May 22, 2020

Best of the Week

A matter of trust: Covering a remarkable funeral in the midst of the pandemic

Thousands upon thousands of funerals, many not related to COVID-19, are being held during the global pandemic. Washington photographer Jacquelyn Martin provided a very personal look at one of them. 

Martin spent weeks getting to know the family whose mother had died, gaining their trust. But the family’s plans for an elaborate funeral were interrupted by the pandemic and social distancing rules. More weeks passed before the funeral home said it could go ahead. Martin was ready, poised with her camera and notebook, given extraordinary access to a family’s very private moment.

Her moving text and photos captured the essence of the funeral and the family's grief – and its celebration of a life. “Beautiful images shown with so much dignity,” one person wrote.

For her heartfelt account and elegant images, Jacquelyn Martin receives AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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May 15, 2020

Best of the States

Bearing witness as COVID-19 ravages rural Georgia counties

Telling the stories of people who have suffered devastating losses is difficult at the best of times, but with this story, focused on one predominantly black rural county in southwestern Georgia where the pandemic is hitting hardest among some of America’s most exposed, the all-formats team of Claire Galofaro, Brynn Anderson and Angie Wang also had to cope with the challenges of reporting in a pandemic. 

The journalists knew they would have to take cautious risks to tell this important story, while also dealing with the emotional and ethical issues of potentially putting the people they spoke to in danger. They spent much of their time sorting out how to best protect their sources, while also getting a story worthy of the risk those sources were taking to tell it.

That story, intimately told and richly illustrated, connected with readers, some of whom said it made the pandemic finally feel real. Many said it inspired them to act, and others wrote to compliment the journalism. 

For a significant, poignant package that reveals in personal terms the already deep inequities exploited by the pandemic, Galofaro, Anderson and Wang are recognized with this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 10, 2020

Best of the Week

Rare glimpses inside the pandemic: An ICU in Spain, a New York funeral home

“No.”

“Never.”

“Not possible.”  

“Can't be done.”

Photographer Felipe Dana and video journalist Renata Brito were told in no uncertain terms that Spanish hospitals and their intensive care units in particular would not allow access to journalists reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. And in New York, the all-formats team of John Minchillo, Robert Bumsted and Jake Seiner was given largely the same answer when they tried to get into a funeral home to document the surge of victims literally piling up.

Neither team took no for an answer. Both teams produced haunting images and text documenting the stark reality wrought by the pandemic.

The tenacity, skill and bravery on display from both teams was the difference between getting the story out to the world and revealing the human cost of the crisis – or not. It’s the latest example of AP journalists proving that “No. Never. Not Possible,” does not apply to them. And it is why Dana, Brito, Minchillo, Bumsted and Seiner share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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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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Dec. 06, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats coverage of Vietnam funerals for trafficking victims

for overcoming restrictions imposed by the government to deliver compelling cross-format coverage of funeral rites and burials for some the 39 Vietnamese victims of human trafficking, whose bodies where discovered inside a truck in the England in October. Hau reported for text, captured stills and delivered live video.https://bit.ly/2OWlte9https://bit.ly/2RuutsBhttps://bit.ly/2rWCbkk

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Dec. 14, 2018

Best of the States

Years of planning pay off in ‘picture perfect’ coverage of Bush funeral events

For more than a decade, Washington photo editor Jon Elswick has negotiated with the Department of Defense over coverage plans for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, while Houston photojournalist David Phillip fostered a relationship with the Bush family and their spokesman to secure AP’s shooting positions for the eventual funeral events.

Those relationships were crucial to arranging and executing coverage, paving the way for more than two dozen staffers to parachute into Washington, Houston and College Station, Texas, where they produced outstanding photos in real time and for the history books.

Among the highlights: Photographer Morry Gash fired a remote-controlled camera that captured a stunning bird’s-eye view of the U.S. Capitol rotunda during visitation and services, and David Phillip negotiated to shoot inside the railroad car carrying the coffin as the funeral train passed through Texas. Phillip called it “the most incredible event I have ever covered.”

The photo coverage was part of an impressive dayslong cross-format effort by scores of AP staff across the country and globe that included hours of live video and spot and breaking text, video, audio and graphics coverage that explored Bush’s life and presidency from every angle.

For exceptional planning and execution on one of the largest news events of the year, this week’s Best of the States goes to the team of photo staff covering the Bush funeral.

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Sept. 28, 2018

Best of the Week

AP dominates multiformat coverage of attack on Iran military parade

A Sept. 22 assault on a military parade in Iran was the country’s deadliest terror attack in nearly a decade. AP's entire team of journalists in Tehran drew on its vast expertise to convey key details and the broader context of the shootings that killed at least 25 people and wounded 60 others.

Staffers swung into action soon after gunmen disguised as soldiers suddenly opened fire on the annual military celebration in Ahvaz, in southwestern Iran. The attack sent parade viewers fleeing in panic, the scenes of chaos and fear broadcast live across the country.

For their dominating work in covering the breaking news, the Tehran-based team of Nasser Karimi, Ami Vahdat, Vahid Salemi, Ebrahim Noroozi, Mehdi Fattahi, Mohammad Nasiri, Mohsen Ganji, Saeed Sarmadi share the Best of the Week award.

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Sept. 07, 2018

Best of the Week

AP team parlays Aretha Franklin pool coverage into exclusives

The farewell to the Queen of Soul promised to be an extravaganza – days of tributes, musical performances and a marathon funeral.

The AP team diligently prepared for the events and when the time came, the combined efforts of Detroit-based photographer Paul Sancya and Miami-based visual journalist Josh Replogle turned a pair of pool opportunities into two exclusives during the week of mourning for Aretha Franklin in Detroit.

Among the highlights: Sancya’s shot of Franklin lying in her casket with red heels clearly visible, video and photos of the singer in her final resting place and an exclusive interview with a controversial pastor.

Their work earns the Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Making the signature photo, discreetly, as family mourns McCain

Sometimes it takes a team. And a resourceful photographer.

Phoenix photographer Ross Franklin made a stunning image of Cindy McCain resting her head on the casket of her late husband Sen. John McCain during a family service in the Arizona state Capitol. Getting to this moment was a team effort, starting with great Washington contacts and relationships that gave the AP not one but two exclusive spots in the rotunda in Phoenix.

But given the solemnity of the event, there was no way to shoot the private ceremony using a motor drive to take bursts of frames – it would have been too loud and would have echoed throughout the rotunda. So Franklin agreed to shoot the entire event balanced on a ladder overlooking the scene from the balcony, with his camera in a noise muffling blimp – basically operating a camera that is wrapped in a big pillow.

When Cindy McCain approached the casket, Franklin had just one or two frames to capture the signature moment. He nailed it, and the photo was used everywhere, including a stunning display on the front of the Arizona Republic.

For his exceptional work, Ross Franklin wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 15, 2018

Best of the Week

All-formats coverage of deadly Guatemala volcano dominates play

After Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire erupted June 3, sending a fast-moving flow of superheated ash, rock and debris into villages, AP staffers sprang into action. Over the next week, they worked around the clock in difficult and often-perilous conditions to produce all-formats dispatches from the scene and from shelters and funerals. They told the stories of people who had lost dozens of family members in the explosion, authorities’ search for survivors and victims, and relatives’ own return to homes buried up to the rooftops in ash to dig, in many cases with their own hands.

For scoring numerous exclusives that included highly detailed drone video of the disaster and spectacular photos and video, Guatemala-based journalist Sonia Perez, Mexico City-based reporter Mark Stevenson, Bogota camera operator Marko Alvarez, Guatemala photographer Moises Castillo, Peru-based senior photographer Rodrigo Abd, and stringer photographer Luis Soto have earned the Beat of the Week.

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May 11, 2018

Best of the States

Illinois coroner to poor: Pay $1000 or county keeps remains

The tip that led to an exclusive by Chicago reporter Sara Burnett seemed outlandish: When poor people couldn't afford to bury their loved ones, a western Illinois coroner was cremating the bodies and keeping the ashes until the family paid $1,000. He’s continued the policy even though the state has resumed a program to pay for the funerals.

Burnett reported on a woman whose ex-husband and father of their three children died. They were both on disability and she couldn’t come up with the money, leaving the family to hold a memorial service with just a photograph and an empty container. Wendy Smith said she felt the policy was unfair. "I just think they pick on the people that are poor."

The coroner told Burnett that the policy started after the state, which for years has faced billion-dollar deficits, announced it was too broke to pay for indigent funerals and burials – shifting the cost to funeral homes and county coroners. Further, the coroner claimed only one woman was unhappy. But Burnett tracked down other families, and had a back-and-forth with the state about how much money was appropriated for the burial program

Within days, the state comptroller, citing The Associated Press story, weighed in that the coroner's practice was "disgusting behavior" and called for a ramped-up campaign to alert local officials that state-funded burial is again available.

For illuminating a questionable practice and how the state’s budget crisis continues to cause pain for the poor and vulnerable, Burnett earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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