April 26, 2019

Best of the States

A powerful retrospective and breaking news, 20 years after Columbine mass shooting

Twenty years have passed since the Columbine high school massacre, which was, to many people, the beginning of school shootings as we know them. In those years, life has changed: Mass shootings happen again and again, schoolchildren participate in lockdowns instead of fire drills, and many reflect on the moment in time when two young men took 13 lives with them on their suicidal quest.

AP was uniquely positioned to cover the two decades since the massacre, with journalists who were there, those who cover the Colorado community every day, and experts in polling, education and guns. Stories by Denver reporter Kathleen Foody and videojournalist Peter Banda led a deep all-formats package by dozens of journalists across the AP telling not just of the carnage but of those who survived it, their struggle, and the future.

But all the planning couldn't prepare anyone for this spot development: Early in the week, Sol Pais, a young Florida woman, prompted panic over a possible attack at Columbine, later taking her own life near the Colorado school. Miami reporter Kelli Kennedy tracked down a good friend of Pais who not only filled in personal details about her in an exclusive interview, but supplied photos of Pais and cast doubt on the official narrative about her friend.

The overarching theme of the spot and enterprise coverage focused on the short and long-term mental health issues from school shootings. The result was a unique, meaningful package that received impressive play nationally – online and in print. The video was among the top-used AP videos of the week.

For their work spearheading the package, and breaking news, Foody, Banda and Kennedy win this week’s Best of the States.

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Jan. 04, 2019

Best of the States

Only on AP: Local data, deep reporting on declining US lifespans

The nation’s health isn’t improving. In some key measures, it’s getting worse. How is that even possible in an era of genetic medicine and other advances? And how could the AP connect that story to our customers’ own neighborhoods?

AP medical writer Mike Stobbe and data journalist Nicky Forster started with those questions and delivered a winning package on why American life expectancy is getting shorter.

The package ran shortly after the release of the CDC’s annual mortality report which found that U.S. life expectancy had declined again. To find out what was behind the numbers, Stobbe returned to West Virginia, a place he declared the unhealthiest place in America 10 years ago. He connected with people trying to get healthier, witnessed the headwinds of the opioid crisis and explained how difficult it is to improve health en masse.

Forster, meanwhile, assembled an array of data that explained what was happening around the U.S. He matched longevity estimates for more than 65,000 neighborhoods with demographics, and found striking connections to income, race and education. He then built an interactive that allowed readers to see life expectancy in their own neighborhood and wrote a sidebar on the AP’s findings.

For getting beyond the numbers for a richer understanding of why American lifespans are shrinking, and giving AP customers the data to localize their stories, Stobbe and Forster win the week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 30, 2018

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Gov’t questions unfair student loan practices

for obtaining an Education Department document showing that student loan servicer Navient put borrowers in costly repayment plans without telling them about potentially less expensive options. The exclusive was picked up in several newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and made the front page of the New York Daily News. Navient’s stock fell more than 10 percent after Ken’s story was published, forcing the CEO to issue a letter to shareholders. One analyst firm, ValuAct, downgraded the stock following the story. https://bit.ly/2KmOnQv

Oct. 05, 2018

Best of the States

Oklahoma Republicans targeted by GOP colleague, dark money

Oklahomans widely assumed that 12 Republican state lawmakers who lost their bids for re-election came up short at the polls because of their opposition to raising pay for the state’s public school teachers.

While opposition to education funding may have been one factor in incumbent losses in the GOP primaries, Oklahoma City-based reporter Sean Murphy began hearing scuttlebutt about an organized effort from within the Republican Party to kick out incumbents from their own party.

Using campaign finance reports and solid sourcing at the Capitol, Murphy was alone in showing that the rumors were true.

Public records showed a top state House GOP leader had given money to opponents of two of his own colleagues, and the opponents unseated the incumbents. Murphy also leveraged a relationship developed over years of reporting to get the lawmaker to talk. He acknowledged a plan to punish fellow Republicans for taking hardline stances that forced a compromise with Democrats on a plan to raise taxes to pay for teacher raises.

For combining shoe-leather reporting with smart document work, Murphy wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 24, 2018

Best of the States

“I just don't want to be forgotten”: Student starts a new school year at Stoneman Douglas

Charlie Shebes had too much anxiety to sleep the night before the first day of his junior year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the Parkland, Florida, school where 17 people were shot to death in February.

But Charlie was willing to share his morning routine with AP thanks to the relationship video journalist Josh Replogle had cultivated with students, starting nearly six months earlier. Replogle and his Miami colleague, photographer Wilfredo Lee, were there as Shebes rubbed his eyes, hugged his mother goodbye and brooded in the car before he skateboarded to class.

The short but poignant photo essay, along with text and an accompanying video piece, had an emotional impact, and the package received prominent play in Florida outlets, as well as nationally and even on some websites overseas.

For developing a compelling package from the unique perspective of a student returning to the scene of one the country's worst school shootings, Josh Replogle and Wilfredo Lee win this week's Best of the States award.

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Aug. 16, 2018

Best of the States

In Tuskegee, home to black achievement, a Confederate monument endures

The name “Tuskegee, Alabama” evokes images of black empowerment in a once-segregated nation.

Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver became legends of education at what is now Tuskegee University, and the nation’s first black fighter pilots were known as the Tuskegee Airmen after training in the town during World War II. Michelle Obama gave an impassioned speech there in 2015 while first lady.

So why is there a Confederate monument in the middle of the nearly all-black city?

Birmingham, Ala., correspondent Jay Reeves, using information gleaned from old newspaper accounts, local government records and interviews, reported that the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised money for the monument in the early 1900s. And the white-controlled county gave the heritage group land at the center of town for a whites-only park. It’s there that the statue still stands 109 years later.

Several efforts to relocate the monument have failed through the years, mainly because the Confederate heritage group still owns the land and refuses to move the statue.

In addition to text, Reeves shot photos and located archival images, as well as shooting and editing video for the multiformat package.

For digging in to examine why Confederate monuments are coming down nationwide but not in the historic, majority-black town of Tuskegee, Ala., Reeves wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 24, 2018

Best of the Week

AP offers rare glimpse into world of China's political indoctrination camps

Last year, when Beijing correspondent Gerry Shih was working on a series of stories about the Uighurs in China, he learned that a number of citizens from Kazakhstan had been ensnared in a crackdown in the Xinjiang region where Muslims were being indoctrinated in a network of internment camps.

When one of them, Omir Bekali, decided to speak out about his eight-month ordeal in detention and in a so-called re-education center where hundreds of thousands of Muslims are being indoctrinated to disavow their religion, Shih, video journalist Dake Kang and China chief photographer Ng Han Guan traveled 2,000 miles to Almaty to interview him.

Their in-depth, all-formats report on the physical and psychological torment Bekali endured earns the Beat of the Week.

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March 22, 2018

Best of the States

Sex assaults among children on US military bases routinely ignored

Last May, as Reese Dunklin and Justin Pritchard sifted through readers' email responses to AP's 2017 investigation into schoolhouse sex assault, both reporters flagged the same messages for follow-up: The tips described problems with the handling of sex assaults reported on U.S. military bases among the children and teens of service members.

Through dozens of FOIA requests and interviews, they found that reports of sexual assaults and rapes among military kids were getting lost in a dead zone of justice, with neither victim nor offender receiving help. Cases often died on the desks of prosecutors, even when an attacker confessed. And criminal investigators shelved other cases, despite requirements they be pursued, the reporters found.

Using government records and data released by the Pentagon’s military branches and school system, Dunklin and Pritchard catalogued nearly 600 cases of sex assaults among children on military bases, often after protracted FOIA negotiations. Though an acknowledged undercount, it was the first such quantification – something neither the Pentagon nor its global school system had previously done.

For shedding light on a problem too long ignored, and localizing it for AP members in their states, Dunklin and Pritchard share this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 16, 2018

Best of the States

AP analysis: NRA contributes to schools; few willing to decline the money

Major corporations were cutting ties with the National Rifle Association after the massacre at a Florida high school, but what about schools that had received grants from the gun organization? It was a natural follow to the Associated Press’ exclusive story that the alleged shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had belonged to a school JROTC program that received NRA grants.

Data journalist Meghan Hoyer dug through tax records to identify the schools that had received more than $7 million in NRA grants. Education beat team member Collin Binkley began calling recipients around the country to see if they would forgo the money. Few said they would.

For their work breaking news on a story that everyone is reporting and providing data that allowed AP members to localize the story, Binkley and Hoyer will receive this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Feb. 23, 2018

Best of the Week

AP photo and reporting beats from Florida school shooting

– Photographer Joel Auerbach’s poignant image of two women crying outside a Florida high school as parents awaited news about their children after a gunman’s deadly rampage on the campus.

– Reporters Michael Biesecker and Collin Binkley’s exclusive reporting that the suspect was a “good shot” on a National Rifle Association-backed rifle team at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The two exclusives helped distinguish the coverage of the shooting at the school that left 17 dead. For capturing the human toll in a single iconic image and shedding light on the suspect’s marksmanship training, Auerbach, Biesecker and Binkley win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Dec. 08, 2017

Best of the States

AP analysis finds disproportionate segregation in charter schools

It began as an effort to find something new to say about a well-documented trend: the growing levels of racial segregation in American schools. Data journalist Larry Fenn, working with Ivan Moreno and the Education Beat Team, began analyzing enrollment data, looking for areas where segregation has become especially severe. Fenn spent long hours building the data set, both for AP reporting and for distribution to AP members.

What jumped out, in city after city, was the prevalence of charters among schools with the most extreme racial segregation. After months of analysis and reporting, AP revealed that fully 17 percent of charter schools nationally, or over 1,000 of them, have 99 percent minority enrollment.

Fenn's dataset for distribution to members had the most downloads and most unique users of any of AP's data offerings to date. For a project that led to record levels of engagement, Fenn and Moreno share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Aug. 25, 2017

Best of the States

The Future of Work: US adding factory jobs, but there's a catch

It’s well-known that many U.S. factory jobs have been shipped overseas or automated out of existence. What’s not so well-known is that American manufacturing is no longer shrinking. Factories have actually added nearly a million jobs in the past seven years.

But the jobs have changed: The new ones generally require advanced education, technological know-how or specialized skills to survive in what are now highly automated workplaces. Yet training opportunities are limited, particularly for older workers.

Cincinnati correspondent Dan Sewell and photographer John Minchillo pinpointed this uneasy mix in southwestern Ohio and proposed an immersive multimedia story to illuminate the trend for readers and viewers. Collaborating with Washington business writer Chris Rugaber, video-first reporter Mike Householder and others, they produced a multifaceted package that made full use of the AP’s global reach, earning this week’s Best of the States prize.

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July 06, 2017

Best of the States

Long leads team coverage of fatal hospital shooting

New York City police reporter Colleen Long was taking the elevator at police headquarters on a quiet Friday afternoon before the Fourth of July weekend when she overheard a couple of patrol officers suddenly talking with alarm. “Oh my God,” one of them said. “Something’s going on at Bronx Lebanon Hospital. I think an active shooter.”

Long got off on the next stop and immediately called a source as she took the stairs down to her office in the second-floor press room, known as “the shack.” By the time she got to the desk, she had enough information to call the New York City bureau with a barebones APNewsAlert: “NEW YORK (AP) — Police are responding to a report of shots fired inside a New York City hospital.”

So began a bureau-wide reporting effort on a story that would unfold in unusual detail, even in the long litany of American gun violence. For leading a team effort that put the AP out front and kept us there, Colleen Long wins the Best of the States Award and the $300 that goes with it for the second week in a row.

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