Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the Week

Determined source work exposes horrific massacre in holy city of Ethiopia’s isolated Tigray region

Ethiopia’s military campaign in its defiant Tigray province has been shrouded in secrecy since the conflict started in November, but AP East Africa correspondent Cara Anna has been determined to report what happened in the virtually sealed-off region. She has chased every lead through relentless source work, building contacts and networks as she reported one exclusive after another.

For this latest exclusive, Anna had been hearing rumors of a massacre in the holy city of Axum. When phone service returned to the city recently, she was able to reach the deacon of the Axum church who described in disturbing detail the mass killings by Eritrean troops. He believes some 800 people were killed that weekend at the church and around the city, and that thousands in Axum have died in all. Anna found other survivors who corroborated the deacon’s story and offered additional details.

Her reporting scooped all other media and even human rights groups who had been investigating Axum. It also drew rare and surprisingly quick responses from the governments of both Eritrea and Ethiopia.

For determined and resourceful reporting to break through the secrecy surrounding the Tigray conflict and expose the atrocity at Axum, Anna wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Investigation: China, others spread theory that US created COVID

collaborated on a nine-month investigation of the AP’s investigative and fact-checking teams, in a joint effort with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab. They found that China, Russia, and Iran — drawing on one another’s online disinformation — amplified false theories that the COVID-19 virus was a U.S. bioweapon created in a military lab or was designed by Washington to infect their countries. The resulting in-depth investigation, bolstered by an immersive digital presentation and an explanatory video, provided a comprehensive look at the online battle between Washington, Moscow, Tehran and Beijing to control the narrative about the origins of the pandemic.The package of stories was widely used by news organizations around the world, including by the South China Morning News and Germany’s DW News.https://bit.ly/37L711shttps://bit.ly/2O2N1Awhttps://bit.ly/2MpNQ5S

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Feb. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Kosovo team delivers strong all-formats election coverage

delivered textbook coverage with timely and complete all-formats reporting of Kosovo’s election held amid the pandemic, freezing temperatures, an economic downturn and stalled negotiations with wartime foe Serbia.After weeks of planning for Sunday’s election, video journalist Zhinipotoku offered live coverage of the early vote while Kllokoqi and Bajrami had shots of the top candidates casting their ballots at other polling stations. After the polls closed, the video crew and photographer Kryeziu ran from the city’s main square to the headquarters and offered shots of the winners’ celebration. The following day, correspondent Semini and team were rewarded for weeks of contact building, landing an interview with incoming Prime Minister Albin Kurti, which was carried live by AP.https://bit.ly/3aRQbQphttps://bit.ly/3qRXIUJhttps://bit.ly/3sltZULhttps://bit.ly/2O1rHuQ

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Feb. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation reveals nonexistent mask shortage

acted on a tip from a former federal official to reveal that hospitals were continuing to ration medical masks for their workers even when they had months of supply in store. The team’s investigation found a logistical breakdown at the heart of the perceived mask shortage, rooted in federal failures to coordinate supply chains and provide hospitals with clear rules about how to manage their medical equipment.The initial tip came from a source inside the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who shared pages of emails asking why U.S. manufacturers weren’t able to sell their products. In a series of interviews, the reporters surveyed hospital procurement officers representing more than 300 hospitals around the country and learned that all had two to 12 months supply of N95 masks in storage, but almost all were limiting workers to one mask per day, or even one per week. Meanwhile, at least one manufacturer had so many masks warehoused that it recently got government approval to export them.The story was used widely, and Dearen was interviewed live on CBS News. https://bit.ly/3pOAhub

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Feb. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Agency exclusive video of Ted Cruz in Cancun

collaborated to give the AP an agency exclusive with video of Sen. Ted Cruz at Cancun’s airport as he was returning to the U.S. amid the backlash over leaving Texas during the deadly winter storm.Triboulard, senior producer in Mexico City, had alerted Rojas about the potential scandal brewing in the U.S. and Rojas, freelance Cancun video journalist, immediately began reaching out to local contacts after images started circulating on Twitter purporting to show Cruz en route to Cancun with his family. After hearing the senator was booked on a return flight early that afternoon, she rushed to the airport and was there when he showed up to check in. Rojas followed the visibly annoyed Cruz through the terminal to the security checkpoint, getting not just video but also eliciting comment from the senator, who said that he was headed home to work on helping Texans. Cruz’s comments were immediately included in the AP’s text story. A competitive agency had to obtain video of Cruz from its Mexican partner, Telemundo, moving it more than an hour after AP’s fast file. https://bit.ly/2ZSVsRf

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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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Feb. 19, 2021

Best of the Week

Latest on New York COVID policy: State sent over 9,000 virus patients to nursing homes

For nine months, AP has led all media on the story of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial directive to return recovering coronavirus patients from hospitals to nursing homes during the pandemic.

Last week, reporters Bernard Condon and Jennifer Peltz added to that record. Using data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, they reported exclusively that more than 9,000 patients in New York were released under the state’s policy, amid criticism that it accelerated nursing home outbreaks. The latest AP scoop has helped put Cuomo and his administration on the defensive at home and nationally.

For keeping AP at the forefront of this accountability story for the better part of a year — including their latest break documenting the release of COVID patients into nursing homes — Condon and Peltz earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 12, 2021

Best of the States

AP analysis: In the US, a centuries-old race war continues to rage against people of color

As AP race and ethnicity writer Aaron Morrison covered the protests that grew out of the 2020 killings of George Floyd and others, he also saw President Donald Trump on TV, trying to undermine the racial reckoning at every turn.

Fast forward to Jan. 6, when a mob of mostly white rioters, upset that Trump wasn't reelected, violently breached the U.S. Capitol. Morrison connected the dots of what he described as a war of white aggression. “A war rages on in America,” Morrison wrote in this analysis piece, “It started with slavery and never ended ...” 

With powerful video by Noreen Nasir, portraits by Chris Carlson and presentation by Alyssa Goodman, the package received prominent play and sparked discussion both online and within the AP.

For a timely, compelling package that looks at the state of race relations with historical context and thoughtful analysis, the team of Morrison, Nasir, Carlson and Goodman earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 12, 2021

Best of the Week

AP delivers powerful multiformat coverage of fast-moving Myanmar coup

Early in the morning of Feb. 1, AP’s Yangon bureau alerted colleagues in the Bangkok regional hub of rumors that lawmakers and other elected political leaders had been arrested. With communication lines down in the capital Naypyitaw, confusion gripped other parts of the country, but an alert went out to say there were reports of a coup underway. 

Photos, video footage and detailed descriptions of the situation on the ground in Myanmar quickly followed, and were crucial in fleshing out the text story being written in Bangkok. 

That initial work under difficult conditions set the stage for strong, competitive coverage of a challenging and rapidly evolving story that continues through today. And it is that outstanding work that AP honors with the Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Catholic Church, sitting on billions, amassed PPP aid

investigated the Catholic Church’s receipt of billions in federal aid during the pandemic, breaking news and bringing accountability to both a massive government program and one of the world’s most powerful institutions. The investigative reporters conducted an exclusive and exhaustive analysis showing that while Catholic entities were sitting on at least $10 billion in cash, the nation’s nearly 200 dioceses and other Catholic institutions received at least $3 billion from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, making the Roman Catholic Church perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the program, according to AP’s review.The reporting required was formidable, including joining a federal lawsuit to get the full PPP data. Dunklin and Rezendes then led a blitz by colleagues to hand check tens of thousands of data points. That work tracked the apparently disproportionate aid to Catholic recipients compared to other faith groups and national charities.The package reverberated through a busy news day and was covered in outlets as diverse as Slate and the Catholic News Agency.https://bit.ly/371q7QGhttps://bit.ly/3aPLVzOhttps://bit.ly/3qfXeI4

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Feb. 05, 2021

Best of the States

AP months ahead of New York state in identifying undercount of nursing home deaths

When AP reported exclusively last August that New York state was undercounting its COVID nursing home death toll by thousands, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ripped the story as part of a politically motivated “blame game.”

But the state’s own investigation, announced last week, reached a nearly identical conclusion, affirming AP’s reporting.

AP’s 2020 investigation had seized on the fact that New York counts just residents who died at nursing homes, not those who were transported to hospitals and died there. AP’s analysis of federal data indicated that the state’s official toll was undercounted by 65%, or well over 4,000 deaths. 

For sharp reporting that led the media pack, withstood criticism from the governor and months later was vindicated, this week’s Best of the States award goes to Bernard Condon, Matt Sedensky and Meghan Hoyer (now data director at The Washington Post).

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Feb. 05, 2021

Best of the Week

With sourcing, preparedness, AP breaks news on death of pioneering actress Cicely Tyson

AP national writer Hillel Italie took a call Thursday evening from a longtime source with an unexpected tip: Groundbreaking actress Cicely Tyson, known for her roles playing strong, fiercely dignified Black women, was dead. 

Italie set off to get the news on the wire quickly, while also alerting colleagues. That included entertainment writer Mark Kennedy who had met Tyson years earlier. Kennedy had decided that when the time came, the AP obituary would have to capture the breadth and achievement of her life and career. And he had prepared just that.

The AP story moved at least 15 minutes before other outlets, earning more than 265,000 page views and front page headlines.

Celebrity obituaries are intensely competitive; Italie and Kennedy kept AP well in front, through source work, commitment and solid preparation. For that, they win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Indian farmers storm Red Fort; AP visuals stand out

braved tear gas and sword-wielding Sikh protesters to capture dramatic live video and stunning images of angry and defiant farmers storming the iconic Red Fort as India celebrated its Republic Day. Farmers have been protesting for months over new agriculture laws, and AP reacted quickly when a group of farmers on tractors deviated from an orderly parade, breaking through barricades to storm the city’s emblematic 17th century landmark.Amid aggressive threats by protesters, the photographers and video journalists recorded the dramatic breach of the fort, a profoundly symbolic challenge to the Hindu-nationalist government. AP was live with video at key points and captured the extraordinary turn of events as protesters scaled the walls and hoisted a Sikh religious flag from the fort ramparts. In a sudden escalation, Ganguly was roughed up by an unruly mob, his camera cards snatched as outnumbered police watched. With the situation spiraling out of control the team was pulled out to ensure their safety.Despite the enormous challenges, AP had better competitive coverage thanks to preparation, smart coordination and decision making on the fly. We offered outstanding visuals, including faster video edits to our customers, and updates showing police trying to clear protesters from the fort.https://bit.ly/2YJx5Fphttps://bit.ly/36LpgU2https://bit.ly/3cH0Z5lhttps://bit.ly/2YIdm8U

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP duo tracks WHO investigators in Wuhan

teamed up with their Beijing colleagues, fast-filing all-formats content to keep AP ahead on the challenging, high-profile story of the World Health Organization mission to Wuhan to investigate the origins of the deadly COVID-19 virus. Video performance was consistently strong and notably outdid AP’s major competition on at least two days.Wang and Guan scrambled all week to follow the movements of the WHO delegation arriving and departing hotels and hospitals. Wang managed multiple live shots and Guan found angles to grab photos of the team; he also revealed some of their luggage: yoga mats and musical instruments.Meanwhile, the Beijing bureau was producing video edits from the live shots and expediting text based on the reports coming from the AP pair in Wuhan. On one day, Feb. 1, AP delivered five video edits, including a brief but rare comment from a WHO team member speaking from his car window, while a competitive agency had just two edits.https://bit.ly/2O6sVoWhttps://bit.ly/2MWrUishttps://bit.ly/3cHwbRRhttps://bit.ly/3jh6lVW

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Jan. 29, 2021

Best of the States

AP team finds exhausted chaplains comforting families, COVID patients in their final moments

Eugene Garcia, just two weeks into his job as the AP’s newest full-time video journalist, and photographer Jae Hong joined forces to tell the deeply touching and heartbreaking story of often unseen and unsung heroes of the pandemic — the clergy.

The pair approached the story with sensitivity and care, maintaining distance to give the families, patients and chaplains space, but close enough to bring the story to life even as their subjects drew their last breaths. The package, complemented by John Rogers’ moving text, shed light on exhausted and emotionally drained chaplains working in situations they had never experienced before. As one put it, “We weren’t trained for this.”

For an arresting package that explores the compassionate yet crushing work of front-line chaplains, Garcia, Hong and Rogers earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 29, 2021

Best of the Week

AP delivers unmatched all-formats coverage as Russians protest jailing of Navalny

The moment opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested upon his return to Moscow, AP’s Russia team knew the weekend’s protests would be big.

Working in sub-zero temperatures, AP teams in every format, from the Russian Far East to the big cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, delivered exceptional work capturing the scale and intensity of the protests — and the violent crackdown by police.

Excellent planning, experience and a wide network of freelancers across the country’s 11 time zones were among the factors that gave AP the edge over the competition. 

For determined, insightful coverage that captured the scope and political significance of the movement, the team of Tanya Titova, Alexander Zemlianichenko, Mstyslav Chernov, Kostya Manenkov, Dmitri Lovetsky, Pavel Golovkin, Daria Litvinova, Jim Heintz, Kirill Zarubin and Yulia Alekseyeva wins AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Jan. 29, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Standout coverage of historic Biden-Harris inauguration

in Washington for the 59th Presidential Inauguration excelled in all-formats despite COVID restrictions and unprecedented security just two weeks after the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol. Video was a particular standout — hundreds of millions of viewers around the world received AP’s live coverage, and video edits were ahead of the competition by an astonishing average of 15-20 minutes. Text and photo coverage was no less impressive, vividly capturing history in the making.https://bit.ly/2MzmTfwhttps://bit.ly/2Mdq0tVhttps://bit.ly/3otR5WGhttps://bit.ly/2KXbFkFhttps://bit.ly/3psgRMvhttps://bit.ly/39pm6qyhttps://apnews.com/hub/biden-inauguration

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Jan. 29, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Up close, personal reporting on the US political divide

wanted to explore how people on different sides of the political gulf in the U.S. view the election and transfer of power.They found two Maryland residents who represent polar political opposites: one a Trump Republican who has two TVs tuned to conservative media; the other a staunch Democrat eager for the inauguration of Joe Biden. Both are members of a program designed to bridge the nation’s extraordinary political divide.The AP team followed as the pair navigated the turbulent transition between administrations, careful to report fairly while not making their divergent positions equivalent — the journalists made it clear that the facts establish Biden’s win and do not support claims of a stolen election. The all-formats package attracted attention and yes, sparked heated discussion online. https://bit.ly/3ckElj2https://bit.ly/2Yn9r19

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Jan. 22, 2021

Best of the Week

Trust in AP: Unmatched sourcing delivers scoop on fears of National Guard insider attack

On the news-heavy weekend between impeachment and inauguration, Lolita Baldor broke a story that became the dominant item for news organizations across platforms: Top military officials feared insider attacks from National Guardsmen activated to protect the inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all 25,000 troops sent to the city.

And officials weren’t whispering their concerns anonymously; Baldor quoted the Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy. That was no fluke; Baldor has built trust with McCarthy and other top officials at the Pentagon. The Army granted her exclusive, off-the-record access to an inaugural planning session, then arranged on-the-record interviews with a number of leaders.

Baldor’s scoop immediately lit up social media and was picked up by some 330 news outlets, including networks and major publications.

For impressive source work that produced a major scoop in the intensive buildup to the inauguration, Baldor wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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