Sept. 04, 2020

Best of the States

AP investigation: Thousands of environmental waivers granted amid pandemic

When the Trump administration waived enforcement of environmental protections because of the pandemic, a former EPA administrator called it a “license to pollute,” while public health officials told AP that it would be difficult to determine the impact.

At that, five AP reporters around the country embarked on a two-month, brute force effort to wrest loose state data on the suspended regulations.

They found more than 3,000 instances of environmental waivers to oil and gas companies, government facilities and other operations, with nationwide implications for public health. 

For deep reporting and painstaking analysis to document the potential consequences of relaxed environmental regulation, the team of Knickmeyer, Bussewitz, Flesher, Brown and Casey wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 29, 2020

Best of the Week

Stories of lives lost, told with photos: 2 remarkable projects share Best of the Week

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged across the world last week, and the confirmed U.S. death toll approached 100,000, AP photographers on two continents found unusual and meaningful ways to bring home the tragedy of lives lost. They were:

– Photographer David Goldman, who met with the families of COVID-19 victims at a Massachusetts soldiers’ home, literally projecting veterans’ images onto the exterior of the families’ homes for a series of arresting, ghostly and emotion-laden scenes.

– And Rodrigo Abd, who spent weeks with Venezuelan migrants collecting bodies in a poor area of Lima, Peru, showing the abject desperation of that city’s victims. Also honored is Lima reporter Franklin Briceño who accompanied Abd, documenting for text and video the funeral home workers on their grueling rounds.

Both projects had immense impact online and in print, drawing praise from readers and editors. For intrepid and creative multiformat storytelling emphasized by unforgettable images, Goldman, Abd and Briceño share AP’s Best of the Week honors. 

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April 10, 2020

Best of the States

Only on AP: The delicate subject of funerals, now held at a distance

When a South Carolina Army veteran died last month, his family decided to invite The Associated Press to take one of the few spots the funeral home would allow for people at the service. His loved ones knew this funeral and their mourning would look different from the usual rituals, and they wanted to share that with other families faced with grief in the coronavirus outbreak. 

North Carolina-based journalist Sarah Blake Morgan took on the delicate task. She shot photos and video from an appropriate social distance, not only to stay safe but out of respect for the family. In her images and words, she painted a picture of a ritual that once brought people comfort but now brings new tension and challenges. 

For her sensitive work delivering a moving Only on AP package on a human angle of the virus outbreak, Morgan wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 14, 2020

Best of the Week

AP Exclusive: Locusts swarm East Africa as a new wave forms in the Somali desert

After its shocking Jan. 25 report on the locust swarms devastating agriculture in Kenya, AP’s Nairobi team came through with another truly striking package on the worst locust outbreak that parts of East Africa have seen in 70 years. This time, Nairobi staffers Ben Curtis and Josphat Kasire obtained exclusive coverage of the next wave of young locusts now bulking up in Somalia’s desert.

The story posed multiple challenges, not the least of which was the very real threat of al-Shabab extremists in the area. And the young insects were relentless. “If you put anything down on the ground for a minute, you’d find a bunch of bugs crawling over it,” Curtis recounted.

Despite the obstacles, the team produced stunning images and vivid reporting from the source of the widespread outbreak, proof that the region’s infestation was far from over.

For resourceful and determined work that resulted in an only-on-AP direct look at the ravages of a veritable Biblical plague of locusts, Kasire and Curtis win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Sept. 27, 2019

Best of the Week

‘Immersive’ account of coral reef restoration leads ‘What can be saved?’ series

The first installment of “What Can Be Saved?” – a ground-breaking new series from The Associated Press – was so deeply immersive that viewers could almost smell the sea-salt of Jamaica. The island nation was the first stop in what will be 12 installments reported from five continents focusing not on the well-documented gloom of climate change, but on often unsung people around the world who are combating environmental destruction in big ways and small.

From Jamaica, the AP reporting team of photographers David Goldman and David Phillip, science writer Christina Larson and video journalist Kathy Young came back with the astounding narrative of underwater nurseries where islanders are growing coral by hand, branch by branch on underwater lines, to reverse decades of destruction to Jamaican reefs.

The series is already attracting global attention, and with 10 more episodes to come, teamwork throughout the AP has been essential in pulling together all the pieces of “What Can Be Saved?” into a seamless product that AP clients can use in whole or in part.

For their thoughtful, painstaking and visually stunning reporting that launched a mammoth team effort to approach the climate-emergency story with fresh eyes and tell it in compelling new ways, Goldman, Phillip, Larson and Young 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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July 05, 2019

Best of the States

AP: Smoke from US wildfires boosting health risk for millions

After last year's deadly wildfires in California brought weeks of sooty skies to cities along the West Coast, the AP decided to take a closer look into the broader impacts of the massive smoke plumes.

Billings, Montana, correspondent and environment team member Matthew Brown teamed with Denver video journalist P. Solomon Banda to produce an all-formats report on the growing public health threat from wildfire smoke. Their work grew from a body of research that points to where smoke impacts will be worst – a broad swath of the West that includes more than 300 counties with tens of millions of people.

For diligent reporting that provided a deeper look into how wildfires affect communities throughout the region, Brown and Banda earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 28, 2019

Best of the States

AP Analysis: EPA data says US air quality is slipping; EPA regulation could make it worse

Washington science writer Seth Borenstein knew the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was not going to notify anyone when it posted new data on the nation’s air quality for 2018, but he knew where it would be posted. He also knew that the Trump administration was poised to replace an Obama-era clean-air rule with a new regulation that was friendlier to coal-fired power plants, so he kept checking for the agency’s data.

When the data finally showed up, Borenstein teamed with New York-based Health and Science data journalist Nicky Forster to evaluate the data, put it in context and run it by scientists. Forster even pointed out errors that the EPA was forced to correct.

Their persistence made AP the first to report that the annual number of days of poor air quality in the U.S. had increased for the second year in a row, after decades of improvement. The story ran on the eve of the EPA’s announcement of its loosened regulation, undermining the rationale for the new standards with the government’s own numbers. Trump’s new rule, experts told the AP, could turn what is so far a modest backslide into a deadly trend.

For diligent reporting and sophisticated analysis to hold a federal agency accountable for its data and regulatory policy, Borenstein and Forster earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 15, 2019

Best of the States

Between the lines of a press release: Gray wolves could lose federal protection

The passing reference in a draft statement on an unrelated topic would have been easy miss. But Billings, Montana, correspondent Matthew Brown instantly recognized its significance – the U.S. was planning to lift protections for gray wolves, an action that would reignite the emotional debate over the predators’ resurgence.

Brown was reporting on sage grouse when he came across the draft Interior Department press release. It mentioned remarks that Acting Secretary David Bernhardt planned to make the next day at a wildlife conference in Denver: Gray wolves had recovered across the Lower 48 states.

Brown recognized the implication of that one sentence, and teamed up with fellow environmental beat team writer John Flesher of Traverse City, Michigan, to begin a race against the clock. Brown and Flesher scrambled to break the news before Bernhardt took the stage the next morning at the closed-press wildlife conference. Finally a source confirmed: Protections for wolves were again in the agency’s crosshairs.

The APNewsAlert moved at 8:45 a.m., a full 15 minutes before Bernhardt was scheduled to speak. Other news outlets were forced to follow in AP’s wake, posting their own stories that relied on a statement put out by Interior.

For seizing on a stray reference and reporting it out into a significant APNewsBreak on wolves, Brown and Flesher win this week’s Best of the States.

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Feb. 01, 2019

Best of the States

Trump rollbacks benefit fossil fuel industry but carry steep cost

Over the past two years, the Trump administration has relentlessly moved to relax or repeal major environmental and safety rules for the fossil fuels industry to further its energy goals. Each change was reported by news outlets, including the AP. But Billings, Montana, correspondent and environment team member Matthew Brown decided to look more deeply into the highly touted savings to industry as well as the societal costs.

Brown painstakingly examined 11 major rules targeted by Trump’s administration, wading through many thousands of pages of government documents. Brown identified $11.6 billion in potential savings for companies that produce, use and transport fossil fuels, with billions more expected from a freeze of vehicle fuel efficiency standards that will hike fuel consumption.

But Brown also discovered that those savings will come at a steep cost, including more premature deaths and illnesses from air pollution, increased greenhouse gas emissions and additional derailments of trains carrying explosive fuels.

His Only on AP story ran on front pages of at least 16 newspapers and on numerous web sites. The Washington Post displayed both the main-bar the accompanying glance.

For in-depth reporting and comprehensive accounting of the administration’s actions on important environmental and safety issues, Brown wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Nov. 23, 2018

Best of the Week

Tim Reiterman, survivor of airstrip attack, tells story of the Jonestown mass murders

When Tim Reiterman set out to tell the story of the 40th anniversary of the Jonestown mass murders and suicides, he didn’t want to retread territory he’d covered with previous anniversary stories, or rely solely on his own harrowing experiences in the South American jungle.

Instead, Reiterman mainly focused on those he hadn’t interviewed before, including the adopted black son of the Rev. Jim Jones. He also focused on those who grew up in the Peoples Temple, or joined as teenagers. These survivors, due to happenstance or their own efforts, were all away from the Jonestown community in Guyana when Jones ordered his followers to drink flavored poison.

The order that ended 900 lives came after a California congressman, temple defectors and journalists including Reiterman were ambushed on a nearby airstrip. The Nov. 18, 1978 attack killed U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, as well as Reiterman’s photojournalist colleague at the San Francisco Examiner, and three others. Reiterman was wounded in the attack, but went on to shoot photos of the bloody aftermath and write a detailed account two days later.

Reiterman’s approach to the 40th anniversary provided an unparalleled look into the massacre through the eyes of survivors who had to go on grieving close family members and forge new lives back in the United States. It also allowed Reiterman the opportunity to explain the tragedy for readers and viewers who might only know its broad outlines, if that. The all-formats package Reiterman wrote and helped coordinate – with assistance from staffers in all formats throughout the AP – wins this week’s Best of the Week.

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Oct. 19, 2018

Best of the States

High-profile Georgia race focuses national attention on voter ID requirements

In the current political and media environment, it’s not often that a state politics story without President Donald Trump’s name in it drives a national political conversation for almost a week.

But that’s what happened when Atlanta-based newsperson Ben Nadler published a look at Georgia’s “exact match” voter registration verification process and other policies backed by Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Kemp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, faces Democrat Stacey Abrams, vying to become the first black female governor of any state.

According to records obtained by Nadler from Kemps office through a public records request, 53,000 registrations – 70 percent of them from black applicants – were on hold with less than a month before the Nov. 6 election. Nadler also found that Kemp’s office has cancelled more than 1.4 million inactive voter registrations since 2012 – nearly 670,000 registrations in 2017 alone.

The story got tremendous play with AP customers over multiple news cycles and lit up social media.

For his deep look at a critical issue in Georgia’s high-stakes gubernatorial election and driving a national political discussion for days, Nadler wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 20, 2018

Best of the States

AP investigation: Pence family’s failed gas station empire cost taxpayers millions to clean up

Indianapolis correspondent Brian Slodysko’s investigative story started from one sentence buried in a news release. It said that the public was paying for environmental cleanup at a contaminated petroleum storage site in Indianapolis that Vice President Mike Pence’s family abandoned after their gas station empire went bankrupt in 2004. The release didn’t mention Pence, just Kiel Brothers.

After attending a demolition celebration, where he photographed a crew tearing down a massive tank that had long-blighted a neighborhood, Slodysko worked over the coming months to detail how extensive contamination from the business was – and quantify the public cost.

The result: Indiana taxpayers paid more than $21 million to clean up after the company, in all likelihood a conservative figure because many of the documents were redacted, missing or incomplete.

But cost alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Slodysko’s review of public records showed that the Pence family business – which was run by Mike Pence’s older brother Greg, who is now running for Congress – repeatedly received favorable treatment from the state.

The story ran, or was teased, on the front page of at least eight Indiana papers, including the Indianapolis Star, which ran the story and photo across the top. It was also featured on the website of the Columbus Republic, Mike Pence’s hometown newspaper.

For an investigation that revealed the millions of tax dollars used to clean up more than 85 contaminated sites in three states, Slodysko earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 13, 2018

Best of the Week

AP Exclusive: EPA's Pruitt spent millions on security, travel

Environmental Protection Administrator Scott Pruitt’s lavish spending and deep concerns about security had put his future in the Trump Cabinet in jeopardy. But what was the cost to taxpayers?

AP beat reporter Michael Biesecker, whose aggressive coverage of Pruitt began more than a year ago when Trump nominated him for the EPA post, began working sources still at the agency and those who had left in search of the answer. His findings – that Pruitt spent about a whopping $3 million on security in the first year – win the Beat of the Week award.

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Jan. 19, 2018

Best of the States

Strong sourcing, teamwork put AP ahead on offshore drilling news

For Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout, the first day of the legislative session began with the usual pomp and circumstance, and Gov. Rick Scott’s annual state of the state speech. From there it took a quick turn.

A source in Scott’s office called Fineout at around 4 p.m. to say that Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke would be flying in from Atlanta to meet with the governor – and both would be willing to talk to the media afterward. Fineout immediately emailed Matthew Daly in Washington, who covers Interior, and who had tapped into a key political problem in the Trump administration' recently announced offshore drilling plan: Republican governors were not on board.

At around 6 p.m. Zinke and Scott strode through Tallahassee’s small airport and dropped the news that Florida would be removed from the administration’s oil drilling plan. Before the two officials stopped talking, Fineout emailed Daly in D.C. to let him know the news that would soon create a torrent of criticism from other states that oppose the oil drilling plan. By the time Fineout got back to his car in the parking lot, Daly was moving the news alert.

Daly and Fineout’s model of teamwork put AP so far ahead some in the competition didn’t bother to catch up. For their initiative and coordinated effort to give AP an important beat, Fineout and Daly share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Dec. 08, 2017

Best of the Week

AP reveals how dirty US fuel byproduct contributes to India’s dangerously polluted air

Oil extracted from the tar sands of Canada has contributed to booming production among American refineries, but it also has created a messy legacy: Ton upon ton of a filthy byproduct called petroleum coke. U.S. utilities don’t want it because of its extremely high sulfur content, leaving refineries with one option – getting rid of it – because stockpiling had stirred community outcries. Tammy Webber, a Chicago-based reporter with the environmental beat team, wondered: If refineries couldn’t offload the substance in the U.S., what were they doing with it?

Through a year’s worth of detective work, Webber and her beat team colleague in New Delhi, Katy Daigle, traced the shadowy network that trades in oil refineries' bottom-of-the-barrel leftovers. They found that India was the leading destination of “petcoke” from the U.S., and Indian officials had no idea the amount of petcoke flowing into the country was 20 times more than just six years before. Nor did they know how it was being used in a country already choking on some of the world’s dirtiest air.

Within 24 hours of the story hitting the wire, India’s government announced it would phase out imports of petcoke and had begun working on a policy to end the practice.

For revealing the secretive transport of petroleum coke from the U.S. to one of the world’s most polluted countries, and for drawing an immediate reaction from the government of India, Webber and Daigle win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 29, 2017

Best of the Week

AP staffers surmount dual disasters in Mexico and Puerto Rico

First, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Mexico, killing hundreds. Then, a day later, a category 4 hurricane pummeled Puerto Rico, leaving millions of people without power and with little water.

Two major calamities, one sterling response: Staffers of The Associated Press went to heroic lengths to tell the world the stories of two places battered by disaster. Their efforts were led to extraordinary achievements – in text, photos and video – and the Beat of the Week.

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