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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