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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Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the Week

Anatomy of a phone call: New details of Trump’s Ukraine call revealed

President Donald Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s president, and the ensuing impeachment investigation, has been the hottest story in Washington for weeks. It’s extremely challenging to find new ways to report on the conversation and gather new details of how a rough transcript of the call was created and handled. 

Deb Riechmann managed to do it all, with a deeply reported 1800-word story that laid out everything we know about who was on the call, how such conversations are memorialized and what happens to the rough transcripts once they are created.

For uncovering tantalizing new details about Trump’s fateful phone call with the Ukraine president, AP’s Best of the Week citation goes to White House reporter Deb Riechmann.

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Oct. 11, 2019

Best of the Week

AP provides dramatic all-formats coverage of Iraq’s deadly protests

The calls on social media were informal and scattered, urging demonstrations Oct. 1 in Baghdad to protest deteriorating living conditions in the battered Iraqi capital. There was nothing to indicate that the protests would be more significant than previous actions. But Khalid Mohammed, AP’s chief photographer in Baghdad, had a hunch. He put the demonstrations on the bureau’s planner and urged all formats to be ready, despite the prevailing mood of skepticism.

Mohammed’s assessment proved prescient. The demonstrations erupted into five days of furious violence, the worst in the country since the quieting of its internal war against the Islamic State group. AP’s staff witnessed the first violence and stayed on the grueling story for days.

For their anticipation and courageous eyewitness journalism that set AP apart, Mohammed, photographer Hadi Mizban, video journalist Ali Jabar and reporter Qassim Abdul-Zahra share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Oct. 11, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: FBI warns universities vulnerable to Chinese espionage

for using dozens of public records requests to break news on the FBI’s efforts to warn American colleges and universities that they’re vulnerable to economic and industrial espionage by China. Emails obtained by AP underscore the extent of U.S. concerns that universities, as recruiters of foreign talent and incubators of cutting-edge research, present a particularly inviting target for espionage. https://bit.ly/2ovvbtc

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. 23, 2019

Best of the States

Foresight, persistence, sources put AP ahead on green card restrictions for legal immigrants

Few reporters were paying attention to a draft rule barring legal immigrants from getting green cards if they received benefits like Medicaid or food stamps – but AP’s Colleen Long was.

Long, AP’s Washington-based Homeland Security reporter, had spent months asking U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when the final rules would be published, making them official. With a heads-up from sources, she was eventually able to get an advance briefing and interview, writing the story just before heading off on vacation. Then, as soon as the rule appeared, she alerted the Washington desk to move the story, giving AP a major beat over other news organizations. By the time the White House and Homeland Security held briefings, Long already had all the key details on the wire.

For her skilled source-building, persistence and meticulous reporting, Long wins this week’s Best of the States honors.

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Aug. 23, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Many US employees feel devalued even in a booming job market

for documenting how the kinds of jobs Americans long enjoyed – permanent positions with stability, bonuses, pensions, benefits and opportunities to move up – have become rarer, which is why many don’t feel much like beneficiaries of what’s now the longest economic expansion on record. Drawing on economic research, government data and interviews with workers, Smith sketched a picture of lagging wages, eroding benefits and demands that employees do more without more pay. Her reporting concluded that the loyalty and security many say they once felt from their employers have diminished, and with it a measure of their satisfaction. https://bit.ly/2P914oj

Aug. 16, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP team defies lockdown to report in all formats from Kashmir

for braving security restrictions and overcoming a complete communication lockdown to report in all formats on life under siege from Indian-administered Kashmir.When New Delhi moved Aug. 5 to revoke the Himalayan region of its statehood, all lines to the outside world were severed. With a strict curfew in place the AP crew overnighted in the office, but transmission in any format was a challenge. Defying the crackdown on movement and filming, the team managed to send photos, video and text with a passenger on a flight to Delhi.Meanwhile, Saaliq, a native Kashmiri himself, spoke to people struggling to buy necessities and to those injured during sporadic protests. His story, some of which he dictated over the phone from a Srinagar hotel, was one of the first reports in the international media that allowed Kashmiri voices to be heard after the dramatic developments. Hussain followed with personal stories of how Kashmiris were coping with life surrounded by armed police and paramilitary soldiers. And with short windows of internet access and many trips to the airport, the AP team managed to move words and images of thousands of protesters, including a widely used photo of a group of women marching after Friday prayers, and security forces patrolling the city. The lockdown continues. While some local media have suggested normalcy has returned to Kashmir, AP offers a critical counter narrative grounded in dogged reporting to show the world what is happening in the disputed region.https://bit.ly/31EKii3https://bit.ly/2H8adH7https://bit.ly/3063jJV

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July 26, 2019

Best of the Week

AP hours ahead as Trump moves to end nearly all asylum at southern border

Washington-based homeland security reporter Colleen Long earned a key scoop – one that set the news agenda for days and left the competition scrabbling to catch up – when a source alerted her to a change in rules for those seeking asylum at the southern border: The rule would effectively end asylum for people coming from Central American countries and change decades of U.S. policy.

Following the tip, she also knew that she had a window of opportunity to drive her advantage home before the law was announced early the next morning. Long’s story caught other news organizations completely off guard and left major outlets to cite the AP for hours as they struggled to catch up.

For her deep knowledge of immigration policy, diligent reporting and outstanding speed of delivery on a story of vital interest, Colleen Long earns AP’s Best of the Week.

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July 19, 2019

Best of the Week

One face of immigration policy: 9-year-old in Texas still separated from Guatemalan family

Houston-based immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant uncovered a heartbreaking tale in his coverage of the lingering toll of President Donald Trump’s family separation policy: a 9-year-old boy, Byron Xol, who is still separated from his parents. The boy eventually landed in the home of a Texas family who took custody of the child, while his parents were deported to Guatemala.

Merchant had been looking for an opportunity to write a detailed narrative that would illustrate the stress that separations have on families. When he learned on short notice of Byron’s upcoming birthday, he decided it was the perfect time to tell the tale.

Merchant and his Houston colleagues – video journalist John Mone and photographer David Phillip – went to the boy’s current foster home outside Austin. Meanwhile, photographer Santiago Billy, reporter Sonny Figueroa and video stringer Sergio Alfaro went to the Guatemalan village of the Xol family. Together they captured the emotion of the day and the sharp contrast between the two worlds, as the dad phoned Byron on his birthday.

The story they produced was gripping, used by more than 400 AP members in the U.S. It was just one of a series of strong pieces that have put names, faces and personal narratives to the immigration story, keeping AP’s coverage ahead.

For recognizing the moment and mobilizing quickly across formats and borders, Alfaro, Billy, Figueroa, Merchant, Mone and Phillip share AP’s Best of the Week.

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July 19, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Outdated software makes even new election systems vulnerable to hackers

The source’s text said there was something “really troubling” to pass along.

Tami Abdollah, Washington national security reporter, had just returned to covering cybersecurity – a topic she has followed off-and-on since 2015. What the source told her was big: New election systems purchased across the United States were running on outdated Windows 7 systems, making them vulnerable to hackers.

It was a great tip, but it required a lot of work to determine the scope of the problem. The result was an exclusive text and video package that received huge play and raised alarm among state and national lawmakers. Abdollah revealed that the vast majority of 10,000 election jurisdictions nationwide use Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts.

For combining source reporting with meticulous research to break major news on one of the biggest issues ahead of the 2020 election, Abdollah wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 17, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Schedules reveal West Virginia governor largely absent from work

Anthony Izaguirre began hearing the chatter about West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice as soon as he started work as the AP’s statehouse correspondent in Charleston, West Virginia, in late February. Sources told him Justice – a billionaire who owns mines, farms and a swanky resort – wasn’t fully engaged and hadn’t even been in the capital, Charleston, much since taking office in 2017.

Izaguirre's initial request for the governor’s schedules was declined, but he pressed with the help of AP’s legal department, finally getting the records. Armed with those calendars and his own resourceful reporting, he cobbled together a record of the governor’s activities, confirming what many suspected: Justice appeared to have better things to do than govern.

West Virginia media pounced on the exclusive story, which also played well outside the state.

For his resolute work to obtain public records and his thorough reporting to fill out a story no one else in the state could land, Izaguirre wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 10, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: California synagogue hadn’t used security funds received shortly before shooting

After a gunman opened fire in a Southern California synagogue on Passover, killing a woman and wounding a man, his 8-year-old niece and the rabbi leading the service, the inevitable question was asked: Could anything have been done to stop the violence?

Reporters Don Thompson and Adam Beam in Sacramento and Julie Watson in San Diego combined to report exclusively that the synagogue itself had recognized security deficiencies and even received a state grant to address them.

But it hadn’t spent the money, the AP team revealed.

For their exclusive follow-up to a crime that generated global attention, Thompson, Watson and Beam win this week’s Best of the States.

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May 10, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Maximum accuracy in AP coverage of Derby winner

for making AP the only major news outlet that did not have to issue a text correction following the chaos at the 2019 Kentucky Derby. The AP always sends an alert on what horse crosses the finish line first to provide breaking news to members and customers, but we never declare a winner until the race results become official. That longstanding practice paid off when Maximum Security was disqualified after this year’s race. https://bit.ly/302C5Eehttps://bit.ly/2YkkOEPhttps://bit.ly/2WAhXXY

May 03, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Back-to-back scoops reveal details of Louisiana police cases

for two accountability scoops in his native Louisiana. Mustian tapped sources to get the state police there to reveal an embarrassing security breach at the governor’s mansion – a man accused of breaking in, damaging property and then falling asleep on a couch. That APNewsBreak was published just hours after he revealed the full body-camera footage of the police-involved shooting of Juston Landry in Lake Charles. A grand jury cleared the officer of the shooting, but Landry’s attorney characterized the footage as “murder on camera.”https://bit.ly/2GQx9tvhttps://bit.ly/2LfQv0B

April 12, 2019

Best of the Week

With immigration leading the news cycle, AP team scores three impressive scoops

Homeland Security reporter Colleen Long and White House reporter Jill Colvin have repeatedly put the AP ahead on immigration coverage, but they outdid themselves during an intensely competitive week on the topic.

With President Donald Trump stepping up his threats to shut down the border amid a record surge of migrant families coming to the country, the pair dove into their source reporting, scoring three major scoops by the end of the week:

– Long and Colvin were first to report that Trump was contemplating naming a “border czar” to oversee immigration issues at the border. – They broke the news that the White House had withdrawn the nomination of its pick to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one day before he was scheduled to travel to the border with Trump. The scoop was so far ahead, and the news so perplexing, some in the Trump administration assumed it was a mistake. – A few days later, they delivered a smart piece pulling together the various actions surrounding Trump’s border troubles, suggesting that more personnel shakeups were expected. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned the next day.

The stories all received wide play by major outlets, and the weekender on Trump’s growing problem on the border scored in newspapers around the country, landing on the front page of Sunday papers in 20 states.

For their outstanding work to break multiple stories on a subject that dominated the news cycle, Long and Colvin win AP’s Best of the Week.

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March 15, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Sourcework puts AP ahead as McSally reveals she was raped in Air Force

for putting AP ahead of all other news organizations by jumping on a tip from a source, reporting U.S. Sen. Martha McSally’s shocking revelation that she had been sexually assaulted while in the Air Force. When McSally told a Senate subcommittee she had been raped, Long messaged the desk to file the alert, catching other media on Capitol Hill flat-footed. https://bit.ly/2tSq4Cr