Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 24, 2020

Best of the States

Joint investigation reveals ‘leadership vacuum’ after backlash against public health officials

AP reporter Michelle Smith was working on another project in June when she came up with the names of a dozen or so public health officials who had quit, retired or been fired. Sensing a trend, Smith and reporters at Kaiser Health News continued to track those departures as the pandemic worsened and the backlash against public health restrictions became more strident.

The journalists contacted officials in all 50 states and interviewed dozens of people, finding a public health leadership vacuum developing at a critical time in the pandemic. They told the stories of public servants who toiled through the pandemic only to be reviled by their neighbors — including the wrenching story of an official whose husband would not even follow her recommendation to require masks in the family store. The timely all-formats story included a data distribution, interactive graphics and a sidebar with portraits and quotes of public health officials. 

For a deeply reported package that examines a vital component of the pandemic response, Smith, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Hannah Recht and Lauren Weber earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive: ‘Mercenary’ donor sold political influence

reported exclusively on Imaad Zuberi, a shadowy, elite political fundraiser whose reach included private meetings with then-Vice President Joe Biden and VIP access at Donald Trump’s inauguration. Zuberi funded political campaigns in the U.S. and sold the resulting political influence to the highest-bidding foreign government overseas.Suderman Mustian reviewed thousands of documents and interviewed more than 100 law enforcement officials, diplomats and businessmen on three continents who dealt with Zuberi during his globe-trotting years of political fundraising. Critically, Suderman persuaded his sources to turn over a trove of private emails that painted an unprecedented picture of Zuberi’s modus operandi.The reporting revealed vulnerabilities in the U.S. campaign finance system and uncovered the names of politicians who had benefited from Zuberi’s largess, prompting calls for reform. https://bit.ly/3okr64k

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Dec. 04, 2020

Best of the States

All-formats package reveals challenges of rural education during the pandemic

On the sparsely populated fringe of the Navajo Nation, AP Report for America journalist Cedar Attanasio saw a storytelling opportunity: the bus system used by the Cuba, New Mexico, school district to solve distance-learning challenges for some of the country’s most isolated, vulnerable students during the pandemic. 

Reporting for text, photos and video, Attanasio rode one of the school buses used to transport meals, assignments and counselors to remote students, a number of whom do not have electricity, let alone internet. When the bus driver was forced to quarantine, Attanasio took to his car, chasing buses on their routes and interviewing students and their families.

For delivering an insightful multiformat package that reveals the pandemic’s impact on education in a disadvantaged community — prompting one reader to donate $1000 to the school board — Attanasio earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 30, 2020

Best of the Week

As cases peak, AP duo embeds in a French ICU for a 24-hours in the battle against COVID-19

Just as a second surge of coronavirus cases peaked in France, Associated Press journalists secured exclusive, hard-won access to an intensive care unit in southern France’s largest hospital for 24 hours, capturing the exhaustion, loneliness and dedication medical workers desperately struggling to save lives.

After a full day embedded with the ICU team, AP freelance photographer/video journalist Daniel Cole and global enterprise reporter Lori Hinnant came away with a searing, intimately reported all-formats account of Marseille’s La Timone  hospital, as medical staff tried to keep even one bed open.  

For their dogged pursuit of access, tireless reporting and sensitive, compelling and timely storytelling, Cole and Hinnant earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP catches Georgia presidential certification announcement error

alertly caught a discrepancy in an official news release announcing that the Georgia secretary of state had certified the state’s election results, naming Joe Biden as the winner. As other news organizations rushed to publish, Brumback sought confirmation and learned that the release had been sent in error — Georgia hadn’t certified its results yet. AP quickly reported the mix-up and others had to update their stories; one major publication needed 90 minutes to correct its reporting.Catching the mistaken announcement was just the latest example of Brumback’s outstanding coverage of Georgia’s closely contested election. She relied on her deep understanding of Georgia’s voting system and a strong source network built over years. https://bit.ly/39keohM

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Nov. 13, 2020

Best of the States

Tenacious source work leads to national newsbreak on census fraud

The on-the-record accounts from two census workers were stunning: Under pressure from supervisors amid the Trump administration’s push to bring the census to an end, they were encouraged to falsify records in the 2020 headcount.

Whom did they reveal this to? Not surprisingly, they spoke to Mike Schneider, AP’s authority on the census, who leveraged months of source development and reporting to break the story. Posted just an hour before the presidential race was called for former Vice President Joe Biden, the story still broke through with strong play and reader engagement.

For keeping the AP ahead in a critical coverage area with a terrific scoop, Schneider wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 13, 2020

Best of the Week

Count every vote, call the winners and report fast, accurate election news: There’s an AP for that

Coverage of U.S. elections is one of the AP’s most crucial missions, carried out in a sprawling but hyper-meticulous operation that stretches company-wide and brings order and clarity to the nation’s patchwork voting system.

In this year’s election cycle, upended by partisan feuding, a steady stream of disinformation and a global pandemic, the AP built on 172 years of election experience to deliver stories, photos, videos and graphics in innovative ways that didn’t just tell the story of who won, but why as well. Among the highlights was a new feature called Explainer that offered contextual looks at the reasons behind race calls for each state, bringing greater transparency to AP’s decisions when it has never mattered more.

Success on a story this massive can happen only with months, even years, of diligent planning, strong execution and the dedication of hundreds of AP journalists and support staff. For coverage that distinguished the AP in a momentous election year, the collective work of AP’s staff earns this week’s Best of the Week honors.

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Nov. 06, 2020

Best of the States

AP explores impact of Trump immigration policies; rare interviews with Stephen Miller, migrants

President Donald Trump has altered the immigration system arguably more than any U.S. president, meaning this year’s election could have major implications for future immigration policy and for those trying to enter or stay in the U.S. In the run-up to the election, AP’s immigration team unraveled four key policies that have upended lives: reduced refugee numbers, restrictions on international students, a virtual shutdown of asylum and the curbing of legal immigration. 

The journalists used unmatched source work, data reporting and AP’s global footprint, scoring key on-the-record interviews, from would-be refugees stuck overseas to Stephen Miller, Trump’s lead immigration adviser.

For timely, in-depth coverage of immigration issues that likely hang in the balance as the election is decided, the team of Spagat, Tareen, Snow, Watson, Bull and Akour wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 23, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: PG&E lacked basic training before California blackouts

solved a central mystery of Pacific Gas & Electric’s intentional power shutoffs: why the utility was so prone to bungling the intentional blackouts.Following an earlier exclusive looking at PG&E’s blackout response last fall, Pritchard received a tip: PG&E had revealed it did not require emergency management personnel to be trained in emergency management. The pandemic interrupted that reporting, but he and Liedtke revisited it just as blackout season returned to California this year. Their central finding was startling: Among the hundreds of people who handled the 2019 blackouts from PG&E’s emergency operations center, only a handful had any training in California’s Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) – the playbook that California has used for a generation. In response to the reporters’ questions, PG&E revealed to AP that only “several” emergency operations center workers or executives had any SEMS training, something not even the executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission knew.The story rippled through the San Francisco Bay Area media market and outward from there, receiving strong play in broadcast, online and in print. https://bit.ly/2FNzlFA

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Oct. 16, 2020

Best of the Week

Joint AP/‘Frontline’ investigation reveals deadly failures in US medical supply chain

With exceptional multiformat journalism, AP investigative reporters Martha Mendoza and Juliet Linderman exposed the collapse of the U.S. medical equipment supply chain that led to deadly shortages of crucial personal protective equipment during the pandemic.

In collaboration with public television’s “Frontline,” the Center for Global Reporting and AP reporters worldwide, “America’s Medical Supply Crisis” identified a series of missteps in the U.S. that contributed to one of the highest death rates per capita in the world.

The investigation elicited strong public engagement, praise from public health experts and response by bipartisan members of Congress.

For breaking down a complex topic to show the critical importance of medical supply chains and the human cost when those supply chains fail, Linderman and Mendoza share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Oct. 16, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Ukraine revisited: A surge of COVID, a shortage of doctors

returned to the Ukraine to follow up on their May coverage of the country’s outbreak of COVID-19, finding that over the past five months the situation has deteriorated even more. Amid a critical shortage of doctors, the virus has recently made a fierce comeback and many of the healthcare workers they previously documented have since died of the virus.The pair focused on a small hospital in the western part of the country that had been designed for 100 patients but already held 106. They also told the powerful story of a 51-year-old therapist, featured in their earlier story describing the challenges of the outbreak. The man had died the previous week of double pneumonia, which his colleagues believe was caused by the coronavirus, even though he tested negative for it. The therapist’s widow told Chernov she was grateful for AP’s coverage earlier in the year: The stories were so widely published that the whole country knew of her husband and was mourning his death with her.Working with reporter Yuras Karmanau, currently in Kyiv, Chernov and Maloletka produced a deeply reported text story, two exclusive video stories and a comprehensive photo package that gave an intimate look at the crisis in Ukraine. The all-formats work was used by numerous key AP customers.https://bit.ly/3iUbjGv https://bit.ly/3nMI63Mhttps://bit.ly/3lLt64Ghttps://bit.ly/2SO71G6

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Oct. 16, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP finds diversity of US attorneys declining under Trump

used years of data on U.S. attorneys to reveal how any diversity gains made under previous administrations have faltered under President Donald Trump. AP’s analysis found the 85% of Trump’s Senate-confirmed U.S. attorneys are white men, significantly more than the three previous administrations going back to 1993. But the numbers were just part of the story. The AP team reported on why it mattered in this moment of national reckoning over racial inequality and the fairness of the criminal justice system. The story articulated how Black and brown people are disproportionately imprisoned but underrepresented in the system that puts them there. The piece included an impressive photo combo of all the attorneys, showing row after row – predominantly of white men – and video interviews on the value of diversity in the U.S. attorney ranks.https://bit.ly/3drn6e6https://bit.ly/318gc8J

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Oct. 02, 2020

Best of the States

Planning, teamwork, fast filing lead to all-formats wins on Breonna Taylor story

With weeks to prepare, the Louisville, Kentucky, news staff and all-formats reinforcements from other AP bureaus were well positioned for the closely watched grand jury decision in the Breonna Taylor case. 

When the announcement finally came – no officers charged with Taylor’s death – the breaking news was expedited to the wire, cutting through confusion over the decision. Video and photo coverage excelled with fast edits and filing from the protests that followed, capturing the anguish and despair expressed by many in Louisville and keeping the AP well ahead of other agencies.

For their fast, in-depth work on a sensitive, highly competitive story, the team of Lovan, Schreiner, Blackburn, Galofaro, Minchillo, Cummings, Morrison and Householder wins 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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Aug. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Deep reporting exposes the missteps leading to Beirut blast

delivered a stunning and disturbing account of the years of dysfunction behind Beirut’s massive explosion that killed at least 180 people. Based on exhaustive reporting and source work, the AP team produced the most detailed, comprehensive lead-up to Aug. 4, including what is known of the cargo, paper trail, circumstances and missteps that led to the devastating blast. https://bit.ly/34JIJUK

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Aug. 21, 2020

Best of the Week

Dual honorees: Stunning coverage of Belarus protests, and a Ganges River odyssey

This week two distinctly different bodies of work share AP’s weekly honors for their outstanding coverage:

An all-formats team in Minsk, Belarus, facing constant police intimidation, continued to provide extensive coverage of mass protests over the nation’s disputed presidential election. That work included exclusive video of a bloody protester falling to the ground dead in front of heavily armed police, footage that forced the government to reverse its narrative of the incident.

And in work of a different dimension entirely, New Delhi photographer Altaf Qadri spent many months documenting life along the 1,700-mile River Ganges, considered sacred by almost 1 billion Hindus in India. 

Starting with a treacherous two-day hike to the foot of the Himalayas – the remote source of the Ganges – and ending in the fast disappearing mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, Qadri captured a breathtaking range along his odyssey: celebration and death, solitude and fellowship, daily life and holy rites. 

For extraordinary work in enterprise and spot news journalism, Altaf Qadri and the Belarus team of Mstyslav Chernov, Sergei Grits, Yuras Karmanau, Dimitri Kozlov and Dmitri Lovetsky share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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July 31, 2020

Best of the Week

AP exclusive leads to release of migrant kids held in US hotels for deportation

Earmarked for deportation, the immigrant children, some mere toddlers, were parked in nondescript hotels – out of sight and, the Trump administration thought, out of mind.  But not out of reach of an Associated Press exclusive.

With an investigation based on source work, court records and witness accounts, immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant exposed how the Trump administration held children in hotels despite federal anti-trafficking laws and court rulings that mandate child-appropriate facilities.

Merchant’s exclusive sparked outrage and accusations of child abuse. Five days later, the Trump administration said it would not expel 17 people, including children, detained at one Texas hotel, and the hotels pledged to stop allowing the practice.

For his investigative story that punctured layers of secrecy and changed the fortunes of all-but-invisible immigrant children, Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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July 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: California rejected 100,000 botched mail-in ballots

obtained state data showing 102,000 mail ballots for California’s March presidential primary were rejected for lateness or other mistakes. In his exclusive report, Blood showed that mail-in voting can be fraught with problems at a time when the pandemic is driving many states to gear up for near-universal vote-by-mail in November, and as President Trump casts doubt on the system’s validity. The story played widely online and The New York Times flagged the story on its live election briefing. https://bit.ly/2BmTfoF

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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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