Feb. 19, 2021

Best of the States

AP team finds diversity of politics and religion among West Virginia evangelicals

A tweet was the seed for this illuminating story. “Most people in my rural, Appalachian hometown are being radicalized at church by their pastor, which is the person they trust the most,” it read. AP’s Global Religion team ran with it.

Reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski visited the parishioners of three churches in Bluefield, West Virginia, including one pastor who had attended the Jan. 6 Washington rally that degenerated into a riot. The AP pair spent weeks convincing him to sit down for an interview. The result was an all-formats package of diverse congregations seeking common ground, even as they are divided on the role of evangelical Christianity in American politics. 

For applying gentle persuasion and balanced reporting to produce a nuanced look at religion and politics in one West Virginia town, Henao and Wardarski win this week’s Best of the States award. 

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Feb. 19, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: COVID job cuts widen economic inequality

crunched federal economic data for his exclusive report that Americans as a whole are now earning the same amount in wages and salaries that they did before the viral pandemic struck — even with nearly 9 million fewer people working.The main reason? The job cuts of the past 11 months have fallen overwhelmingly on lower-income workers across the economy’s service sector — from restaurants and hotels to retail stores and entertainment venues. By contrast, tens of millions of higher-income Americans, most of whom have been able to work from home, have managed to keep or acquire jobs and to continue to receive pay increases.Rugaber independently verified the story’s premise by comparing multiple federal data sets, then interviewed a number of economists to gain deeper insights into the trend. “Pretty remarkable” is how one economist described the findings. The exclusive work provided stark evidence of the nation’s widening economic inequality. https://bit.ly/3atLOed

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Oct. 16, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Sources: Anger, anxiety circulating in White House COVID zone

leveraged longstanding professional relationships to reveal fear and anger rampant among household workers and Secret Service agents working in the coronavirus hot zone of the White House.The story was challenging to report because personnel knew their jobs could be in jeopardy, but the AP team reached out to a broad range of sources and contacts to piece together a compelling story about the anxiety and antagonism pulsing through the White House. While competitors took smaller bites of the apple, the AP story wove together rich details about the workers’ worries and the lack of guidance from White House officials, as well as historical context stretching back to the flu pandemic of 1918.The morning after the story ran, former first lady Michelle Obama posted a tweet seemingly tailored to AP’s piece, voicing support for those working in the White House. And days later the story still had sky-high reader engagement. https://bit.ly/314XRt6

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Sept. 25, 2020

Best of the States

AP’s portrait of a family forced into tough choices during the pandemic

As stories with impact go, this one stands out: The lead subject of the piece, struggling to feed her family during the pandemic, was tracked down on social media and hired by a reader for a job. 

The all-formats package by reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski chronicled the struggle of Sharawn Vinson and her Brooklyn family as they coped with a shortage of food and other crises, taking readers into the lives of a family that was forced to separate to keep everyone fed. The details shared by the family give readers a better understanding of the issues confronting many of the nation’s most vulnerable during the pandemic.

For a rare, intimate look at a family on the front lines of food insecurity brought on by the coronavirus, documented with riveting photos and video, Henao and Wardarski share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 18, 2020

Best of the States

Putting a human face to the numbers: A waiter made homeless by the pandemic

Since the pandemic took hold in America, myriad stories have covered the broad economic impact of millions laid off or underemployed. But few have captured how the chilling trickle-down effect is changing lives.

Enter Kelli Kennedy. The Florida reporter produced a compelling, poignant story on one man's struggle with the devastating effects of the coronavirus shutdowns. Orlando resident Jeff Lello lost his waiter job, ended up homeless and briefly lived in a tent in the woods. 

The story was among AP’s most-read of the week, drawing feedback from readers, colleagues and even politicians.

For a stark narrative of unemployment wrought by the pandemic, Kennedy’s story wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 10, 2020

Best of the States

Joint investigation details hollowed-out US public health departments

While it is widely understood that U.S. public health departments have suffered budget cuts over the years, a collaborative AP/Kaiser Health News team used data and deep reporting to show exactly how expansive those cuts have been.

The investigation by AP’s Michelle Smith, Meghan Hoyer and Mike Householder, teamed with KHN’s Lauren Weber, Laura Ungar, Hannah Recht and Anna Maria Barry-Jester, drew on data from disparate sources and interviews with more than 150 people to reveal a system starved of money and staff for years, and facing more cuts amid the worst health crisis in a century. 

The team’s all-formats package drew kudos and high-profile reaction from health officials, to the halls of Congress, to editorial pages.

For an ambitious story that laid bare the state of America’s public health system, the joint AP/KHN team of Smith, Hoyer, Householder, Weber, Ungar, Recht and Barry-Jester shares this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 29, 2020

Best of the States

AP takes a rare behind-the-scenes look into the complex world of contact tracing

With contact tracing in the spotlight as one of the keys to stopping the spread of the coronavirus, journalists across the AP have sought access to the investigators, only to be rebuffed for privacy concerns. But Utah-based correspondent Brady McCombs convinced a county health department that he and photographer Rick Bowmer could show the world how contact tracing is conducted, while protecting private details. 

Once they were in the door, the curtain rolled back. The pair spent parts of five days shadowing investigators as they talked, commiserated and cajoled people to comply with tracing – something simply unseen in other coverage or descriptions of contact tracing. 

And in a major break, McCombs used social media to identify one of the subjects of tracing, getting exclusive all-formats access to tell the story of a family on the other end of a tracer’s call.

For a timely and revealing package on a vital element of the pandemic response, McCombs and Bowmer share this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 15, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Among the vulnerable, the virus stalks with hunger, too

teamed up to put a very human face on the millions in America who are struggling to put food on the table during the pandemic. The pair spent an extended period with Janeth and Roberto, an immigrant couple on the outskirts of the nation’s capital who regularly skip meals to ensure their 5-year-old daughter has enough to eat. Their moving text and photo package, sensitively rendered, brought home how the virus outbreak stalks people on the margins with hunger, as well as disease, and how the social safety net fails many.https://bit.ly/3601QIR

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Nov. 08, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Closing of coal plant on tribal land upends a community and a culture

Coal-burning generating plants are closing in the U.S., and coal mines are shutting down amid worries of climate change and the new economies of renewable energy.

Against that backdrop, correspondents Felicia Fonseca and Susan Montoya Bryan traveled to Arizona’s remote Navajo Generating Station to the tell the story of workers, their families, a community and the tribal nations who have depended on coal and are feeling the profound effects of the plant’s impending closure. 

In their all-formats package, the pair let workers explain what they were losing, and how the local economy is taking a massive hit with millions of dollars of revenue no longer flowing to the Hopi and Navajo tribes.  

For a comprehensive, compelling look at the impact of coal’s decline on a community and a culture, Fonseca and Montoya earn this week’s Best of the States award. 

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Nov. 08, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Migrants risk sea crossing to Yemen; disembark in hell

for bringing to light, with dramatic words and images, the largely unseen story of Ethiopians trying to reach jobs in Saudi Arabia who instead are systematically imprisoned, tortured, raped and starved by traffickers in a remote village on Yemen’s coast. The team brought the victims to life by reaching the site and finding migrants who had escaped only hours earlier, their wounds still fresh; one man died of starvation just hours after the AP saw him.https://bit.ly/2oPBTKOhttps://bit.ly/34Ma5GPhttps://bit.ly/32nYtIr

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Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the Week

Anatomy of a phone call: New details of Trump’s Ukraine call revealed

President Donald Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s president, and the ensuing impeachment investigation, has been the hottest story in Washington for weeks. It’s extremely challenging to find new ways to report on the conversation and gather new details of how a rough transcript of the call was created and handled. 

Deb Riechmann managed to do it all, with a deeply reported 1800-word story that laid out everything we know about who was on the call, how such conversations are memorialized and what happens to the rough transcripts once they are created.

For uncovering tantalizing new details about Trump’s fateful phone call with the Ukraine president, AP’s Best of the Week citation goes to White House reporter Deb Riechmann.

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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

March 08, 2019

Best of the Week

Disabled Walmart ‘greeters’ face job loss; AP coverage helps reverse corporate policy

In this week’s installment of Best of the Week, Pennsylvania correspondent Mike Rubinkam shows us how to translate a local story for a global audience, give it scope and reach, and in the process build a following for ongoing coverage.

Rubinkam, who covers northeastern Pennsylvania, was watching his local 6 p.m. newscast when a story caught his eye: A beloved, longtime Walmart greeter with cerebral palsy had been told that his position was being eliminated in favor of a new “customer host” position.

His interest piqued, the next morning Rubinkam interviewed the man, Adam Catlin, for his first story. That got a lot of attention on social media, but it was only the start.

Rubinkam followed up with three more stories, updating the public about Catlin’s talks with Walmart and interviewing greeters across the country. He also obtained photos of several greeters in their Walmart vests.

With each update, the story’s reach grew, with hundreds of online uses by AP customers and significant engagement on social media. And Walmart was listening. After a week of Rubinkam’s coverage, the mega-retailer announced it would make every effort to keep greeters with disabilities.

The story was a classic example of the impact that the AP’s footprint can have, bringing attention to an issue that surfaced locally but had not yet received national attention. The outcome was a change in corporate policy at one of the world’s biggest companies.

Because of his smart, dogged and curious reporting, and for capitalizing on the AP’s global reach, Rubinkam earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 09, 2018

Best of the States

Jobs boom favors Democratic counties over Trump strongholds; social issues motivate GOP base

President Donald Trump has long asserted that his tax cuts and other policies would accelerate job growth, which, in turn, would serve the “forgotten” men and women who had helped propel him to the White House in the 2016 election.

Washington, D.C.-based economics reporter Josh Boak wondered: Had that actually occurred so far? And how much was job growth a motivating force for Trump supporters?

Boak hit on a possible way to hold the president’s claims to a fair test. He turned to a relatively obscure report issued by the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, then merged those economic figures with the AP’s 2016 election returns, broken down by county.

The result, under multiple calculations, was clear: The bulk of U.S. hiring under Trump had so far occurred in Democratic counties.

Boak then spent three days in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, an area that had voted decisively for Trump and had lost jobs in the past 12 months. He reported that Republican voters appeared to be motivated more by social issues – opposition to gun control, for example. “Our No. 1 motivating factor,” the county Republican chairman told Boak, “is Second Amendment issues.”

For exclusively documenting how job growth under Trump has disproportionately underserved his geographic base and for illustrating that trend in a community that reflects it, Boak earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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