Dec. 20, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Accidental shootings show nationwide gap in police training

A mother shot fatally shot in front of her 3-year-old son. A suspect killed while an officer tried to handcuff him. A Homeland Security agent was shot at a Texas high school by a U.S. marshal fumbling with equipment. These are among the more than 1,400 unintentional discharges found by Seattle reporter Martha Bellisle in an investigation that highlights the shortcomings of police weapons training.

No agency tracks how often local, state and federal officers accidentally fire their weapons. Over the course of more than a year, Bellisle exhaustively documented 1,422 unintentional discharges by 258 law enforcement agencies since 2012.

With contributions from colleagues in photo and video – including the story of an Iowa woman who was killed when an officer’s gun discharged, leaving her husband and children still scarred by the tragedy – the all-formats package received prominent play.

For an exclusive that sheds light on a virtually undocumented area of firearms safety, Bellisle earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 20, 2019

Best of the Week

How tramadol, touted as the safer opioid, became a 3rd world peril

It was supposed to be the safer opioid, a way to fight pain with little risk of addiction. That promise has meant much less regulation of tramadol than other opioids. And its relatively low cost has made tramadol the drug of choice in many developing countries, becoming what the United Nations calls “the other opioid crisis.”

National writer Claire Galofaro spent months researching the issue – but how to illustrate the story from a fresh perspective?

Galofaro turned to New Delhi-based correspondent Emily Schmall, who traveled to India’s Punjab state, where she talked to people struggling with addiction, visited a treatment center and gained unprecedented access to officials trying to stem the crisis. 

The deeply reported story, one of the top-read pieces on AP News, also delved into tramadol’s heavy toll in Africa, and its trafficking among terrorist groups. 

For their work exposing an aspect of the international opioid crisis that has received far less attention, Galofaro and Schmall win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Dec. 13, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Iowa felons list bars a police department from voting; omits a drug dealer

Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley has written extensively about problems tracking felons who are ineligible to vote in Iowa, but it had been five years since he’d gotten a copy of the database itself. So when a trusted source produced a state database of 103,000 felons, Foley set to work analyzing the data. He found it riddled with errors, including laughable mistakes – such as the Des Moines Police Department being banned from voting.

The story was used extensively by Iowa newspapers and broadcasters, who were especially interested given that Iowa’s governor is seeking to change the law regarding voting by felons who have completed their sentences.

For detailed research and reporting that produced an engaging story of statewide interest, Foley earns AP’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 22, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Migrants face bleak situation in camps south of the border

for bringing new attention to a growing humanitarian crisis with a pair of powerful, complementary stories on the bleak conditions facing migrants forced to wait at the U.S.-Mexico border under Trump administration policies. Verza reported that drug cartels and gangs are profiting from the policy by robbing and extorting the migrants, while Merchant revealed the dire medical conditions at a migrant camp just feet from U.S. soil.https://bit.ly/2s0z5M8https://bit.ly/2XFDxvB

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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. 27, 2019

Best of the States

AP investigation shines light on dark side of CBD craze

Responding to AP’s call for ambitious journalism in 2019, Holbrook “Bert” Mohr of the U.S. investigative team tossed out an idea during a brainstorming session: Authorities in Mississippi had found vapes containing fentanyl and synthetic marijuana in stores near Mohr’s home. What caught his eye was that the product was labeled as CBD. 

That led to a collaboration by the Investigations and the Health and Science teams that would offer not just the exclusive results of laboratory testing — finding cheap and illegal synthetic marijuana instead of natural CBD in vapes and edibles — but also telling details about the people who bring dangerous products to market. 

The “Spiked CBD” package broke through. It was easily the top story on AP Mobile, and Mohr’s bylined story appeared on the front page of at least 23 newspapers; it was teased on the front of nearly 100 others. 

For identifying and leading a collaborative investigative project that connected with customers and readers, Mohr receives this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 20, 2019

Best of the Week

AP offers compelling takes on two oft-reported crises: Migrant rescues and opioid trafficking

They are crises that have received significant attention while playing out in different parts of the world, but the efforts of a trio of AP journalists have shed new light on both the perilous journey of migrants in the Mediterranean and the opioid epidemic in America.

The work of the journalists, Renata Brito aboard the Ocean Viking humanitarian ship sailing in the Mediterranean Sea, and Lindsay Whitehurst and Claire Galofaro in the U.S., tells the respective stories with a captivating clarity that resonated with readers and earned a rare tie in the Best of the Week contest. Each story demonstrated the profound storytelling power the AP can bring to complex stories with ingenuity, smart planning and teamwork.

Barcelona-based Brito wins for a story that she’s still living, and telling, from the Ocean Viking. Embedded with a ship that last week rescued 50 migrants fleeing violence in Africa, her dispatch, “Migrant escaping Libya torture: We will go to Europe or die,” showed in stark terms the journey that for many has ended in death.

Galofaro and Whitehurst, meanwhile, share the win with a very different but no-less-gripping tale: “The rise and fall of an Eagle Scout’s deadly fentanyl empire,” about a millennial who built a million-dollar empire of mail-order fentanyl-laced pills.

For packages that brought new insight and perspective to heavily covered stories with significant global impact, Brito, Galofaro and Whitehurst win AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Sept. 20, 2019

Best of the States

Going to extremes to tell the story of sexual violence and shortcomings of enforcement

In western Alaska, rape survivors and their supporters say Nome’s police department has often failed to investigate sexual assaults, especially when the victims are Alaska Native women.

Delivering sensitive-but-powerful coverage from a challenging environment, enterprise photographer Maye-E Wong and freelance correspondent Victoria Mckenzie tell the story of average Americans struggling with sexual violence and law enforcement in small communities. Their work made clear that Nome’s struggles don’t represent an isolated case; it is a microcosm of how police and towns and cities across the U.S. have failed survivors of sexual assaults.

For going to extremes – literally and figuratively – to shed light on a remote corner of the larger issue of sexual violence and enforcement, Wong and Mckenzie share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 13, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP package from Australia reveals global ravages of opioids

for months of careful relationship building with opioid addicts and their loved ones, resulting in a richly-detailed package about opioid addiction in Australia, where stigma around addiction remains high. The stories revealed how drug companies and the Australian government have contributed to the crisis, and an intimate narrative provided striking detail about the pain and impact of opioid dependency on addicts and their families. To find the right subjects, Gelineau contacted countless rehab centers, doctors, pain groups, nonprofits and addiction specialists, combed through online forums and social media and read through thousands of signatures on petitions related to opioid abuse. Putting the pieces together also required painstaking sifting through data from Australia’s de-centralized health system and 12 years of coroners’ reports to find early warnings about the opioid crisis. The work resonated with readers, and the director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which funded the stories, called them “stellar journalism ... so well told and presented,” while the mother profiled in the team’s narrative piece wrote to Gelineau, “I’m so grateful for having met you, Sam and Goldie. You have given me a voice.”https://bit.ly/2kebqV7https://bit.ly/2lKn9ez

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Sept. 06, 2019

Best of the States

In Mississippi Delta, Catholic abuse cases settled on cheap

As allegations of sexual abuse by clergy have proliferated across the Catholic Church, millions of dollars in settlement money has been paid to victims. Some have received as much as $500,000 apiece.

Not La Jarvis D. Love.

At an IHOP in the Mississippi Delta, a white official from the Franciscan religious order offered to pay him just $15,000 to keep years of alleged abuse secret.

“He said if I wanted more, I would have to get a lawyer and have my lawyer call his lawyer,” Love told The Associated Press. “Well, we don’t have lawyers. We felt like we had to take what we could.”

The story, the latest in AP’s investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church, revealed deals struck with two black men for abuse they said happened in grade school that represent far lower amounts than what other clergy abuse survivors have received. It also revealed the men had been asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, which had long been banned by U.S. Catholic leaders.

Despite the challenges, the team – investigative reporter Mike Rezendes, photographer Maye-E-Wong, video journalist Sarah Blake Morgan, digital storytelling producer Samantha Shotzbarger and researcher Randy Herschaft – produced extraordinary work. Herschaft discovered several critical threads that showed an alleged abuser was working with children even after the church had known about one of the men’s allegations.

For their sensitive work on a complex, emotional and previously untold story, the team of Rezendes, Morgan, Wong, Shotzbarger and Herschaft win this week’s Best of the States.

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Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP upends Venezuelan politics with scoop on secret US-socialist talks

for acting on a source’s tip to reveal the existence of a secret backchannel that the U.S. had opened up with socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello. The news was a shocking development in Venezuela’s grinding crisis and was bound to cause heartburn in Washington and Caracas because of Cabello’s alleged ties to drug trafficking — and allegations he ordered a hit on U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. Goodman took the off-the-record tip to senior Trump administration officials, who agreed to talk out of concern that the explosive scoop would make them look desperate.

The story dominated the week’s news cycle in Venezuela, and in a first for the AP’s aggressive coverage of the ongoing Venezuelan crisis, President Donald Trump confirmed the meetings from the White House, as did National Security Adviser John Bolton. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said that he had authorized the contacts – even though the U.S. said Cabello and others were negotiating behind his back. The story received top billing in the Miami Herald and other news organizations scrambled to match the AP story.

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Aug. 16, 2019

Best of the States

Source’s tip, weeks of planning put AP at scene of massive Mississippi immigration raids

Because San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat received a tip that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were planning massive raids on food processing plants, AP was uniquely positioned – literally – when ICE stormed seven Mississippi chicken processing plants and arrested 680 people, the largest workplace raid in a decade.

ICE’s acting Director Matthew Albence said that the investigation was so secret that even the White House didn’t know.

On the day of the raids, weeks of persistence and planning put AP way ahead of local and national media in the speed and depth of the report. Photographer Rogelio V. Solis was the only journalist on scene when about 600 agents simultaneously hit the plants, while his Jackson colleague, reporter Jeff Amy, got an exclusive interview with Albence.

Their multiday coverage received monster play, including 3 million social interactions for the first-day story alone.

For scoring scoops on a major ICE operation, Spagat, Amy and Solis are the winners of this week’s Best of the States honors.

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Aug. 09, 2019

Best of the States

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

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

They rose to the challenge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 28, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive photos as agents search ship for tons cocaine

for capturing exclusive images of agents searching a container ship found to be carrying more than 17 tons of cocaine. Rourke made the smart decision to shoot not at the Philadelphia port, where the massive ship was docked, but from a park across the river in New Jersey – enabling him to a make a variety of images of agents and drug-sniiffing dogs in action, while photographers at the dock were able to shoot little more than static photos of the ship. https://bit.ly/2Yqqg9C

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June 21, 2019

Best of the States

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

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

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

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

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

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May 10, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Lawmakers target loopholes for spouses who drug, rape their partners

for a distinctive and deeply reported legislative story on the so-called “marital rape exemption” or “spousal defense,” a legal loophole in many states that allows spouses to escape criminal prosecution for raping partners who are drugged, unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. Smyth and Karnowski reported that previous state legislative attempts to remove those exemptions have a mixed record, but that’s starting to change. https://bit.ly/2vLmScQ