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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Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the Week

Determined source work exposes horrific massacre in holy city of Ethiopia’s isolated Tigray region

Ethiopia’s military campaign in its defiant Tigray province has been shrouded in secrecy since the conflict started in November, but AP East Africa correspondent Cara Anna has been determined to report what happened in the virtually sealed-off region. She has chased every lead through relentless source work, building contacts and networks as she reported one exclusive after another.

For this latest exclusive, Anna had been hearing rumors of a massacre in the holy city of Axum. When phone service returned to the city recently, she was able to reach the deacon of the Axum church who described in disturbing detail the mass killings by Eritrean troops. He believes some 800 people were killed that weekend at the church and around the city, and that thousands in Axum have died in all. Anna found other survivors who corroborated the deacon’s story and offered additional details.

Her reporting scooped all other media and even human rights groups who had been investigating Axum. It also drew rare and surprisingly quick responses from the governments of both Eritrea and Ethiopia.

For determined and resourceful reporting to break through the secrecy surrounding the Tigray conflict and expose the atrocity at Axum, Anna wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Investigation: China, others spread theory that US created COVID

collaborated on a nine-month investigation of the AP’s investigative and fact-checking teams, in a joint effort with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab. They found that China, Russia, and Iran — drawing on one another’s online disinformation — amplified false theories that the COVID-19 virus was a U.S. bioweapon created in a military lab or was designed by Washington to infect their countries. The resulting in-depth investigation, bolstered by an immersive digital presentation and an explanatory video, provided a comprehensive look at the online battle between Washington, Moscow, Tehran and Beijing to control the narrative about the origins of the pandemic.The package of stories was widely used by news organizations around the world, including by the South China Morning News and Germany’s DW News.https://bit.ly/37L711shttps://bit.ly/2O2N1Awhttps://bit.ly/2MpNQ5S

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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

Best of the Week

Latest on New York COVID policy: State sent over 9,000 virus patients to nursing homes

For nine months, AP has led all media on the story of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial directive to return recovering coronavirus patients from hospitals to nursing homes during the pandemic.

Last week, reporters Bernard Condon and Jennifer Peltz added to that record. Using data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, they reported exclusively that more than 9,000 patients in New York were released under the state’s policy, amid criticism that it accelerated nursing home outbreaks. The latest AP scoop has helped put Cuomo and his administration on the defensive at home and nationally.

For keeping AP at the forefront of this accountability story for the better part of a year — including their latest break documenting the release of COVID patients into nursing homes — Condon and Peltz earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP exposes likely superspreader at federal executions

have covered the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, as well as every federal execution of the last year. That reporting and insight led them to the stunning realization that the Trump administration’s unprecedented string of executions likely became a superspreader event at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.Tarm first learned about the case spread when he heard that he had been exposed — although the Bureau of Prisons did not notify him or others attending the executions. Through rigorous, painstaking reporting, the three Michaels discovered that fully 70% of death row inmates had COVID during the 13 executions in six months, but the Bureau of Prisons felt it wasn’t their responsibility to ensure that everyone was told about the spread or whether their employees were following protocols.The trio’s riveting story detailed how cases spread rapidly through the federal prison complex and likely helped spread infections around the country during a critical time in the pandemic as deaths were skyrocketing. The Friday evening scoop lit up social media and was a top news story well into the weekend. https://bit.ly/3qmh0Sh

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Feb. 05, 2021

Best of the States

AP months ahead of New York state in identifying undercount of nursing home deaths

When AP reported exclusively last August that New York state was undercounting its COVID nursing home death toll by thousands, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ripped the story as part of a politically motivated “blame game.”

But the state’s own investigation, announced last week, reached a nearly identical conclusion, affirming AP’s reporting.

AP’s 2020 investigation had seized on the fact that New York counts just residents who died at nursing homes, not those who were transported to hospitals and died there. AP’s analysis of federal data indicated that the state’s official toll was undercounted by 65%, or well over 4,000 deaths. 

For sharp reporting that led the media pack, withstood criticism from the governor and months later was vindicated, this week’s Best of the States award goes to Bernard Condon, Matt Sedensky and Meghan Hoyer (now data director at The Washington Post).

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP duo tracks WHO investigators in Wuhan

teamed up with their Beijing colleagues, fast-filing all-formats content to keep AP ahead on the challenging, high-profile story of the World Health Organization mission to Wuhan to investigate the origins of the deadly COVID-19 virus. Video performance was consistently strong and notably outdid AP’s major competition on at least two days.Wang and Guan scrambled all week to follow the movements of the WHO delegation arriving and departing hotels and hospitals. Wang managed multiple live shots and Guan found angles to grab photos of the team; he also revealed some of their luggage: yoga mats and musical instruments.Meanwhile, the Beijing bureau was producing video edits from the live shots and expediting text based on the reports coming from the AP pair in Wuhan. On one day, Feb. 1, AP delivered five video edits, including a brief but rare comment from a WHO team member speaking from his car window, while a competitive agency had just two edits.https://bit.ly/2O6sVoWhttps://bit.ly/2MWrUishttps://bit.ly/3cHwbRRhttps://bit.ly/3jh6lVW

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Jan. 29, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Up close, personal reporting on the US political divide

wanted to explore how people on different sides of the political gulf in the U.S. view the election and transfer of power.They found two Maryland residents who represent polar political opposites: one a Trump Republican who has two TVs tuned to conservative media; the other a staunch Democrat eager for the inauguration of Joe Biden. Both are members of a program designed to bridge the nation’s extraordinary political divide.The AP team followed as the pair navigated the turbulent transition between administrations, careful to report fairly while not making their divergent positions equivalent — the journalists made it clear that the facts establish Biden’s win and do not support claims of a stolen election. The all-formats package attracted attention and yes, sparked heated discussion online. https://bit.ly/3ckElj2https://bit.ly/2Yn9r19

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Jan. 22, 2021

Best of the Week

Trust in AP: Unmatched sourcing delivers scoop on fears of National Guard insider attack

On the news-heavy weekend between impeachment and inauguration, Lolita Baldor broke a story that became the dominant item for news organizations across platforms: Top military officials feared insider attacks from National Guardsmen activated to protect the inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all 25,000 troops sent to the city.

And officials weren’t whispering their concerns anonymously; Baldor quoted the Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy. That was no fluke; Baldor has built trust with McCarthy and other top officials at the Pentagon. The Army granted her exclusive, off-the-record access to an inaugural planning session, then arranged on-the-record interviews with a number of leaders.

Baldor’s scoop immediately lit up social media and was picked up by some 330 news outlets, including networks and major publications.

For impressive source work that produced a major scoop in the intensive buildup to the inauguration, Baldor wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Jan. 22, 2021

Best of the States

AP investigation: Capitol rioters included highly trained ex-military, law enforcement

AP reporters Michael Biesecker Jake Bleiberg and James LaPorta joined with colleagues across the country to reveal the influence of current and former members of the military or law enforcement on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The AP team surveyed public records, social media posts and videos, and the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies, finding at least 22 current or former members of the U.S. military or law enforcement have been identified as part of Capitol riot, with more under investigation. The story gave specific examples of how such training played out in rioters’ tactics and equipment during the attack.

The all-formats package received prominent play from AP customers and was the top offering on the AP News app on a busy news day. 

For timely and insightful reporting that sheds light on the backgrounds and capabilities of Capitol Hill rioters, Biesecker, Bleiberg and LaPorta win AP’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 22, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive images as WHO investigators arrive in Wuhan

scored with exclusive photos and video on a highly competitive story: the arrival of a World Health Organization team in Wuhan, China, to investigate the origins of the coronavirus. While most of the competition was stuck outside, the AP pair, hauling gear, hustled inside the Wuhan airline terminal to find the arrival gate and grab images of investigators deplaning. Minutes later, they noticed the WHO team waiting outside the terminal, and AP was the only international media to get its own clear images of the investigators on the ground.In addition, McNeil and Taipei writer Huizhong Wu had prepped a text story. AP’s Asia desk was able to alert and send a 700-word story within minutes of confirming the team’s arrival in Wuhan.https://bit.ly/3sHHvTJhttps://bit.ly/2Nch6wQ

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Jan. 15, 2021

Best of the Week

Riot in America: Compelling and courageous coverage of the insurrection at the US Capitol

The AP team arriving on Capitol Hill expected to cover history on Jan. 6: an unprecedented challenge from Republicans lawmakers to the outcome of the election. Within hours, however, those staffers found themselves covering an insurrectionist mob storming the U.S. Capitol.

As angry supporters of President Donald Trump descended on Capitol Hill, confronting police, breaking down barricades and smashing through windows, AP journalists working in all formats documented the chaotic scenes inside and outside the Capitol.

Despite orders to evacuate, trashed equipment and a vicious attack on one of our staffers, the team on the ground kept words and images moving throughout the day, highlighted by stunning visuals. The work continued into the early hours of the next morning, when Congress finally the certified election results.

For their riveting real-time coverage as U.S. history unfolded, the courageous and dedicated staff on Capitol Hill earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Jan. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Records confirm Trump devotees fueled US Capitol riot

led an effort to dig into the backgrounds of more than 120 people who were either arrested or emerged on social media after storming the U.S. Capitol, finding they were overwhelmingly made up of longtime Trump supporters, including Republican Party officials and donors and far-right militants.AP’s fast-breaking team effort to review social media posts, voter registrations, court files and other public records was the most comprehensive look yet at those involved in the riot, giving lie to claims by right-wing pundits that the violence was perpetrated by left-wing antifa infiltrators. The detailed background work included calls, and in some cases even doorknocks, to nearly all whose names emerged from the Jan. 6 takeover.The AP found that many of the rioters were adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory as well as claims by Trump that the vote had been stolen. Several had openly threatened violence against Democrats and Republicans they considered insufficiently loyal to the president.The team’s story, accompanied by AP photos taken inside the Capitol, scored huge play and was featured prominently on major websites. It stayed among the top stories on AP News for two straight days. https://bit.ly/2Kd7Tn1

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Jan. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Brazilian women seek now-legal abortions in Argentina

teamed up to make AP the first news organization to report the extremely sensitive and timely story of Brazilian women starting to travel to Argentina for now-legal abortions.The complex all-formats story required coordination between Brazilian and Argentine bureaus to follow individuals crossing the border, and awareness of the shifting legal issues in both countries. The staffers had to ensure that AP was presenting the story and its protagonists in a way that was fair, useful to clients, and — most importantly — minimized risks of our interviewees facing backlash.The AP had unique access to a 20-year-old woman traveling to Argentina who agreed to show her masked face and be quoted by her first name. They had worked diligently to cultivate her trust and that of the nongovernmental agency assisting her, repeatedly addressing concerns without applying pressure.Ultimately, both the woman and the agency were comfortable with the result: The package offered a uniquely intimate perspective into this highly controversial issue that disproportinately affects women from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. https://bit.ly/3bws3nd

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Jan. 11, 2021

Best of the Week

AP traces child labor from Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields to major brands, Girl Scout cookies

For the third installment of their groundbreaking investigation into labor abuse in Asia’s palm oil industry, reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason linked child labor to the supply chains of the makers of popular cereals, candies and ice creams, including KitKats, Oreos and Cap’n Crunch. They also traced the oil to that most American treat: Girl Scout cookies. 

Joined by photographers Binsar Bakkara and Mark Humphrey, and video journalist Allen Breed, their reporting found that some tens of thousands of children toil in the palm fields, some kept from school and forced to work for free or for little pay. Some are trafficked.

The framing of the story — through the eyes of a young girl in the fields in Indonesia and a Tennessee Girl Scout campaigning to have palm oil removed from the cookies — resonated with readers; reaction on social media led the Girl Scouts to address the issue with their suppliers.

For shedding unprecedented light on the children toiling in Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields, and connecting the abusive practice to major consumer brands, McDowell, Mason, Bakkara, Breed and Humphrey share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 28.

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Jan. 11, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Virus experts find themselves facing sudden fame

interviewed some of the virologists and epidemiologists we’re all seeing on the evening news, and produced a fascinating portrait of scientists who — for better or worse — have found themselves in the pop culture crucible. Seattle-based virus expert Dr. Angela Rasmussen told Marcelo how her Twitter following exploded after she got into a tangle with Elon Musk, who attempted to “mansplain” the pandemic to her. Atlanta-based infectious diseases expert Laurel Bristow’s Instagram account swelled to 300,000 followers as she posted videos answering people’s questions and concerns about COVID-19. But Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and a frequent presence in the news media, had a darker experience: The India-born expert in pandemic preparedness told Marcelo he’s received anti-immigrant tropes and gotten death threats. https://bit.ly/38knHO1

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Jan. 11, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Greece team tracks down nurse who built a home ICU

dug behind the scenes to reveal the extraordinary lengths one man went to in caring for his COVID-19-stricken mother-in-law and other relatives — the nurse created an intensive care unit in his home. Kantouris won the international competition to track down the man whose feat had begun to appear in local media reports. He interviewed nurse Gabriel Tachtatzoglou, delving into his motivations and methods for taking on the high-risk endeavor. Tachtatzoglou had spared his family members from hospitalization in an overburdened local facility while simultaneously easing the patient load in Greece’s most heavily affected region, where ICUs were already at capacity. Visuals were a challenge as the makeshift ICU was dismantled when the family recovered, but photo stringer Papanikos complemented the story with a visit to the home for a portrait shoot. Athens staffer Derek Gatopoulos drafted this installment of AP’s “One Good Thing” series, which was picked up even by the Greek press. https://bit.ly/3oy9nHv

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Jan. 01, 2021

Best of the Week

Fast response, resourceful work breaks news on Nashville’s Christmas Day bombing

When a bomb exploded in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, early on Christmas morning, AP’s local staff upended their holiday plans and sprang into action. They were soon joined by colleagues, many working remotely, who jumped in to help coordinate coverage and piece together what had happened. 

The team overcame severely limited access and communications to quickly deliver photos and break stories over several days, including the news that human tissue had been found at the explosion site, and the bomber’s chilling prediction of fame. 

The outstanding work attracted heavy play and readership. 

For mobilizing quickly and resourcefully over the Christmas holiday, Kimberlee Kruesi, Mark Humphrey, Eric Tucker, Mike Balsamo, Denise Lavoie and Mike Kunzelman share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the last full week of 2020.

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