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

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Virtually no regulation of contaminated sludge used as crop fertilizer

for an all-formats package that holds state and federal regulators accountable for doing little or nothing to address rising concerns that sewage sludge, used as cheap farm fertilizer, is contaminating food with potentially harmful chemicals. The team interviewed numerous experts and officials about PFAS, a group of chemicals used in a wide variety of household products and industrial processes. They found concern that certain of these chemicals associated with increased risk of cancer and organ damage could wind up in the food chain fertilized by contaminated sludge. But they also found that the federal government and most states had done little if anything to assess or regulate the amount of PFAS in the sludge being spread on farm fields across America.https://bit.ly/2kRjDiihttps://bit.ly/2mmYxc2https://bit.ly/2lXGo4f

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Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats reveal: California to build world’s largest animal crossing

for reporting about the world’s largest animal crossing, planned for the U.S. 101 freeway northwest of Los Angeles. California transportation officials didn’t have much to say about the plan, but Weber connected with a source at the National Wildlife Federation, a major backer of the project. They gave AP access to plans, renderings and other images, and eventually the site itself. The organizers allowed the AP all-formats package, which received extraordinary play, serve as the project’s public announcement. https://bit.ly/2KXSGnl

July 05, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Potential conflict for Trump’s UN nominee

for exclusively obtaining documents that expose a potential conflict of interest for Kelly Craft, President Donald Trump’s nominee for United Nations ambassador, on the topics of climate change and fossil fuels. When senior Environmental Protection Agency officials sent an email to Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, the acknowledgment email they received wasn’t from the ambassador. It was from her husband, coal magnate Joseph Craft, a wealthy GOP donor who has joined the coal industry in pressing for access and regulatory relief from the EPA and the Trump administration. It wasn’t the first time the Crafts had blurred roles – and email accounts – raising questions as senators consider her nomination to the U.N. Knickmeyer found several other examples of potential conflicts. https://bit.ly/2LugYWy

July 05, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

New Jersey fails to identify polluters; governor promises fix

for accountability journalism made possible through an open records request, reporting that New Jersey environmental regulators had failed for nearly a decade to put out a legally required annual report on water pollution that identifies the state’s worst polluters and how the state is holding them responsible. His exclusive story drew a pledge by the governor that the publication of the reports would resume, and kudos from the state’s major news outlets. https://bit.ly/2LysvUS

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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May 10, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Tip leads to exposé on ‘lawless’ service dog industry

for turning a tip about a service dog trainer with a troubling track record into an exposé on the shocking lack of regulation in the industry. Breed found several examples around the country that highlight what one expert calls a “lawless” industry with a near complete absence of standards and oversight that leaves needy families vulnerable to incompetence and fraud. https://bit.ly/2J6t1sU

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. 08, 2019

Best of the States

The ‘Left Behind’; AP profiles the other victims of opioids

As the opioid epidemic barrels into its third decade, it’s increasingly hard to find fresh ways to report on the problem. One group that has always been present, usually in the background of stories, are the parents, hundreds of thousands of them who desperately tried to save their children, then buried them anyway. Louisville, Kentucky-based national writer Claire Galofaro chose to focus on them, the survivors who have lost the most to the epidemic.

The project involved journalists across formats throughout the country – Jae Hong, Steven Senne, Pat Semansky, Jeff Roberson, Mark Humphrey, Rodrique Ngowi, Krysta Fauria, Dario Lopez, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Carla Johnson – teaming with Galofaro and enterprise editors Pauline Arrillaga, Jeannie Ohm, Raghu Vadarevu and Enric Marti to think creatively about how text, video, multimedia and photos could work together.

The result was two beautifully written narratives paired with photographs, an extensive Q&A about the epidemic, a full video story and three digital videos in which we hear three different mothers talking about the extreme lengths they went to to try and save their children.

The series struck a raw nerve – engagement was extraordinary: The main story was No. 1 on apnews.com the day it ran, and it appeared on newspaper front pages nationwide. A week later, news outlets were still using it. Hundreds of readers sent emails and tweets. More than one person said that they felt like they were sitting with these families in their living rooms.

For a cross-format effort so intimate, so devastating, it recaptured the attention of a nation that had been exhausted by stories about the opioid epidemic, the team that produced the Left Behind package wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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Sept. 28, 2018

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Florence's environmental toll: coal ash and hog waste

for leading strong AP coverage of the devastation of Hurricane Florence. Biesecker drew on experience to warn readers that the storm would likely cause widespread water pollution from ruptured hog lagoons and swamped coal ash dumps, and scored a series of storm-related scoops. Helber captured iconic images including a widely used aerial shot that earned a rare two-page spread in Time magazine.https://bit.ly/2xMWdwMhttps://bit.ly/2NEn7lrhttps://bit.ly/2zw7WlNhttps://bit.ly/2Og1G9U

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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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March 22, 2018

Best of the Week

AP Exclusive: Kushner organization routinely filed false NYC housing documents

It started with a tip about tenants being harassed at a cluster of New York apartment buildings owned by Jared Kushner's family.

Bernard Condon, a New York-based business writer, began reporting the story last year, visiting buildings and interviewing the tenants, some of whom told similar stories of being subjected to loud construction at all hours, dust, rodents, lead paint in the air and heat suddenly shut off in the winter. Then, some were approached with offers of money to get them to move so the company could install higher-paying tenants.

But the tip did not truly develop until a tenant advocate source told Condon that Kushner Cos. had filed false paperwork for two buildings elsewhere in the city that made it easier to harass tenants during construction. Further, the organization had filed paperwork saying it had zero rent-regulated tenants in buildings throughout the city when, in fact, it had hundreds.

If the Kushner Cos. had disclosed those rent-regulated tenants, it could have triggered stricter city oversight, including possibly unscheduled "sweeps" on site by inspectors to keep the company from harassing tenants.

For dogged reporting that exposed the falsehoods of a company led by the president's son-in-law and trusted adviser, Condon earns the Beat of the Week.

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March 16, 2018

Best of the Week

Draining the swamp? AP reporters find at least 37 Trump administration officials with ethics waivers

It was a major catchphrase of Donald Trump’s campaign: He would “drain the swamp” in Washington.

But once Trump took office, Washington’s Michael Biesecker wasn’t seeing it. Government officials, it appeared, were working on issues they lobbied for on behalf of private clients. He set out to track the administration’s hiring and measure it against Trump’s pledge.

It did not measure up.

Biesecker and colleagues Juliet Linderman and Richard Lardner found that at least 37 appointees across the government had been granted ethics waivers, allowing them to regulate the very industries in which they had worked. For plumbing the depths of the swamp, their story is Beat of the Week.

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March 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Phone tip leads to shady company linked to border wall contract

The short Associated Press story out of San Diego about the first border wall contract awarded under the Trump administration made only a brief mention of the Omaha, Nebraska, company that had won the contract. But that prompted a woman to call the AP. She made several claims to Chicago-based Central Desk editor Jeff McMurray without offering proof, but he figured it was interesting enough to pass along. Omaha breaking news staffer Margery Beck was asked to check into the company.

As Beck examined state business records and court documents, she discovered that the company, SWF Constructors, operated at the same address as another business that had been sued a dozen times, including at least three times by the federal government, for failing to pay subcontractors on government projects. That company, Coastal Environmental Group, was also the subject of an Interior Department audit questioning $2 million in billing for a Superstorm Sandy cleanup contract.

For aggressive records-based reporting that resulted in a timely story no one else had, Beck receives this week’s Best of the States award.

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