Oct. 25, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Police officer not disciplined despite far-right ties

for revealing that a Connecticut police officer wasn’t disciplined by the town’s police chief for being a member of the Proud Boys, a right-wing group known for violent clashes at political rallies. The officer’s previous membership in the group didn’t violate department policies, East Hampton’s police chief concluded in response to a civil rights group’s concerns. https://bit.ly/2MHsXAr

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 States

Going to extremes to tell the story of sexual violence and shortcomings of enforcement

In western Alaska, rape survivors and their supporters say Nome’s police department has often failed to investigate sexual assaults, especially when the victims are Alaska Native women.

Delivering sensitive-but-powerful coverage from a challenging environment, enterprise photographer Maye-E Wong and freelance correspondent Victoria Mckenzie tell the story of average Americans struggling with sexual violence and law enforcement in small communities. Their work made clear that Nome’s struggles don’t represent an isolated case; it is a microcosm of how police and towns and cities across the U.S. have failed survivors of sexual assaults.

For going to extremes – literally and figuratively – to shed light on a remote corner of the larger issue of sexual violence and enforcement, Wong and Mckenzie share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Coming soon to natural park trails: motorized bicycles

For source reporting and collaboration that enabled AP to break the story about the Trump administration's plan to open national park trails to motorized bikes. Sharp got a tip that the Interior Department was expected to lift a decades-long ban on any vehicles with motors on National Park hiking and biking trails. He began reporting to get reaction even before the rule change was announced. Meanwhile, Knickmeyer got a tip that evening from a non-profit foundation that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had without any public notice signed an order lifting the ban immediately and classifying e-bikes as non-motor vehicles.

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Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Breaking news of top US prison official’s ouster after Epstein death

for breaking the news that the head of the long-troubled federal prison system was being removed in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. Balsamo had been pressing sources at the Justice Department about the fate of Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons. Two guards and the warden had been disciplined, but nothing was said about the senior leadership. Balsamo worked up prep in case Hurwitz resigned or was fired.

Nine days after Epstein’s death, Balsamo heard from a source who had just met with Attorney General William Barr: Barr was going to remove Hurwitz. The decision was extremely sensitive; even Hurwitz didn't know yet. Balsamo had just a brief window to break the news before it became public, but because he had the prep in place, he was able to move quickly. AP had a 650-word story before any other outlet had even sent an alert. Hurwitz’s removal quickly became one of the top stories of the day, with Balsamo’s story receiving wide play, even by some news organizations with their own Justice Department reporters. https://bit.ly/2NBYC7k

Aug. 29, 2019

Best of the States

Early Epstein accuser: Police could have stopped him in 1997

It’s exceedingly rare to get any details from a police report in California and even rarer to get a glimpse inside a detective’s notebook. But Jennifer Peltz and Katie Campione did just that. Peltz and Campione convinced police to finally explain how they handled one of the earliest known sex crime accusations against Jeffrey Epstein, a 1997 case that the accuser has called a massive missed opportunity to bring the financier to justice years before he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls and young women.

Their story turned out to be one of the most popular stories of the week on the AP News mobile site and was also one of the most engaging with readers. Even the Los Angeles Times had no choice but to put the AP story on its website front page.

For going the extra mile to get an explanation for a case that could have stopped Epstein from the start, Katie Campione and Jennifer Peltz win this week's Best of the States.

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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. 02, 2019

Best of the States

A century after hundreds of black killings, AP explores the enduring impact of ‘Red Summer’

While conducting research for another potential project, Jesse J. Holland, race and ethnicity reporter based in Washington, read about the upcoming anniversary of the “Red Summer” of 1919 and noticed a startling fact: Few people seemed to know that more than 200 African Americans died at the hands of white rioters across the country 100 years ago. The stream of violence that stretched from February to October that year, most of it in the U.S. South and Northeast, eluded history books and was largely forgotten.

Holland presented the information to the larger team, and the project took flight. The all-formats series ultimately included work by staffers Cedar Attanasio, El Paso, Texas; Russell Contreras, Albuquerque, New Mexico; Noreen Nasir, Chicago; and Rodrique Ngowi, Boston. AP was largely alone in its coverage and the team’s efforts were rewarded with prominent use by national outlets and strong engagement.

For taking a little-known event and turning it into a dynamic project with powerful historic and present-day context that no other news outlet could match, Attanasio, Contreras, Holland, Nasir and Ngowi win this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 26, 2019

Best of the States

When worlds collide: FOIA reveals ousted Iowa official’s fixation with Tupac Shakur

When Gov. Kim Reynolds abruptly fired Jerry Foxhoven, the head of the Iowa Department of Human Services, she refused to say why.

But within days of the firing, Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley got a startling tip: The ouster may have been due to Foxhoven’s over-the-top fondness for the late Tupac Shakur. A Freedom of Information Act request yielded 350 pages of official emails referencing the hip-hop artist, and on the day before Foxhoven was asked to resign he had sent a mass email to all 4,300 DHS employees telling them to commemorate Shakur’s birthday.

Foley’s story caused a nearly instant sensation in Iowa and among national outlets that credited the AP for the scoop while giving their own spin on the story.

For investigating a tip rather than laughing it off, and then writing a story that managed the rare feat of connecting state government to a 1990s rap icon, Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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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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May 17, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Schedules reveal West Virginia governor largely absent from work

Anthony Izaguirre began hearing the chatter about West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice as soon as he started work as the AP’s statehouse correspondent in Charleston, West Virginia, in late February. Sources told him Justice – a billionaire who owns mines, farms and a swanky resort – wasn’t fully engaged and hadn’t even been in the capital, Charleston, much since taking office in 2017.

Izaguirre's initial request for the governor’s schedules was declined, but he pressed with the help of AP’s legal department, finally getting the records. Armed with those calendars and his own resourceful reporting, he cobbled together a record of the governor’s activities, confirming what many suspected: Justice appeared to have better things to do than govern.

West Virginia media pounced on the exclusive story, which also played well outside the state.

For his resolute work to obtain public records and his thorough reporting to fill out a story no one else in the state could land, Izaguirre wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 17, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Loophole preventing federal charges against minors in terrorism cases

for discovering that a 2018 Supreme Court case had impeded the Justice Department’s ability to charge minors with supporting terrorist groups. Bleiberg was curious why an FBI investigation of a teen plotting an Islamic State-inspired shooting was prosecuted by local Texas officials. He and Balsamo exposed the loophole created by a SCOTUS ruling in a non-terrorism case that could prevent minors from facing federal charges for supporting international terrorism. https://bit.ly/2JlSqiw

May 10, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: California synagogue hadn’t used security funds received shortly before shooting

After a gunman opened fire in a Southern California synagogue on Passover, killing a woman and wounding a man, his 8-year-old niece and the rabbi leading the service, the inevitable question was asked: Could anything have been done to stop the violence?

Reporters Don Thompson and Adam Beam in Sacramento and Julie Watson in San Diego combined to report exclusively that the synagogue itself had recognized security deficiencies and even received a state grant to address them.

But it hadn’t spent the money, the AP team revealed.

For their exclusive follow-up to a crime that generated global attention, Thompson, Watson and Beam win this week’s Best of the States.

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April 26, 2019

Best of the Week

AP dominates all-formats coverage of historic release of Mueller report

The AP bulletin rocketed around the world just minutes after the release of the much-anticipated report by special counsel Robert Mueller:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mueller’s report reveals Trump's efforts to seize control of Russia probe and force the special counsel’s removal.

That set the tone for a day of dominant AP coverage in every format on the historic findings in the Mueller report.

The success was the result of planning and deep knowledge of the subject matter by AP’s Russia team – Eric Tucker, Mike Balsamo, Chad Day and Mary Clare Jalonick – along with lightning-fast speed and precision execution by White House news editor Nancy Benac and the entire Washington bureau.

As soon as they were allowed to open the report, Tucker and Balsamo called the Washington bureau and kept two open lines to the newsroom, where they fed material Day and Jalonick, while Benac began crafting the story that hit the wire right after the report was posted online.

By then, the AP was off and running with outstanding all-formats coverage, including sharp handling of photos and live video. Our speed was so impressive that clients were able to get a complete set of critical and comprehensive edits by mid-afternoon. Our interactive had unheard-of play for a non-election story, while the Trump Investigation hub on APNews more than doubled its previous high pageviews. The standout coverage also ran on front pages of newspapers around the country.

“While we were sending bulletins saying that Trump had tried to stop the investigation, everyone else was still saying, ‘We have the report, we’re reading it, we’ll get back to you,’” Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said.

For their efforts, Balsamo, Tucker, Day, Jalonick and Benac win AP’s Best of the Week.

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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 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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