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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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. 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

Best of the States

In Mississippi Delta, Catholic abuse cases settled on cheap

As allegations of sexual abuse by clergy have proliferated across the Catholic Church, millions of dollars in settlement money has been paid to victims. Some have received as much as $500,000 apiece.

Not La Jarvis D. Love.

At an IHOP in the Mississippi Delta, a white official from the Franciscan religious order offered to pay him just $15,000 to keep years of alleged abuse secret.

“He said if I wanted more, I would have to get a lawyer and have my lawyer call his lawyer,” Love told The Associated Press. “Well, we don’t have lawyers. We felt like we had to take what we could.”

The story, the latest in AP’s investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church, revealed deals struck with two black men for abuse they said happened in grade school that represent far lower amounts than what other clergy abuse survivors have received. It also revealed the men had been asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, which had long been banned by U.S. Catholic leaders.

Despite the challenges, the team – investigative reporter Mike Rezendes, photographer Maye-E-Wong, video journalist Sarah Blake Morgan, digital storytelling producer Samantha Shotzbarger and researcher Randy Herschaft – produced extraordinary work. Herschaft discovered several critical threads that showed an alleged abuser was working with children even after the church had known about one of the men’s allegations.

For their sensitive work on a complex, emotional and previously untold story, the team of Rezendes, Morgan, Wong, Shotzbarger and Herschaft win this week’s Best of the States.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP probes a pharmaceutical fortune, dispersed in a global labyrinth

Amid reports of an opioid settlement, an investigation shows the myriad ways that the Sackler family which owns Purdue Pharma in a web of companies and trusts, many of them overseas.Adam Geller, national writer, New York. Geller reviewed court papers, securities filings and documents leaked from an exclusive Bermuda law firm. He found that the family has shielded its wealth in ways that could complicate efforts to recover the money in opioid settlements.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/familys-web-makes-it-hard-to-track-cash-from-opioid-maker/2019/08/29/80d4f43e-ca99-11e9-9615-8f1a32962e04_story.html

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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Aug. 16, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Reshaping of federal courts concerns gun control supporters

for a forward-looking piece amid the blizzard of gun-related news that followed the most recent mass shootings, looking at how the reshaping of the federal courts under President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate could undermine strict gun-control laws passed by Democratic-leaning states. That scenario is already playing out in California, where a Republican-appointed federal judge has blocked a state law limiting the number of rounds allowed in ammunition magazines. Thompson’s story, turned around in a day and a half in the wake of the latest shootings, resonated with readers and editors, scoring heavy play online and in print. https://bit.ly/2KDN1BC

Aug. 09, 2019

Best of the States

AP mobilizes cross-formats response to deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio

AP’s U.S. staff has a lot of practice in responding to mass shootings. But two major events in 24 hours tested even the most experienced staff.

They rose to the challenge.

Soon after noon Central time on Saturday, Aug. 3, reports began to surface about an active shooter at an El Paso, Texas, mall. A local news station initially reported that 18 people were shot inside a Walmart – a number which by Monday would rise to 22 dead and two dozen injured.

The quick reaction of AP staff around the country and beyond – in the office, at home and even on vacation – ensured the AP was fast, accurate and leading the way on what would become one of the biggest stories of the year. Text, photo and video staffers converged on El Paso, while colleagues around the country worked sources, contributed to the stories and managed the coverage.

Among the standout reporting was an early interview with a woman who told the heartbreaking story of her sister who died while shielding her 2-month-old son – just a small part of the terrific cross-format continuing coverage.

As the Texas team was just catching its breath, reports of another massacre emerged overnight, this time in Ohio. AP’s initial alert was followed four minutes later by the alert that a shooter killed nine people, including his own sister, before police shot him dead. The East Desk immediately dispatched Ohio staff and others to Dayton.

AP beat competitive agencies with photos and numerous live shots, as well as an incredibly compelling interview with a man who watched his father die in his arms. Elsewhere, many of the same supporting cast already working the El Paso story from afar stepped in on Ohio as well, complementing the coverage on the ground.

For its quick, nimble response, precise reporting and robust, cross-format content on two highly competitive breaking stories, the U.S. staff is recognized with this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 09, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Trump’s ‘rodent’ tweets ring true with Kushner tenants

for reporting based on the ironic twist behind President Donald Trump’s tweets that criticized Baltimore as a “rat and rodent infested mess” – some of those rodents are in apartments owned by his own son-in-law, Jared Kushner.Other news organizations had pointed out that some of the Kushner-owned properties in the Baltimore area had been cited for rodents, as well as mold, bedbugs, leaks and other problems. But AP's team wanted to put a human face to the story, getting Kushner’s tenants to talk about their experiences and what they thought of Trump’s tweets. New York’s Condon, who has previously reported on Kushner’s background as a landlord, and the Baltimore team found tenants who were willing to tell their stories, show the holes where the rodents crept in, and give their opinions on both Trump and Kushner. The story got huge play, even cracking the homepage of the hometown Baltimore Sun. https://bit.ly/2YuMCuV

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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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June 21, 2019

Best of the States

25 years after unresolved killings, O.J. Simpson tells AP: ‘life is fine’

Two weeks before the 25th anniversary of the killings that led to O.J. Simpson’s “Trial of the Century,” special correspondent Linda Deutsch was summoned from retirement to try to coax an interview from the fallen football star. Simpson hadn’t submitted to an interview since being released from prison in 2017, and he turned down an interview request from Deutsch last year. But Deutsch tried again, this time by phone. O.J. didn't want to talk, but he relented after Deutsch reminded him that if he spoke to her, AP’s story would reach all media.

Simpson wouldn’t discuss the crime, but he provided a glimpse into a life now very much outside the public eye, telling Deutsch “life is fine,” a quote that stung any who believed he got away with murder.

Deutsch’s story, including two photos of Simpson at home that were exclusive to the AP, was the day’s top-read AP story online, and the centerpiece of a multi-story package looking back at Simpson’s trial, its key figures and its impact.

For a timely, exclusive interview with a man who remains the focus of intense public interest, Linda Deutsch receives AP’s Best of the States award.

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June 14, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Top US cardinal accused of mishandling abuse allegations against deputy

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s five-month investigation revealed the stunning allegations: A high-ranking Catholic priest had a sexual relationship with a Houston woman for more than a year, counseled her husband on their marital problems, pressed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the couple and continued to hear her confession.

But the cardinal overseeing the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations in the United States approved the priest’s transfer to a church two hours away.

The fallout from Winfield’s revelations was swift: The priest was suspended and church officials reopened their inquiry into the handling of parishioner Laura Pontikes’ accusations.

To tell the sensitive story, Winfield – and a team that included Raleigh-based national writer/video journalist Allen Breed, New York global enterprise photographer Wong Maye-E and Houston correspondent Nomaan Merchant – meticulously planned coverage in each format, including on-camera interviews with Pontikes and her husband, and photos and video of the cardinal and the accused priest.

For an investigation that cast doubt on a top church official’s handling of a case involving startling allegations of abuse, Winfield, Breed, Wong and Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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June 07, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals details of shooting by Oklahoma police that wounded 3 children

for dogged reporting on the physical and emotional struggles of three children wounded when police officers opened fire on their mother’s pickup truck. Authorities had largely avoided releasing information for nearly a month after the incident, but using Oklahoma open records law, and interviews with police, lawyers and the children’s mother, the team was first to reveal details of the investigation into the shooting, and the long recovery ahead for the children. https://bit.ly/2Wmwvyx

May 24, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Military prosecutors sent tracking software to defense team, reporter

Los Angeles courts reporter Brian Melley was enjoying a Sunday afternoon when a longtime legal source reached out with a remarkable tip in the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL facing a court martial on charges he murdered a teenage Islamic State fighter in Iraq in 2017.

The source told Melley that military prosecutors, frustrated by leaks in the case, planted tracking software in emails sent to defense lawyers and a reporter. The unsophisticated software was quickly discovered by the recipients.

Melley worked up the story, including an interview with a military law expert who thought the tactic was ethically, legally and intellectually dubious. His story hit the wire the next morning, quickly gaining traction online. AP was widely credited everywhere it appeared and no major media outlet matched it.

For giving AP an exclusive on an important military justice story, Melley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 03, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Back-to-back scoops reveal details of Louisiana police cases

for two accountability scoops in his native Louisiana. Mustian tapped sources to get the state police there to reveal an embarrassing security breach at the governor’s mansion – a man accused of breaking in, damaging property and then falling asleep on a couch. That APNewsBreak was published just hours after he revealed the full body-camera footage of the police-involved shooting of Juston Landry in Lake Charles. A grand jury cleared the officer of the shooting, but Landry’s attorney characterized the footage as “murder on camera.”https://bit.ly/2GQx9tvhttps://bit.ly/2LfQv0B

May 03, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Dedicated reporting in case against Hawaii’s law enforcement power couple

for years of beat work and shoe leather reporting on the city’s former police chief and his wife, a powerful city prosecutor. The couple now faces trial on corruption charges as prosecutors say they paid for their lavish lifestyle by lying, stealing and cheating their family and clients. Kelleher’s intimate knowledge of the case enabled her to set up the trial in a way no other media could match. https://bit.ly/2Wkq76E

April 12, 2019

Best of the Week

With immigration leading the news cycle, AP team scores three impressive scoops

Homeland Security reporter Colleen Long and White House reporter Jill Colvin have repeatedly put the AP ahead on immigration coverage, but they outdid themselves during an intensely competitive week on the topic.

With President Donald Trump stepping up his threats to shut down the border amid a record surge of migrant families coming to the country, the pair dove into their source reporting, scoring three major scoops by the end of the week:

– Long and Colvin were first to report that Trump was contemplating naming a “border czar” to oversee immigration issues at the border. – They broke the news that the White House had withdrawn the nomination of its pick to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one day before he was scheduled to travel to the border with Trump. The scoop was so far ahead, and the news so perplexing, some in the Trump administration assumed it was a mistake. – A few days later, they delivered a smart piece pulling together the various actions surrounding Trump’s border troubles, suggesting that more personnel shakeups were expected. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned the next day.

The stories all received wide play by major outlets, and the weekender on Trump’s growing problem on the border scored in newspapers around the country, landing on the front page of Sunday papers in 20 states.

For their outstanding work to break multiple stories on a subject that dominated the news cycle, Long and Colvin win AP’s Best of the Week.

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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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