Nov. 01, 2019

Best of the States

Experience, persistence pay off with breaking news: US to collect asylum seekers’ DNA

Immigration and Homeland Security reporter Colleen Long’s ears perked up in early October when she heard agency officials mention “CODIS” as they briefed reporters on the likelihood they would expand their practice of collecting DNA from migrants. 

CODIS, she knew from experience, was an FBI database usually associated with violent crimes, so Long was surprised to hear of its use in connection with migrants whose only crime was crossing the border illegally. Long followed up with detailed questions at the briefing but didn’t get answers, so she kept pressing officials.

Her persistence was rewarded with an advance briefing on the new rule, and additional details about how the DNA policy would be implemented. Long’s story moved hours ahead of the official announcement, becoming one of the most-read stories of the day. 

For making the early connection to the policy implications of the DNA database, then pressing the issue with officials until she had the exclusive details, Long earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Records show Montana official’s misuse of state vehicle

When the Helena Police Department cited the statute of limitations in declining to bring charges against Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton for misuse of a state-owned vehicle, Helena reporter Amy Hanson dug deeper.

After multiple public-records requests Hanson found that Secretary of State Corey Stapleton traveled tens of thousands of miles more than what had been previously reported, including many times when he had no official events on his calendar. And she found that the misuse continued until he turned in the vehicle in March, well within the statute of limitations.

For determined reporting that resulted in a textbook example of accountability journalism, Amy Hanson wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 20, 2019

Best of the Week

AP offers compelling takes on two oft-reported crises: Migrant rescues and opioid trafficking

They are crises that have received significant attention while playing out in different parts of the world, but the efforts of a trio of AP journalists have shed new light on both the perilous journey of migrants in the Mediterranean and the opioid epidemic in America.

The work of the journalists, Renata Brito aboard the Ocean Viking humanitarian ship sailing in the Mediterranean Sea, and Lindsay Whitehurst and Claire Galofaro in the U.S., tells the respective stories with a captivating clarity that resonated with readers and earned a rare tie in the Best of the Week contest. Each story demonstrated the profound storytelling power the AP can bring to complex stories with ingenuity, smart planning and teamwork.

Barcelona-based Brito wins for a story that she’s still living, and telling, from the Ocean Viking. Embedded with a ship that last week rescued 50 migrants fleeing violence in Africa, her dispatch, “Migrant escaping Libya torture: We will go to Europe or die,” showed in stark terms the journey that for many has ended in death.

Galofaro and Whitehurst, meanwhile, share the win with a very different but no-less-gripping tale: “The rise and fall of an Eagle Scout’s deadly fentanyl empire,” about a millennial who built a million-dollar empire of mail-order fentanyl-laced pills.

For packages that brought new insight and perspective to heavily covered stories with significant global impact, Brito, Galofaro and Whitehurst win AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Aug. 23, 2019

Best of the States

Foresight, persistence, sources put AP ahead on green card restrictions for legal immigrants

Few reporters were paying attention to a draft rule barring legal immigrants from getting green cards if they received benefits like Medicaid or food stamps – but AP’s Colleen Long was.

Long, AP’s Washington-based Homeland Security reporter, had spent months asking U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when the final rules would be published, making them official. With a heads-up from sources, she was eventually able to get an advance briefing and interview, writing the story just before heading off on vacation. Then, as soon as the rule appeared, she alerted the Washington desk to move the story, giving AP a major beat over other news organizations. By the time the White House and Homeland Security held briefings, Long already had all the key details on the wire.

For her skilled source-building, persistence and meticulous reporting, Long wins this week’s Best of the States honors.

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Aug. 23, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Many US employees feel devalued even in a booming job market

for documenting how the kinds of jobs Americans long enjoyed – permanent positions with stability, bonuses, pensions, benefits and opportunities to move up – have become rarer, which is why many don’t feel much like beneficiaries of what’s now the longest economic expansion on record. Drawing on economic research, government data and interviews with workers, Smith sketched a picture of lagging wages, eroding benefits and demands that employees do more without more pay. Her reporting concluded that the loyalty and security many say they once felt from their employers have diminished, and with it a measure of their satisfaction. https://bit.ly/2P914oj

Aug. 16, 2019

Best of the States

Source’s tip, weeks of planning put AP at scene of massive Mississippi immigration raids

Because San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat received a tip that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were planning massive raids on food processing plants, AP was uniquely positioned – literally – when ICE stormed seven Mississippi chicken processing plants and arrested 680 people, the largest workplace raid in a decade.

ICE’s acting Director Matthew Albence said that the investigation was so secret that even the White House didn’t know.

On the day of the raids, weeks of persistence and planning put AP way ahead of local and national media in the speed and depth of the report. Photographer Rogelio V. Solis was the only journalist on scene when about 600 agents simultaneously hit the plants, while his Jackson colleague, reporter Jeff Amy, got an exclusive interview with Albence.

Their multiday coverage received monster play, including 3 million social interactions for the first-day story alone.

For scoring scoops on a major ICE operation, Spagat, Amy and Solis are the winners of this week’s Best of the States honors.

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July 26, 2019

Best of the Week

AP hours ahead as Trump moves to end nearly all asylum at southern border

Washington-based homeland security reporter Colleen Long earned a key scoop – one that set the news agenda for days and left the competition scrabbling to catch up – when a source alerted her to a change in rules for those seeking asylum at the southern border: The rule would effectively end asylum for people coming from Central American countries and change decades of U.S. policy.

Following the tip, she also knew that she had a window of opportunity to drive her advantage home before the law was announced early the next morning. Long’s story caught other news organizations completely off guard and left major outlets to cite the AP for hours as they struggled to catch up.

For her deep knowledge of immigration policy, diligent reporting and outstanding speed of delivery on a story of vital interest, Colleen Long earns AP’s Best of the Week.

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July 19, 2019

Best of the Week

One face of immigration policy: 9-year-old in Texas still separated from Guatemalan family

Houston-based immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant uncovered a heartbreaking tale in his coverage of the lingering toll of President Donald Trump’s family separation policy: a 9-year-old boy, Byron Xol, who is still separated from his parents. The boy eventually landed in the home of a Texas family who took custody of the child, while his parents were deported to Guatemala.

Merchant had been looking for an opportunity to write a detailed narrative that would illustrate the stress that separations have on families. When he learned on short notice of Byron’s upcoming birthday, he decided it was the perfect time to tell the tale.

Merchant and his Houston colleagues – video journalist John Mone and photographer David Phillip – went to the boy’s current foster home outside Austin. Meanwhile, photographer Santiago Billy, reporter Sonny Figueroa and video stringer Sergio Alfaro went to the Guatemalan village of the Xol family. Together they captured the emotion of the day and the sharp contrast between the two worlds, as the dad phoned Byron on his birthday.

The story they produced was gripping, used by more than 400 AP members in the U.S. It was just one of a series of strong pieces that have put names, faces and personal narratives to the immigration story, keeping AP’s coverage ahead.

For recognizing the moment and mobilizing quickly across formats and borders, Alfaro, Billy, Figueroa, Merchant, Mone and Phillip share AP’s Best of the Week.

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July 12, 2019

Best of the States

Only on AP: Big farms find easy ways around caps on tariff aid

An AP Best of States mention in February about the hundreds of companies avoiding President Donald Trump’s steel tariffs raised questions about Trump’s $12 billion aid package to farmers hurt by the tariffs. What happened next shows how states can produce sharp, data-driven journalism – simply by calling on the data team for help.

AP filed Freedom of Information Act requests for U.S. Department of Agriculture data that was analyzed by Balint Szalai, a Hungarian investigative reporter embedded with AP’s data team, and Washington data team intern Riin Aljas.

Among their findings: Many big farming operations were legally collecting far more than the supposed caps on aid.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis reporter Steve Karnowski spoke to longtime USDA critics and interviewed farmers who defended taking the big checks, saying they didn’t even cover their losses under Trump’s trade war.

The Only-on-AP story ran on dozens of sites, and because the data and analysis were released to AP members in advance, many chose to localize their stories.

For sophisticated data analysis and on-the-ground reporting that shed light on a key consequences of trade policy, Karnowski, Szalai and Aljas share this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 05, 2019

Best of the Week

Searing photo of migrant drownings launches all-formats AP coverage across borders

When New York photo editor Pablo Salinas alerted colleagues to the image of a drowned father and daughter from El Salvador lying face-down in the Rio Grande after they tried to cross into Texas, it was clear it captured, like few other images, the dangers faced by migrants and asylum-seekers trying to make it to the United States.

AP’s much-applauded decision to acquire and publish that image by freelance reporter Julia Le Duc, showing the stark and often-hidden reality of migrants dying by the hundreds each year along the U.S. border, showcased AP’s significant role in shaping the news agenda.

It also stands as a lesson for AP staff with several important takeaways, highlighting the role of editors to find, gather and acquire important images for AP’s global audience, the role of AP’s Top Stories Hub to coordinate and amplify news stories, and the value of rapid response by journalists in the region to verify, report and provide context for any news-making picture.

Finally, it showed how the thoughtful implementation of AP’s standards across all platforms and social media can allow AP to stand out.

For an exceptional multinational effort in finding, recognizing and acquiring Le Duc’s tragic and important image, and presenting it to AP’s worldwide audience with context and sensitivity, the team of Pablo Salinas, Marcos Alemán, Eduardo Verdugo, Rebecca Blackwell, Chris Sherman, Gerardo Carrillo and Peter Orsi shares AP’s Best of the Week award.

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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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June 28, 2019

Best of the Week

AP team exposes perilous conditions and spurs action for 250 kids at Border Patrol lockup

First word came from a trusted source cultivated by AP investigative reporter Garance Burke – Customs and Border Protection was holding 250 migrant infants and children at a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, without enough food, water or basic sanitation. “Are you available today?” the source asked, and AP swung into action.

El Paso, Texas, correspondent Cedar Attanasio met with attorneys who had just interviewed the children, while investigative reporter Martha Mendoza set to work contacting lawmakers and government officials. Burke, with the help of attorneys, found parents of the young children who were locked inside and inconsolable. The trio worked through the night, drafting a story focused on the fact that girls as young as 10 were caring for a toddler handed to them by a guard.

The story had enormous impact almost immediately. National outlets scrambled to match the story, citing AP extensively. The reporters’ next-day story was about lawmakers’ calls for change, and on Monday Mendoza and Burke again broke news: The Trump administration was moving most of the children out of Clint.

For a highly significant scoop that dominated the news cycle on multiple days and returned world attention to the border crisis, Mendoza, Burke and Attanasio win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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June 21, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Team coverage of African migrants at US-Mexican border

for impressive teamwork and collaboration, using AP’s footprint to tell the story of African immigrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in record numbers. When the migrants started showing up in remote areas of Texas, the immigration beat team deployed Selsky, a former Africa bureau chief. He found many of the African migrants being put on buses to Maine, where Whittle and Amendola picked up the story, covering Congolese and Angolan asylum seekers at a Portland gymnasium converted into a shelter. Selsky also coordinated relevant reporting from Europe, Africa and Latin America. https://bit.ly/2XVjbhc

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June 07, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Reporting on border graveyards prompts change in wall construction

for a story on two 19th-century cemeteries that stood in the way of the president’s border wall. The Trump administration had refused to give specifics about its plans for the cemeteries, but after the story, including interviews with family members of people buried there, the administration shifted course, avoiding the graveyards in the wall construction project. https://bit.ly/2QNsxJe

May 17, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Immigration team finds 13,000 immigrants on wait lists in Mexico to cross the border

for all-format reporting across the U.S.-Mexico border, revealing that 13,000 immigrants are stuck in Mexico on haphazard wait lists that have formed as the Trump administration placed limits on how many asylum cases it accepts each day. The team visited the eight main locations where lines were forming and tallied the number of people on the various lists, finding some migrants sleeping in tents for months on end, vulnerable to violence and shakedowns. And they broke news about a family that decided to forgo the long line and cross illegally, killing four people as they were swept away by the swift-moving Rio Grande. https://bit.ly/2Q4dF8Y

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May 10, 2019

Best of the Week

Source development, persistence land AP scoop with clues to failed Venezuelan uprising

The plot was bold: Fuel a military uprising in Venezuela by shifting the loyalty of key leaders, putting them in opposition to President Nicolas Maduro. But the plan to help the U.S.-backed opposition leader backfired at the moment of truth, prompting an understandable reaction from press to find out what went wrong.

While most other media speculated, AP Andean News Director Joshua Goodman used dogged reporting and years of source development to break the untold story of how the Obama and Trump administrations missed golden opportunities to woo two generals that the White House said were central to the plan.

The story garnered major play among customers and APNews users, and even earned the attention of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a driver of U.S. policy on Venezuela, who praised Goodman on Twitter.

For unearthing pivotal clues around a shadowy turn of international events, Goodman wins AP’s Best of the Week.

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April 26, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals politics of immigration policy shifts

for two stories on how the Trump administration is dealing with the surge of migrant families at the border and a claimed lack of detention space. Merchant spotted a solicitation for contractors to build tents near the U.S.-Mexico border to temporarily detain immigrant families, and he followed up with an accountability story revealing that thousands of beds for detained families are empty at a time when President Trump was calling the country “full,” and threatening to send migrants to sanctuary cities as political retribution.https://bit.ly/2GuBJxmhttps://bit.ly/2L4OQuG