Nov. 15, 2019

Best of the States

AP Investigation: At least 1,680 aging US dams pose a risk to thousands

Severe storms, extreme flooding and aging infrastructure present a rising peril throughout much of the U.S., but trying to assess the risks has been extremely difficult. The reason: The federal agency overseeing the nation’s dams has sealed off the most essential information about their condition and the potential threats to those living downstream.

Prying that information loose took the kind of dedicated, 50-state effort that the AP is uniquely positioned to pursue. Data journalist Michelle Minkoff and Northern New England correspondent Michael Casey, collaborating with state government team member David Lieb and a visual team led by video journalist Allen Breed – as well as a cast of AP state reporters, photographers and data journalists – produced a deeply reported and visually stunning package revealing the dangers of nearly 1,700 aging dams, from Hawaii to Massachusetts.

Some two years in the making, the package resulted in explosive play – more than 100,000 page views on AP News and more than 80 front pages. 

For their exhaustive efforts to unlock critical public information and relay the findings in an engaging fashion, Minkoff, Casey, Lieb and Breed win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 25, 2019

Best of the Week

AP’s Brexit team delivers ambitious, insightful coverage during crucial week

The Brexit break-up has dominated Europe for months. Audience demands are high for each development, yet it’s hard for any news organization to stand out because so many media outlets are pursuing the same stories.

But AP’s Brexit team rose to the occasion by combining exceptional planning and reporting skills to deliver extraordinary coverage in every format during a crucial week in which the European Union and the British Parliament were set to decide the UK’s future in Europe. In the process, they dominated on a very competitive story with ambitious and comprehensive coverage from the UK to Brussels and Northern Ireland.

For collaborating in all formats to deliver lively, ambitious, insightful and comprehensive coverage of the Brexit drama and its broader implications, the team of Jill Lawless, Danica Kirka, Greg Katz, David Keyton, Raf Casert, Virginia Mayo, Sylvain Plazy, Martin Cleaver and Susie Blann earn AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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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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Oct. 11, 2019

Best of the Week

AP provides dramatic all-formats coverage of Iraq’s deadly protests

The calls on social media were informal and scattered, urging demonstrations Oct. 1 in Baghdad to protest deteriorating living conditions in the battered Iraqi capital. There was nothing to indicate that the protests would be more significant than previous actions. But Khalid Mohammed, AP’s chief photographer in Baghdad, had a hunch. He put the demonstrations on the bureau’s planner and urged all formats to be ready, despite the prevailing mood of skepticism.

Mohammed’s assessment proved prescient. The demonstrations erupted into five days of furious violence, the worst in the country since the quieting of its internal war against the Islamic State group. AP’s staff witnessed the first violence and stayed on the grueling story for days.

For their anticipation and courageous eyewitness journalism that set AP apart, Mohammed, photographer Hadi Mizban, video journalist Ali Jabar and reporter Qassim Abdul-Zahra share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Oct. 11, 2019

Best of the States

AP Investigation: Priests accused of abuse have access to children, dozens commit crimes

As the ranks of dioceses promising to release lists of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse began to mushroom at the beginning of this year, Philadelphia reporter Claudia Lauer and Washington-based data editor Meghan Hoyer started to strategize: How could they leverage the information on a scale never before accomplished? 

After months of systematic, dogged work, the result was “Where Are They Now,” a blockbuster investigation that found almost 1,700 priests and other clergy members living with little to no oversight, many with positions giving them access to children. Dozens have committed crimes, including sexual assault. 

The story received exceptional play online and in print, and AP Managing Editor Brian Carovillano called it, “One of the most monumental pieces of AP journalism in my memory.” 

For a stunning investigation that breaks new ground in the already impressive body of work that is “The Reckoning” series, Lauer and Hoyer win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 11, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Priests accused of abuse have access to children, dozens commit crimes

As the ranks of dioceses promising to release lists of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse began to mushroom at the beginning of this year, Philadelphia reporter Claudia Lauer and Washington-based data editor Meghan Hoyer started to strategize: How could they leverage the information on a scale never before accomplished?

The hurdles were high: Many of the released lists were lacking in basic information, and the priests had scattered around the U.S. and beyond, living almost entirely under the radar.

After months of systematic, dogged work, the result was “Where Are They Now,” a blockbuster investigation that found almost 1,700 priests and other clergy members living with little to no oversight, many with positions giving them access to children. Dozens have committed crimes, including sexual assault.

The story received exceptional play online and in print, and AP Managing Editor Brian Carovillano called it, “One of the most monumental pieces of AP journalism in my memory.”

For more on this groundbreaking investigation which also received this week’s Best of the States award, see the full citation here.https://bit.ly/2pIr4u8https://bit.ly/2nBkh4Yhttps://bit.ly/2p42Zh6

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Sept. 27, 2019

Best of the States

AP investigation shines light on dark side of CBD craze

Responding to AP’s call for ambitious journalism in 2019, Holbrook “Bert” Mohr of the U.S. investigative team tossed out an idea during a brainstorming session: Authorities in Mississippi had found vapes containing fentanyl and synthetic marijuana in stores near Mohr’s home. What caught his eye was that the product was labeled as CBD. 

That led to a collaboration by the Investigations and the Health and Science teams that would offer not just the exclusive results of laboratory testing — finding cheap and illegal synthetic marijuana instead of natural CBD in vapes and edibles — but also telling details about the people who bring dangerous products to market. 

The “Spiked CBD” package broke through. It was easily the top story on AP Mobile, and Mohr’s bylined story appeared on the front page of at least 23 newspapers; it was teased on the front of nearly 100 others. 

For identifying and leading a collaborative investigative project that connected with customers and readers, Mohr receives this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 13, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP package from Australia reveals global ravages of opioids

for months of careful relationship building with opioid addicts and their loved ones, resulting in a richly-detailed package about opioid addiction in Australia, where stigma around addiction remains high. The stories revealed how drug companies and the Australian government have contributed to the crisis, and an intimate narrative provided striking detail about the pain and impact of opioid dependency on addicts and their families. To find the right subjects, Gelineau contacted countless rehab centers, doctors, pain groups, nonprofits and addiction specialists, combed through online forums and social media and read through thousands of signatures on petitions related to opioid abuse. Putting the pieces together also required painstaking sifting through data from Australia’s de-centralized health system and 12 years of coroners’ reports to find early warnings about the opioid crisis. The work resonated with readers, and the director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which funded the stories, called them “stellar journalism ... so well told and presented,” while the mother profiled in the team’s narrative piece wrote to Gelineau, “I’m so grateful for having met you, Sam and Goldie. You have given me a voice.”https://bit.ly/2kebqV7https://bit.ly/2lKn9ez

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Aug. 29, 2019

Best of the Week

AP delivers powerful dispatches and visuals from the front line of climate change

“There are lucky journalists but no such thing as a lucky lazy journalist.” That industry adage was again proven true when the crack team of video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, photographer Felipe Dana and science writer Seth Borenstein captured global attention by squeezing every last drop out of being in the right place at the right time for The Associated Press and its clients.

The place was Greenland, so inhospitable and remote that it is infrequently visited by journalists despite being at the epicenter of planet-threatening climate change. And the timing couldn’t have been better: As the giant but often ignored frozen island was suddenly thrust into the news when U.S. President Donald Trump unexpectedly expressed interest in buying it, sparking a diplomatic spat with Denmark, which said the semi-autonomous Danish territory wasn’t for sale.

The stories, photos and videos were widely used by AP’s membership and resonated with the public. The Helheim Glacier story landed on 16 front pages and was downloaded 85 times on AP Newsroom.

For their shining example of how to turn a pre-arranged media trip into essential world-grabbing journalism with tireless enthusiasm, smart thinking and the sharpest of eyes, Chernov, Dana and Borenstein share AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Aug. 09, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigative team reveals how Michigan-based group quietly helped abusive priests

It was a piece of investigative journalism that yielded stunning revelations about the role of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a small nonprofit in Michigan that has been quietly providing money, shelter and legal help to hundreds of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse.

Investigative reporters Martha Mendoza, Garance Burke and Juliet Linderman launched an aggressive effort using shoe leather and Freedom of Information requests to unravel the story behind the organization. Photographer Paul Sancya told the story through a powerful set of images, while videographer Mike Householder produced his own compelling piece.

The riveting story received prominent play and gathered growing interest as it was translated and published in predominantly Catholic countries around the world.

For a story that revealed a startling but little-known group in the shadows of the church’s sexual abuse scandals, Mendoza, Linderman, Burke, Householder and Sancya win 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

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

New Jersey fails to identify polluters; governor promises fix

for accountability journalism made possible through an open records request, reporting that New Jersey environmental regulators had failed for nearly a decade to put out a legally required annual report on water pollution that identifies the state’s worst polluters and how the state is holding them responsible. His exclusive story drew a pledge by the governor that the publication of the reports would resume, and kudos from the state’s major news outlets. https://bit.ly/2LysvUS

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

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

New England newspaper owner fights to save local journalism

for a thoroughly reported, engaging narrative with compelling visuals, telling the story of a small New England newspaper that is doing all it can to buck the downsizing trend at a time when local journalism is dying across the country. The pair spent the better part of a week in western Massachusetts talking to the owners, editors and reporters at The Berkshire Eagle, and most importantly the townspeople the newspaper is trying to lure back. What emerged was an all-formats package that readers couldn’t resist.https://bit.ly/2MZXoE5https://bit.ly/2Ycfh3H

June 21, 2019

Best of the Week

​AP analysis: Legal sales of recreational pot impact medical marijuana users

As states that permit sales of only medical marijuana transition to legalizing recreational use of pot, Portland reporter Gillian Flaccus noticed a trend in Oregon: most medical pot dispensaries were closing. She asked why, and what were the effects on patients?

Teaming with Los Angeles-based data reporter Angel Kastanis, the AP set out to answer that question. Kastanis had spent six months compiling a first-of-its-kind national data set on medical marijuana patients, and Flaccus used it to produce an exclusive all-formats package showing that when states legalize pot for all, medical marijuana patients often are left with fewer, and costlier, options.

Flaccus’ story was one of the most popular on AP with strong reader engagement. And Kastanis plans to update the data set twice a year, allowing AP and its subscribing data customers to track industry trends.

For making the AP the go-to source for data trends on medical marijuana and shining a light on the unexpected negative consequences for patients of legalizing recreational pot use, Flaccus and Kastanis earn AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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May 03, 2019

Best of the States

‘Destined to Burn’: AP, media organizations join forces to expose California wildfire risks

A groundbreaking collaboration among California newspapers and The Associated Press started with a tweet.

Northern California News Editor Juliet Williams saw on Twitter that the editor of The Sacramento Bee, a McClatchy paper, was driving to meet with the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record, a MediaNews paper, to talk about wildfire coverage. Williams reached out, offered the AP’s help, and a partnership was born, with the goal of illuminating problems and pointing to potential solutions to California’s increasingly deadly wildfires.

The results: nearly a dozen stories, including an analysis of data by McClatchy and AP Los Angeles-based data journalist Angeliki Kastanis revealing that more than 350,000 Californians live in towns and cities almost entirely within zones of very high wildfire risk. An analysis also found that a 2008 building code for California’s fire-prone regions can make the difference in whether homes burn or not, but there’s little retrofitting of older homes.

The partnership’s next installment was focused on evacuation planning, revealing that many communities wouldn’t share the information or didn’t have an adequate plan, or any plan at all. Data analysis by USA TODAY Network-California showed many communities had too few roads to get everyone out.

We heavily publicized the package and play was impressive, with hundreds of downloads of the first two installments. Many outlets used the data to report their own stories about local fire risks. And this isn’t the end of the partnership: The next phase will focus on legislative action on wildfire coverage.

When AP engages in collaborations like these we become more than just a content provider to our customers; we’re helping them produce high-impact local coverage that wouldn’t exist otherwise. In this case, the “Destined to Burn” partnership was managed at every level by West Deputy Director of Newsgathering Anna Jo Bratton, who worked for six months with people throughout the AP and the collaborators to make the partnership a success.

For putting the AP at the center of an important collaboration, driving important journalism in a state ravaged by wildfires, and forging a stronger relationship with members, Williams, Kastanis and Bratton win this AP’s Best of the States.

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March 29, 2019

Best of the States

AP analysis: Partisan redistricting limited GOP losses in 2018 midterms

With two major cases over partisan redistricting coming before the Supreme Court, how could the AP’s coverage stand out?

Missouri-based reporter David Lieb of the state government team provided the answer, taking the results of last year’s midterm election and applying a formula called the “efficiency gap” to measure the potential effects of highly partisan map-making on races for the U.S. House and state legislatures. The efficiency gap, developed at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California and The University of Chicago, measures a party’s advantage on a statewide basis.

His finding: Democrats could have done even better last November had it not been for boundaries created by Republicans during the last round of redistricting – otherwise known as “gerrymandering.” His analysis showed that Republicans won about 16 more U.S. House seats – and held on to as many as seven state legislative chambers – than would have been expected based on their share of the vote.

Lieb and Data Team editor Meghan Hoyer previewed the state-by-state findings for customers and other AP reporters so the data could be used for localizations. The resulting package landed the week before the Supreme Court arguments, and the play was spectacular, both online and print.

The package was complemented by video and photos from national enterprise reporter Allen Breed, based in Raleigh, who traveled to a historically black college in North Carolina, where Republicans had split the campus between two districts, diluting the votes of the left-leaning student body.

Breed’s full-length video ran with the spot stories surrounding the Supreme Court arguments and parts of it were folded into a video graphic produced by New York deputy director for digital graphics Darrell Allen and Minneapolis-based video graphics newsperson Heidi Morrow. It became a key part of the extensive social promotion plan created by Alina Hartounian, the Phoenix-based multimedia coordinator for the beat teams.

For producing a distinctive multimedia package that made the AP stand out on one of the most important and competitive political topics of the day, Lieb, Hoyer, Breed, Allen, Morrow and Hartounian win this week’s Best of the States.

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March 22, 2019

Best of the Week

Quick, resourceful response dominates coverage of Christchurch mosque attacks

AP staffers are often called the “Marines of journalism.” First in, last out.

Our small New Zealand team of Mark Baker and Nick Perry showed what that looks like as they responded to horrific mass shootings at two mosques. Their swift response securing early, definitive images and witness accounts laid the foundation for the AP’s dominant, agenda-setting coverage of the tragedy in the hours and days that followed.

Baker, the Southeast Asia photo editor known widely as “Crusty,” lives in Christchurch, where the attack happened. He heard radio reports of a possible shooting at a mosque and quickly alerted Perry, the Wellington correspondent, to get words on the wire. Baker headed immediately to the scene, where his early images of survivors became the definitive shots of the tragedy.

Back in Wellington, Perry aggressively filed on breaking developments before going to Christchurch, where he scored another major win for AP by interviewing an Afghan refugee who would be hailed as a hero for confronting the gunman, likely preventing more deaths.

Asia quickly deployed reinforcements, with cross-format teams ensuring AP kept up its advantage on the ground while colleagues from afar kept the story fresh as Asia slept.

For their quick response that showcased AP’s fundamental advantage when news breaks across the world, Baker and Perry share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 22, 2019

Best of the States

Sunshine Week investigation: Public regularly denied access to police videos

Police videos of officers shooting unarmed black men have sparked angry protests in Chicago, Sacramento and other U.S. cities. But AP’s Ryan Foley wondered: Is it the norm for departments to release footage from body-worn and dashboard cameras?

Foley, based in Iowa City, Iowa, a member of AP’s state government team, investigated and found that many departments routinely deny public access to their videos of officer-involved shootings and other uses of force.

Foley filed open records requests related to roughly 20 recent use-of-force incidents in a dozen states. His letters were met with denial after denial as police departments routinely cited a broad exemption to state open records laws: They claimed that releasing the video would undermine an ongoing investigation. But critics say the exemption is often misapplied to keep embarrassing or compromising video footage from public view.

To tell the story visually, Central Region video journalist Noreen Nasir dug through AP’s archives to highlight the moments and emotions that followed the deaths of unarmed black men, including the fatal police shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. She also interviewed a woman in North Dakota whose brother died after being shot in the back of the head during a struggle with police, adding a crucial perspective to the video.

At the same time, Panagiotis Mouzakis, multimedia animation producer in London, used the many denial letters Foley had collected to create a video graphic that was incorporated into Nasir’s video, and Beat Team visuals editor Alina Hartounian developed a social plan that helped the package find a huge audience.

For shining a light on how police departments continue to withhold visual evidence and for devising creative ways to illustrate the story, Foley, Nassir and Mouzakis share this week’s Best of the States award.

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