, 2021

Best of the States

AP team finds diversity of politics and religion among West Virginia evangelicals

A tweet was the seed for this illuminating story. “Most people in my rural, Appalachian hometown are being radicalized at church by their pastor, which is the person they trust the most,” it read. AP’s Global Religion team ran with it.

Reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski visited the parishioners of three churches in Bluefield, West Virginia, including one pastor who had attended the Jan. 6 Washington rally that degenerated into a riot. The AP pair spent weeks convincing him to sit down for an interview. The result was an all-formats package of diverse congregations seeking common ground, even as they are divided on the role of evangelical Christianity in American politics. 

For applying gentle persuasion and balanced reporting to produce a nuanced look at religion and politics in one West Virginia town, Henao and Wardarski win this week’s Best of the States award. 

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Jan. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP explores racial double standard in Capitol attack

explored the apparent disparity between the response to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and last year’s racial justice protests.New York-based race and ethnicity writer Aaron Morrison had watched President Donald Trump’s supporters storm the Capitol and reasoned that the protesters who called out racial injustice over the summer wouldn’t have been allowed to get close enough to the Capitol to breach it. Morrison and the AP team set out to examine the circumstances.Sources gave Morrisons interviews or statements saying that Black people who protest systemic racism are often met by police or National Guard troops equipped with assault rifles and tear gas. However, they pointed out, the mostly white mob that attacked the Capitol was met by an underwhelming law enforcement presence.Urban affairs reporter Gillian Flaccus contributed to Morrison’s reporting from Portland, Oregon, where Black Lives Matter advocates quickly noted the discrepancy between Trump’s response to racial justice protests in the Pacific Northwest city and his encouragement of the violence in the halls of Congress.Washington-based broadcast producer Padmananda Rama interviewed newly sworn-in St. Louis Rep. Cori Bush, who said the race of the Capitol rioters played a big part in their ability to breach the building; her video was packaged with the text piece. And Top Stories Hub photo editor Alyssa Goodman pulled together several images contrasting how the last week’s insurrection was handled as opposed to the racial justice protests.The violent breaching of the halls of power on Capitol Hill represented “one of the plainest displays of a racial double standard in both modern and recent history,” Morrison wrote.https://bit.ly/3bCEcqvhttps://bit.ly/38HK0x2

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Jan. 01, 2021

Best of the Week

Fast response, resourceful work breaks news on Nashville’s Christmas Day bombing

When a bomb exploded in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, early on Christmas morning, AP’s local staff upended their holiday plans and sprang into action. They were soon joined by colleagues, many working remotely, who jumped in to help coordinate coverage and piece together what had happened. 

The team overcame severely limited access and communications to quickly deliver photos and break stories over several days, including the news that human tissue had been found at the explosion site, and the bomber’s chilling prediction of fame. 

The outstanding work attracted heavy play and readership. 

For mobilizing quickly and resourcefully over the Christmas holiday, Kimberlee Kruesi, Mark Humphrey, Eric Tucker, Mike Balsamo, Denise Lavoie and Mike Kunzelman share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the last full week of 2020.

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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)

Heads-up response delivers on shooting at NY cathedral

knew almost immediately that the popping sound — at a church where he had just attended a concert — was gunfire. The New York video journalist didn't hesitate, moving toward it to put AP ahead in all formats on one of the most-used stories of the day.Along with his 5-year-old daughter Phoebe and her mother, Shaffrey had just walked away from a classical Christmas concert at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan when he heard several loud bangs, screaming and the restaurants clearing as people ran for cover. He turned his daughter’s mother and said, “You guys go that way. I’m going to see what’s going on.”While people ran past him, Shaffrey moved in a non-threatening manner toward the sound of the gunfire. One woman stopped to tell him that there was a “terrorist” on the steps of the cathedral firing shots. Shaffrey captured audio and video of the police shooting the man, and the scene in front of the church as people took cover on the ground while police moved in on the suspect.Shaffrey contacted East regional news director Sara Gillesby who coordinated fast filing of photos and video and a Shaffrey story co-bylined with reporter Mary Esch, putting AP ahead of the competition.https://bit.ly/2WDyJHrhttps://bit.ly/37IPeIBhttps://yhoo.it/3pgR4Gr

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Dec. 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Dr. Birx in violation of government’s COVID guidelines

unraveled some messy decisions by Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the White House coronavirus task force, that appeared to contradict the government’s own COVID-19 safety guidelines.When it was first reported that Birx was angling for some kind of role on the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response team, one of her relatives reached out to Madhani and suggested he look into Birx, who spent Thanksgiving weekend at a Delaware beach house with extended family, and who also made many visits to a multigenerational family home in Maryland between her widespread travels to coronavirus hotspots for the government.Madhani and Slodysko contrasted Birx’s activity with her warnings to Americans to “be vigilant” and limit celebrations to “your immediate household,” and with CDC guidelines to avoid travel for the holidays. The two Washington reporters also discovered that while Birx was in Delaware, she conducted an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” in which she noted some Americans “went across the country or even into the next state” for the holiday weekend. Birx declined to be interviewed for the story but provided a statement acknowledging she went to her Delaware property, insisting she was there to winterize the property.The story received strong play and reader engagement, and continued to generate discussion on cable TV well beyond its weekend release.Birx has a since said she plans to retire, but is willing to first help President-elect Joe Biden’s team with its coronavirus response as needed.https://bit.ly/38sWmb7https://politi.co/2WFxDeh

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP confronts network on Native American criticism of ‘Big Sky’

turned a routine feature into a news-breaking story by successfully pressing ABC to address Native American groups’ criticism that its show “Big Sky’ failed to acknowledge the problem of missing and abused women on native land. Few outlets had reported on it, and none had gotten a response from ABC.Elber spoke to native groups and pressed ABC, but was repeatedly told the network would have no response. But just before filing her story, Elber received a statement from ABC acknowledging the concerns and vowing to work with native groups to rectify them. The network gave the AP a day’s beat on all other outlets, and that night’s “Big Sky” episode carried for the first time a message about missing women and exploited children. https://bit.ly/39TR0YU

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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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Oct. 23, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: PG&E lacked basic training before California blackouts

solved a central mystery of Pacific Gas & Electric’s intentional power shutoffs: why the utility was so prone to bungling the intentional blackouts.Following an earlier exclusive looking at PG&E’s blackout response last fall, Pritchard received a tip: PG&E had revealed it did not require emergency management personnel to be trained in emergency management. The pandemic interrupted that reporting, but he and Liedtke revisited it just as blackout season returned to California this year. Their central finding was startling: Among the hundreds of people who handled the 2019 blackouts from PG&E’s emergency operations center, only a handful had any training in California’s Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) – the playbook that California has used for a generation. In response to the reporters’ questions, PG&E revealed to AP that only “several” emergency operations center workers or executives had any SEMS training, something not even the executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission knew.The story rippled through the San Francisco Bay Area media market and outward from there, receiving strong play in broadcast, online and in print. https://bit.ly/2FNzlFA

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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. 09, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigates Brazil’s weak response to burning wetlands

went beyond just documenting the fires that swept across Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands, decimating wildlife, but also reported that the government’s meager response allowed the blazes to spiral out of control. Almost one-quarter of the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands, went up in flames – an area bigger than the state of Maryland, and double what California lost this year.

The Brazilian government said it mobilized hundreds of troops and agents. as well as aircraft dropping water, to douse the fires. The AP team used witness testimonials, local data and its journalists’ own observations – they didn’t find a single armed forces member during five days in the northern Pantanal, where the fires were centered. Sources yielded further evidence and a government source who was involved in the Pantanal fire response later confirmed the AP’s findings, despite continued assertions by Brazil’s environment ministry that its response was stellar.

The team produced multiple packages with especially strong video and photos. The work was the most used from Latin America by AP clients for all of September.https://bit.ly/33zTrMvhttps://bit.ly/36KwSad

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Oct. 02, 2020

Best of the Week

AP exposes palm oil labor abuses linked to the world’s top brands, major banks

While covering the Rohingya crisis, investigative reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason knew tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Myanmar were vulnerable to exploitation. They suspected desperate men were being tricked or sold into the massive palm oil industry that supplies some of America’s most iconic food and cosmetic brands.

Working with photographers Gemunu Amarasinghe and Binsar Bakkara, they vividly documented the horrors some workers in Malyasia and Indonesia face. Workers spoke of brutal conditions including child labor, outright slavery and allegations of rape.

Reaction was swift, with the  U.S. government saying it would block shipments from a major Malaysian producer mentioned in the story.

For exposing abuses affecting tens of thousands of workers in a global industry that manufactures a vast array of products we buy and use daily, McDowell, Mason, Amarasinghe and Bakkara win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP first with live video, exclusives from Paris stabbing scene

hustled to provide the first live images and other exclusive content from the scene of a double-stabbing outside the former offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.Cetinic, who has covered multiple extremist attacks in France, received an early tip from a friend near the attack scene, and knew to take the tip seriously even before the details became clear. He alerted colleagues and rushed to the site. The chief Paris police spokeswoman wasn’t even aware of the stabbing until AP called to ask about it. In addition to his first live shot, filed by phone via the Bambuser app, Cetinic quickly found and interviewed a witness and obtained exclusive video and photos from another witness, including images of the weapon and the attack scene. Meanwhile, AP aggressively filed text as police hunted the attacker and carried out arrests, staying on top of sometimes contradictory information from authorities and other media.Cetinic’s fast action, and the quick response by the rest of AP’s Paris staff, provided customers swift on-the-scene images that beat other major agencies and were widely used. https://bit.ly/3jib60Whttps://bit.ly/2SbZu3n

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Surge of mail-in voting could mean surge of ballot-marking errors

used her deep expertise on voting procedures, along with strong source work, to report that poorly marked ovals or boxes on mail-in ballots could become this year”s version of the hanging chads from the disputed 2000 presidential election.With tens of millions of Americans filling out their ballots at home and voting by mail for the first time this year, experts anticipate that many of those voters will make mistakes marking ballots, forcing election workers to try to discern their intent. As Cassidy noted, states with a long history of voting by mail have detailed guidelines for processing and interpreting such ballots. But states that ramped up their vote-by-mail efforts this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic do not have that experience, potentially leading to confusion and disputed vote counts. https://bit.ly/3jii45V

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Sept. 25, 2020

Best of the States

AP’s portrait of a family forced into tough choices during the pandemic

As stories with impact go, this one stands out: The lead subject of the piece, struggling to feed her family during the pandemic, was tracked down on social media and hired by a reader for a job. 

The all-formats package by reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski chronicled the struggle of Sharawn Vinson and her Brooklyn family as they coped with a shortage of food and other crises, taking readers into the lives of a family that was forced to separate to keep everyone fed. The details shared by the family give readers a better understanding of the issues confronting many of the nation’s most vulnerable during the pandemic.

For a rare, intimate look at a family on the front lines of food insecurity brought on by the coronavirus, documented with riveting photos and video, Henao and Wardarski share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 18, 2020

Best of the Week

With fast filing and powerful visuals, AP owns coverage of fires in Greek migrant camp

When an overnight blaze swept through Greece’s biggest refugee camp, AP was quicker and better than the competition, producing cross-format coverage that stood out, even as much of the world media flocked to the chaotic scene. Video coverage was particularly impressive, with spectacular play. 

And when a second round of fires erupted the following night, destroying what was left of the camp and triggering a humanitarian crisis of some 12,000 homeless migrants, AP responded again with unmatched live video, sharp text and powerful photos that virtually swept front pages.

For their quick, competitive response and extraordinary performance to put AP well ahead, the team of Petros Giannakouris, Derek Gatopoulos, Theodora Tongas, Thanassis Stavrakis, Panagiotis Balaskas, Iliana Mier, Vangelis Papantonis, Elena Becatoros and Nicholas Paphitis shares Best of the Week honors.

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Sept. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Fast, nimble response puts AP far ahead on major Beirut fire

delivered fast, outstanding coverage as a major fire broke out at Beirut’s port, site of last month’s massive explosion.Ammar was nearby when the fire broke out and within minutes was streaming live video using the Bambuser app. Malla and Tawil also rushed to the scene, Malla shooting stills and sending direct to AP’s Middle East photo desk from his camera while Tawil set up a second live shot. AP was streaming live video for more than an hour before a competitive agency had its live shot up.AP’s video edits were also superior and much faster than the opposition, running quick edits of the fire, helicopters dropping water and two powerful edits shot with a drone, captured by Malla, who deftly switched between his camera and operating his drone to capture aerial photos and videos.And thanks to Ammar’s early response, AP’s news alert moved at least 20 minutes ahead of other major news outlets, further cementing the competitive advantage.

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July 31, 2020

Best of the Week

AP exclusive leads to release of migrant kids held in US hotels for deportation

Earmarked for deportation, the immigrant children, some mere toddlers, were parked in nondescript hotels – out of sight and, the Trump administration thought, out of mind.  But not out of reach of an Associated Press exclusive.

With an investigation based on source work, court records and witness accounts, immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant exposed how the Trump administration held children in hotels despite federal anti-trafficking laws and court rulings that mandate child-appropriate facilities.

Merchant’s exclusive sparked outrage and accusations of child abuse. Five days later, the Trump administration said it would not expel 17 people, including children, detained at one Texas hotel, and the hotels pledged to stop allowing the practice.

For his investigative story that punctured layers of secrecy and changed the fortunes of all-but-invisible immigrant children, Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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July 31, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Hit by water cannon, AP’s Balilty captures iconic photo of Israeli protests

Oded Balilty, acting chief photographer, Jerusalem, has gained widespread attention in Israel and abroad for his body of work – breaking news images and striking portraits – depicting Israel’s wave of anti-government protests. His photo of a young man holding an Israeli flag as he is doused by a police water cannon emerged as the most iconic image of this summer of unrest, in which protesters accuse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of corruption and say he has bungled the country’s response to the coronavirus.

On July 18, protesters were blocking a street when police surprised them with water cannons. Balilty himself took a blast of water to the face and was stunned for several minutes. After drying out his gear, he lay on the ground to stay out of the line of fire, then noticed the protester holding a flag. While there were dozens of journalists covering the event, Balilty’s dramatic and evocative photo appeared throughout Israeli media and on news sites around the world.https://bit.ly/3feHhv8https://bit.ly/2EwtjZ4

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