March 01, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Despite denials, US shares terror watchlist with private sector

For years, the federal government has denied widely sharing its terrorist watchlist with the private sector. But American Muslims have long had suspicions to the contrary, as those mistakenly placed on the list faced everyday difficulties ranging from making electronic bank transfers to boarding airplanes.

Source building and careful document review by Northern Virginia correspondent Matthew Barakat finally revealed that the federal government shares its terrorist watchlist with more than 1,400 private entities, including hospitals and universities. The government’s acknowledgement of the practice, buried in a civil lawsuit, was significant because officials have repeatedly denied that the list was given to private groups. Barakat’s sources and his thorough coverage of the 2-year-old case had him ready to jump on the filing as soon as it became public.

His APNewsBreak on Feb. 19 earned wide attention, including hundreds of members using the story. Others scrambled to catch up, with The Washington Post crediting AP for breaking the story when it ran its own version in the paper.

Over the next two days Barakat was also first to report on a call for a congressional probe, and he was the only reporter in court when a federal judge berated government lawyers, ordering them to disclose the private sector entities to the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.

For his methodical document work and source-building that helped hold the federal government accountable, Barakat wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 04, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP ahead with two scoops on NC election investigation

for putting AP ahead on two major stories related to the investigation of ballot fraud in a 2018 congressional race in North Carolina – first with news that election officials had pressed prosecutors after the 2016 election to charge the man at the center of fraud allegations in 2018, and then obtaining a January 2017 letter predicting that ballot fraud would happen again unless the administration pursued a criminal case.https://bit.ly/2BXS8Inhttps://bit.ly/2R3LaMe

May 24, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Interview with judge facing recall over Stanford sex assault sentence

When a California judge chose the most lenient sentence for a Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus, the outrage made national headlines for weeks. Anger at the judge turned into a recall effort on the June 5 primary ballot and more widespread media coverage.

Despite the glare, Judge Aaron Persky has been mostly silent for nearly two years. San Francisco reporter Paul Elias has spent nearly that entire time asking for an interview, over and over.

Those efforts paid off with an exclusive, three-hour all formats interview at the judge’s home. The judge said he had no regrets, even though the sentence may cost him his judgeship. The resulting story was featured prominently in local and national media.

For his persistence in getting AP a fascinating interview on a competitive story, Elias wins this week's Best of the States award.

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Feb. 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Man charged with selling armor-piercing bullets to Las Vegas shooter

In the days after the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people, authorities said gunman Stephen Paddock acted alone. But search warrants showed that police and the FBI were looking at two "persons of interest."

One was Paddock's girlfriend, whom police had cleared, and the other was a man named Douglas Haig of Arizona.

Haig talked to various media, including the AP, and held a news conference characterizing his sale of tracer ammunition to Paddock as a lawful transaction.

But Phoenix newsman Jacques Billeaud wasn’t convinced. He called a source he has cultivated in law enforcement who was willing to help but didn’t know the answer to Billeaud’s questions. Then, a few days later, the official called to say that Haig indeed had been charged with a crime. Billeaud quickly checked an electronic court records system and found that armor-piercing ammunition with Haig's fingerprints had been found in Paddock's hotel room. Haig was charged with illegally manufacturing and selling the ammunition.

Billeaud's relationship with his source put the AP ahead, and customers used the AP as first word on a competitive story. For sticking with the story and using long-term source work to break news, Billeaud will receive this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Nov. 03, 2017

Best of the States

Georgia election server wiped clean – days after lawsuit against officials

Georgia's centralized and aging election system has been the subject of several controversies – most recently in June, when a whistleblower revealed that state contractors had failed to secure an important election server. Hackers could potentially have affected the results of both 2016 races and a special congressional election last June that drew national attention.

The Houston bureau’s Frank Bajak wrote up the initial news of Georgia’s server problem. But that didn't answer the larger question of whether the vulnerable server had actually been hacked, so Bajak developed new sources and kept pressing for more information.

His efforts paid off when a source provided him with an email disclosing that the troubled server had been wiped clean of all data. Even more interesting, this destruction of evidence happened just a few days after a lawsuit was filed seeking a forensic examination of the server in an effort invalidate the state's vulnerable election technology.

For his enterprise and dogged pursuit of the story behind the story, Bajak wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 06, 2017

Best of the Week

AP photo team produces unparalleled coverage of Catalonia referendum

The days leading up to Catalonia’s independence referendum pointed toward trouble on the day of the vote. The autonomous region in northeast Spain was pushing ahead with the election despite the country’s constitutional court ordering it to be stopped. In the weeks leading up to the vote, thousands took to the streets, demonstrating for and against independence. The election, set for Oct. 1, was sure to be a defining moment for the region and the country.

It also posed a challenge to those planning AP’s visual report: How best to capture the expected chaos? How to navigate its major city, Barcelona, which would be flooded with demonstrators and police? How to get photographers and video journalists in the right positions, knowing they might be stuck there for hours?

These decisions fell to Emilio Morenatti, AP’s chief photographer for Spain and Portugal. A longtime Barcelona resident, he anticipated those obstacles as he deployed AP’s staff and freelance photographers.

The result was some 200 photographs that captured the violence and passion of a remarkable moment in Spanish history. For planning creatively, making smart in-the-moment decisions and risking personal safety, Morenatti and his team of photographers win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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June 09, 2017

Best of the States

Diversifying pot: How some states are luring minorities into the legal business

For years, marijuana arrests have put minorities in jail at a disproportionately higher rate than whites. Now that recreational marijuana is legal in eight states, the majority of those who benefit most from the profitable industry are white.

Reporters Janie Har, from the Associated Press Race & Ethnicity team, and Bob Salsberg, from the Massachusetts statehouse bureau, set out to explore this dichotomy and how local governments are responding to it.

For their compelling explanation of the cannabis racial divide, Har and Salsberg receive this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

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May 19, 2017

Best of the States

Eligible Wisconsin voters turned away by strict voter ID law

Republicans in Wisconsin had pledged that no eligible voter would be disenfranchised when they passed a strict voter ID law in 2011. After it was used for the first time last year in a presidential election, a group of AP reporters sought to put that promise to the test.

Weeks of research and source work led them to a retired Milwaukee resident who had voted for years and brought to the polls her Social Security card, Medicare card and county-issued bus pass with photo ID; a Navy veteran whose Illinois driver's license was good enough to board a plane and open checking account; an 85-year-old man who had voted in the same small town for years; and a recent college graduate who went to the polls with her three forms of identification – her student ID, copies of her lease and utility bill, and her ID from her home state of Ohio.

In the end, all were turned away or had to cast provisional ballots that were never counted.

For exposing the practical effects of the ID law on Wisconsin citizens, the team of Cassidy, Moreno and Antlfinger wins this week's Best of the States award.

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Dec. 15, 2016

Best of the States

AP provides superior coverage of Oakland warehouse fire that killed 36

As soon as the flames were doused on an Oakland, California, warehouse known as the Ghost Ship two things were clear: The death toll would be huge, and telling the story would be complicated. It took a cross-format team effort to tell the story, and the staff in California rose to the occasion, including incoming San Francisco news editor Juliet Williams, who got an early start on her new job, dashing to the bureau from Sacramento to run the story.

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Aug. 19, 2016

Best of the Week

Showcasing AP's college football poll

For 80 years, AP has organized the longest-running college football poll of its kind. Every week through each season, AP’s marquee listing tells who’s up, who’s down and most significantly, who’s No. 1. The 2016 preseason poll will start the buzz again when it comes out this Sunday.

But in this anniversary year, AP Sports wanted to do something extra: Produce a composite poll showing which 100 teams ranked highest over the full eight decades and 1,103 polls. The result – anchored by Ralph Russo, Paul Montella and Howie Rumberg – was an exclusive package that dramatically moved the needle on digital, social media and in print, while further boosting the profile of the AP Top 25 poll. It earns the Beat of the Week.

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