Nov. 15, 2019

Best of the States

AP Investigation: At least 1,680 aging US dams pose a risk to thousands

Severe storms, extreme flooding and aging infrastructure present a rising peril throughout much of the U.S., but trying to assess the risks has been extremely difficult. The reason: The federal agency overseeing the nation’s dams has sealed off the most essential information about their condition and the potential threats to those living downstream.

Prying that information loose took the kind of dedicated, 50-state effort that the AP is uniquely positioned to pursue. Data journalist Michelle Minkoff and Northern New England correspondent Michael Casey, collaborating with state government team member David Lieb and a visual team led by video journalist Allen Breed – as well as a cast of AP state reporters, photographers and data journalists – produced a deeply reported and visually stunning package revealing the dangers of nearly 1,700 aging dams, from Hawaii to Massachusetts.

Some two years in the making, the package resulted in explosive play – more than 100,000 page views on AP News and more than 80 front pages. 

For their exhaustive efforts to unlock critical public information and relay the findings in an engaging fashion, Minkoff, Casey, Lieb and Breed win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 01, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Golf rained out; photographer makes an unscheduled stop

for exclusive photos and video of flooding outside Tokyo. Lee, on assignment in Japan for a PGA golf tournament, was heading back to the hotel on a shuttle bus after rain washed out the second day of the tournament. When he noticed a flooded street in an area east of Tokyo that had been hit hard by a recent typhoon, he reacted quickly, stopping the shuttle bus and leaping out into knee-high flood waters to shoot exclusive photos, video and, later, call in details for the print story. The images were used widely in Korea and Japan, including by major Japanese papers. https://bit.ly/2Pt7ywJ

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Aug. 16, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: States boost flood prevention as damage costs soar

for an AP analysis that identified $1.2 billion in estimated damage from the flooding and severe weather that affected roughly half the states this year, while also finding that many Midwest states are starting to pour tens of millions of dollars into protections against flooding that is expected to become more frequent and destructive as global temperatures rise. Lieb developed his damage figure by contacting the relevant official in every state that has experienced major flooding or severe storms this year, putting a fresh take on a topic that, when the flooding was occurring, was among the biggest stories in the U.S. https://bit.ly/2TpSi3D

June 28, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats: New threat for endangered Great Lakes bird

for gaining exclusive all-formats access to an already endangered shorebird’s primary nesting area. The AP team documented the plight of the piping plovers being squeezed out by surging Great Lakes waters during this spring’s Midwestern flooding. The package put the birds’ story into the broader context of climate change, explaining that the rising waters result from prolonged heavy rainfall and snowmelt that some experts believe will become a “new normal,” threatening the fragile Great Lakes coastline habitat. https://bit.ly/2NhTVB4

June 07, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Government’s flood buyout costs rising as storms intensify

for an AP analysis of federal data showing that the government’s costs to buy out homes in flood-prone areas have been rising over the past decade. With the data made available for localizations by major AP customers, the richly reported and photographed story centered on a small Missouri town that just happened to be in danger of flooding yet again at the time of publication. Play showed that AP’s customers were hungry for content that went beyond the spot coverage of the epic flooding inundating the country’s midsection.https://bit.ly/2wzF35R

July 13, 2018

Best of the Week

Hallmarks of AP journalism showcased in scoops on immigration, Thai cave rescue

Exclusivity and precision – both hallmarks of the AP – were on full display last week as teams of journalists covered the roiling immigration debate in the U.S. and the gripping story of the Thai boys soccer team trapped deep inside a flooded cave.

A day after America’s Independence Day, investigative reporters Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke revealed that some immigrant U.S. Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship were being discharged.

In Thailand days later, an AP team was first to accurately report that Thai authorities had freed four boys from the cave, rather than six as other media said. It was part of a two-week, around-the-clock multi-format effort that included unmatched live shots from the scene.

For exclusive reporting that forced readers – and customers – to take notice, Mendoza and Burke and the Thailand team of Tassanee Vejpongsa, Chris Blake, Yves Dam Van, Shonal Ganguly, Sakchai Lalit, Kaweewit Kaewjinda, Jason Corben, Grant Peck, Somphong Saisomboon and Preeyapa Khunsong share Beat of the Week prizes.

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Dec. 21, 2017

Best of the States

Reporters spotlight burgeoning crisis: More kids entering foster care due to the opioid epidemic

They are the littlest victims of the opioid crisis: Tens of thousands of children forced into foster care because of a parent’s drug use. On Nov. 30, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released data from 2016 showing new foster care cases involving parents using drugs have hit the highest point in more than three decades of record-keeping.

Less than two weeks after that data was released, the AP transmitted a package of stories focused on two of the states with the biggest one-year increases: Indiana and Georgia.

The project came about thanks to an analysis begun months earlier by Washington-based data journalist Meghan Hoyer. Hoyer worked with an analyst to access exclusive county-level data on foster care entries over the past 15 years, giving the AP a unique, comprehensive and localized look at the issues surrounding children entering the system.

That data allowed New York-based national writers Matt Sedensky to focus his reporting in Indiana, where parental drug use was increasingly cited as the reason for foster care removals. Sedensky convinced the chief juvenile court judge to grant him access to courtrooms and files normally shielded from public view. He also worked to get a caseworker to let him follow her as she visited families caring for children removed from their birth parents’ custody, and spent time with adoptive families, medical professionals and others affected.

A second story, by national writer David Crary, also based in New York, zoomed in on one mother who had lost her three daughters to foster care and her battle to overcome addiction and win them back. In interviews and email exchanges over several months, mother of three Kim Silvers told wrenching details of her experience – including an interview at her joyous graduation ceremony after completing the program.

For providing moving insight into the plight of the youngest victims of the opioid crisis and the struggle of some families to break free, Hoyer, Sedensky and Crary share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Oct. 06, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Chief Texas oil regulator vacationed at the height of hurricane

Hurricane Harvey killed more than 80 people and triggered historic flooding in Houston and across large swaths of Texas. But it also sparked oil spills and gasoline shortages. Those presented major tests for the state’s Railroad Commission, which, despite its peculiar name, actually regulates the energy industry – with historically lax enforcement.

So when the commission’s executive director, Kim Corley, abruptly resigned, the timing and circumstances made Austin newsman Paul Weber curious. He began making calls and soon secured a tip: Corley had been on vacation and unreachable at the height of the Category 4 hurricane that walloped the industry she was paid $180,000 annually to safeguard.

For his exclusive on a hyper-competitive story, Weber wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 08, 2017

Best of the Week

Toxic waste sites flooded; AP on the scene ahead of EPA

Hurricane Harvey inundated homes, flooded freeways and swamped entire neighborhoods. Florida-based reporter Jason Dearen, who was deployed to Houston to help cover the disaster, knew there might be something else submerged beneath the turbid floodwaters. Superfund sites, some of the nation’s most contaminated places, are scattered along the low-lying Gulf coastline, including in the Houston area.

Dearen had been trying to obtain a copy of a federal study about the risks of flooding at those sites from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but had been stonewalled for two weeks. Harvey’s destruction provided new urgency to his request. For help, he reached out to Washington investigative reporter Michael Biesecker, a fellow member of the AP’s environmental beat team.

Through creative reporting that relied on data, collaboration and Dearen’s newfound skills as a boat man, they became the first journalists to report on the extent of flooding at contaminated waste sites in and around Houston. The on-site observations by Dearen and freelance 360-video producer Claudia Prat raised concerns that some of the decades-old toxic stew left over from the oil, gas and chemical industries may have mixed with floodwaters. They also were on the ground – and on the water – before the EPA’s own inspectors. For their efforts, Dearen, Biesecker and Prat win Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 08, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Fewer carrying flood insurance despite the risk

Floodwaters from Harvey were still rising in the Houston area and AP’s responsibilities to thoroughly cover breaking news developments across the region hadn’t diminished, but already there was an appetite for investigative reporting on the disaster. An AP team from across the company quickly mobilized.

Among the early efforts was a package of stories, data, photos and an interactive revealing that fewer Americans, in the Houston area and nationally, were buying flood insurance than just five years ago, despite serious risks from flooding.

The stories relied on federal data analyzed by Meghan Hoyer and reporting from Business writers Bernard Condon and Ken Sweet in New York as well as staff writers Terry Spencer in south Florida, Michael Kunzelman in Baton Rouge and Jeff Donn in Boston, with an interactive national map of flood insurance policies by Maureen Linke in Washington.

For their efforts that produced exclusive content with relevance to national and local media, Hoyer, Spencer, Kunzelman, Sweet, Condon, Donn and Linke will share this week’s Best of States award.

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April 21, 2017

Best of the States

AP investigation reveals federal judge impaired by alcoholism

Baton Rouge-based reporter Michael Kunzelman was reporting on the police killing of a black man outside a convenience store last summer when a source called to encourage him to look into a case in front of a federal judge that had been mysteriously reassigned. It wasn’t the easiest time to be chasing down tips: the Alton Sterling shooting was swiftly followed by the killings of three law enforcement officials and then catastrophic flooding in Louisiana’s capital.

But Kunzelman didn’t forget about it.

When he was free, he began an investigation into the performance of U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi, work that would take months and aggressive use of public records. It culminated with the discovery last week she’d been ordered to seek treatment for alcoholism so severe that a colleague believed she couldn’t take care of herself. For his work Kunzelman wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 24, 2016

Best of the States

Historic flooding in Louisiana

Many media were slow to respond to the historic flooding in Louisiana this month, but not The Associated Press. AP journalists provided timely, perceptive and poignant spot and enterprise stories from the very first hours of the torrential rains.

Aggressive cross-format coverage by a staff focused on stories of real people were key to covering the disaster. In text, the reporters included New Orleans administrative correspondent Rebecca Santana; Baton Rouge correspondent Melinda Deslatte; and newsmen Mike Kunzelman in Baton Rouge and Kevin McGill in New Orleans. Freelance photographer Max Becherer and video journalists John Mone of Houston, and Josh Replogle of Miami rounded out AP's team on the ground.

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