June 07, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Seoul bureau avoids false reports of North Korean purge

for healthy skepticism over a South Korean newspaper’s report of a major purge in North Korea. That saved AP from the embarrassment suffered by some other media as North Korean state media began showing images of the supposedly purged officials with leader Kim Jong Un. The Seoul bureau recognized the danger signs, producing a story that acknowledged the report while also sounding a note of caution. Several South Korean media outlets noted how AP emphasized the suspect nature of the initial report. https://bit.ly/2HYvGTN

May 24, 2019

Best of the Week

Sky-high reporting and smart use of all formats puts AP ahead amid Persian Gulf tensions

As tensions between Iran, its neighbors and the United States ratcheted up last week, AP’s staff in Baghdad, Dubai and Tehran turned out aggressive, yet cautious coverage, bringing facts and unique perspectives to the tense and escalating situation in the Persian Gulf, often well ahead of the competition.

Those stories included reports of “sabotaged” oil tankers off the coast of the UAE, and AP broke the news that Iran had quadrupled its uranium enrichment.

Meanwhile, AP’s Tehran team produced an all-formats piece on the mood of people on the city’s streets that could not be matched by competitors, and AP was first to report an FAA warning that Iran could misidentify commercial flights in the region.

AP was also aggressive on related developments, ensuring that clients had video and text coverage of tweets by President Donald Trump and Iranian officials.

For smart judgment, planning and effective use of AP’s resources to break news and bring facts to a region on edge, the team of Jon Gambrell, Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Mehdi Fattahi, Bassem Mroue, Nasser Karimi and Vahid Salemi wins AP's Best of the Week, with the support of their colleagues and contributors in the region.

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April 19, 2019

Best of the States

FOIA checklist enables reporter to break news in case of missing boy’s impostor

Knowing what information can be obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIAs) from various public agencies is critical to breaking news. And keeping a checklist of those information gold mines is key to accessing that knowledge, Columbus, Ohio-based reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins has found.

Welsh-Huggins used those skills to great effect in the case of the man accused of pulling a cruel hoax by pretending to be a long-missing Illinois boy. The story captured the nation’s attention and set reporters in motion trying to flesh out the background of a 23-year-old ex-con who Ohio authorities say faked being Timmothy Pitzen. Pitzen was 6 years old when he disappeared in 2011.

Welsh-Huggins’ checklist for enterprise off the news includes FOIAs to all agencies a suspect has had contact with. He filed a FOIA with the Ohio corrections department to obtain access to the disciplinary records of suspect Brian Rini, knowing from experience that the agency would release them.

A few days later the agency handed him 15 disciplinary reports showing that Rini was someone who liked to fabricate stories – including things as mundane as being short of toilet paper and as serious as being raped by a guard.

The AP was alone with the story, which got strong play in Ohio and across the country.

For using his knowledge of FOIA to break news on this highly competitive story, Welsh-Huggins wins this week’s Best of the States.

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April 12, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP exposes network of scam Facebook ads using politicians’ images

for acting on an email to the AP Fact Check team from the Nevada governor’s office, alerting the team to scam ads on Facebook that used photos of politicians to offer unsuspecting homeowners lucrative tax incentives for installing solar panels. Seitz and Anderson uncovered a long-running, widespread scam – connected to a man previously sued by the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising – that exposed the threat of harvesting personal data from unwitting users, as well as Facebook’s inability to police political scam ads ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. https://bit.ly/2uYB5CN

April 05, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Florida targeting massage parlor prostitution, trafficking

When police busted several massage parlors engaging in prostitution in Florida in February, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft drew all the attention, but hundreds of other men were also charged in what seemed like a new approach for Florida authorities.

AP Florida reporters Mike Schneider, Orlando, and Terry Spencer, West Palm Beach, seized on the Kraft-driven attention to dig into legal issues surrounding massage parlors and prostitution in Florida. With a deep dive into state records and a key interview with a local source, the pair landed an AP Exclusive that showed a change in strategy: Usually only low-level massage therapists were arrested. Owners were rarely charged and typically faced only fines and probation. Johns typically were not charged at all.

But the recent investigation had instead focused heavily on the possibility of widespread human trafficking. Several spa owners were charged with felonies, and authorities also charged 300 men accused of being patrons, including Kraft and the former president of Citigroup. The Martin County sheriff told Spencer that he wanted to shut down the sex-massage industry in part by targeting the demand side.

Strong play included prominent display in The Washington Post.

For their enterprising use of state records and source-building to find an AP Exclusive in a story that drew enormous global attention, Schneider and Spencer win this week’s Best of States award.

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Sept. 21, 2018

Best of the Week

AP and partners document Puerto Rico hurricane deaths

Colleagues,

Welcome to Best of the Week.

This officially marks a rebirth of sorts for our weekly global staff contest, which celebrates some of the best work from around the AP world.

This week’s winner celebrates a great team effort by colleagues in Latin America and beyond, as well as a really productive partnership with two other news organizations. It’s creative and insightful work that breaks news and includes great visual journalism and innovative presentation. It rose to the top of an impressive field of entries.

Today, and each Friday going forward, the weekly winner is revealed at the Global News Meeting at 9:15 a.m. ET, which all AP staff are invited to attend.

Please join me in congratulating this week’s honorees.

BC

Since the early days after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, the debate over the death toll has raged. The Trump administration seized on initial reports that fewer than 100 people had died, but those numbers belied the scope of the devastation. The storm left the island without electricity for months, hospitals and other key infrastructure shuttered, roads unpassable and pharmacies closed.

In June, Caribbean News Director Mike Weissenstein in Havana forged a partnership with Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism and U.S.-based news site Quartz to undertake the most comprehensive list to date of Puerto Ricans who died in the wake of the storm.

For the project, Weissenstein, San Juan newswoman Danica Coto, Washington-based data journalist Larry Fenn, New York-based reporter Claudia Torrens, Miami-based reporter Gisela Salomon, Washington-based reporters Luis Alonso and Ben Fox, as well as senior Havana-based producer Chris Gillette, Havana photographer Ramon Espinosa, Santo Domingo reporter Ezequiel Lopez Blanco, Mexico-based digital producer Dario Lopez, New York-based motion graphics producer Peter Hamlin and enterprise editor Raghuram Vadarevu, based in Phoenix, share the Best of the Week award-

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Sept. 14, 2018

Best of the Week

Trafficked Myanmar ‘bride’ escapes Chinese captivity – but loses her son

The team – Todd Pitman, Esther Htusan and Jerry Harmer – had gone to Kachin state to report on the war between Kachin rebels and Myanmar’s army. Near the end of their trip, they decided to look into a story Htusan wanted to do on bride trafficking. The lead was vague and the team wasn’t sure where it would take them.

But then, at a refugee camp, they met Marip Lu. And they knew immediately this was a story that had to be told.

With major contribution by Beijing staffers Shanshan Wang, Yanan Wang, Han Guan Ng and Dake Kang, they tell the harrowing tale of a woman who was kidnapped, held in captivity, raped and then forced to make the choice between freedom and her child. This powerful story, reported and told with great sensitivity, earns Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 09, 2018

Best of the Week

Of Peacock and Gypsy: New Australian law helps unite sperm donors and offspring

The best stories sometimes present themselves not in the newsroom but in our personal lives, in the most random of ways. We just have to be paying attention – and thinking like reporters – to notice them.

That’s what Sydney-based enterprise writer Kristen Gelineau was doing when a friend mentioned he’d found out through an Ancestry.com DNA test that his biological father was a sperm donor. The friend then told Gelineau about a new law in the Australian state of Victoria, which gave offspring of long-anonymous sperm and egg donors the right to know who the donors were. Gelineau had missed the news of the law, but immediately started researching it and thought “Wow. Now THIS is a story!!”

She was right – and her multi-format account of one such unique reunion, told in ways both comic and moving, wins Beat of the Week for Gelineau, enterprise photographer Maye-E Wong, NY-based digital storytelling producer Natalie Castañeda and New Delhi-based videojournalist Shonal Ganguly.

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May 31, 2018

Best of the States

Mentally disabled man made false confession to murder in 1998 – now it's used against him

A mentally disabled Louisiana man walked free last week after 20 years in prison for a killing his attorneys say he didn't commit. But New Orleans reporter Janet McConnaughey questioned why his plea agreement blames him for obstructing justice.

Corey Williams was a 16-year-old who still sucked his thumb, often wet himself and had been hospitalized for extreme lead poisoning when Shreveport, Louisiana, police brought him in for questioning in 1998 about a shooting that killed a pizza deliveryman.

For hours, he said he was innocent. Finally, Williams told police he did it and wanted to go home and lie down.

Two decades later, with doubts swirling around his murder conviction and the case submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court for review, Williams accepted a plea agreement, pleading guilty to manslaughter and obstructing justice.

McConnaughey asked the district attorney's office for documentation outlining the plea deal. There it was: Williams said he’d obstructed justice by removing evidence from the crime scene and by providing “a false inculpatory statement to police." Williams’ signature was in inch-high printing, with big circles over the i’s.

McConnaughey’s story received strong use by AP customers. For pursuing the underlying details and shining a light on a deal that set Williams free – but only after putting the blame on himself for a false confession – McConnaughey 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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May 17, 2018

Best of the Week

Russian hackers posed as Islamic State to harass US military wives

The threat over her phone to Army wife Angela Ricketts was terrifying. “Dear Angela!” it said. “Bloody Valentine’s Day!”

“We know everything about you, your husband and your children,” it continued, claiming that Islamic State militants had penetrated her computer. “We’re much closer than you can even imagine.”

More than three years after Ricketts and four other military wives received this and other alarming messages, AP London-based cybersecurity reporter Raphael Satter unraveled the secret behind it all. Satter drew on a massive hit list of Russian hacking targets, focusing on a group of five women whose names were clustered together on the list. All reported having received death threats from a mysterious group calling itself CyberCaliphate back in 2015.

The threats were not from Middle Eastern terrorists at all, but hackers from the Russian group widely dubbed Fancy Bear – the same gang who later broke into the Democratic Party’s emails and interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

For revealing the latest wrinkle in the Russian hacking story, Satter earns the Beat of the Week.

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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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Dec. 15, 2017

Best of the Week

AP reveals identity of secret blogger known as Mosul Eye

He was known as Mosul Eye, a blogger who for years was one of the world’s main sources of news about Islamic State atrocities in his hometown of Mosul, Iraq. But the burden of anonymity was growing too heavy for him to bear.

He mentioned wistfully in messages to reporters Lori Hinnant and Maggie Michael that he missed his own name. Hinnant suggested he might want to think about revealing his identity, but let the subject drop. He agonized over when and how he would reveal it.

The when, it turns out, was Nov. 15, 2017. The how was in an interview to The Associated Press.

For bringing the world the story of Omar Mohammed, the mysterious historian-turned-blogger who risked his life to expose the horrors of Islamic State rule in Mosul, Hinnant and Michael win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 24, 2017

Best of the Week

AP Exclusive: US scientists try first gene editing in the body

Brian Madeux made medical history on Nov. 13 when he became the first person to have his genes edited inside his body in an attempt to cure a genetic disease. And the Associated Press was the only news organization to document this experiment, which could advance medicine by giving a potentially safer, more precise and permanent way to do gene therapy.

Chief Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione got word earlier this year that the gene editing work would soon begin. She negotiated exclusive rights to the story, giving AP sole access to the patient, doctors and scientists involved. She spent six months reporting the story, teaming with journalists in three cities through several false starts and twists and turns to deliver an all-formats package.

For their enterprising work on a groundbreaking story, the team of Marchione, Kathy Young, Terry Chea, Eric Risberg and Marshall Ritzel wins Beat of the Week.

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July 20, 2017

Best of the Week

AP first to identify, interview Russian-American lobbyist at Trump Jr. meeting

The sensational news about a campaign-season meeting involving a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump’s inner circle – including his son, Donald Trump Jr. – developed over six days, with details and accounts changing almost by the hour. Reports trickled out that another man also was at the meeting to represent Russian interests.

With all major news organizations in hot pursuit, Washington’s Desmond Butler was the first to nail the identity of the lobbyist in question and also to nab the first on-the-record interview with him. For tenacious source work, Butler wins Beat of the Week.

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