Dec. 20, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Accidental shootings show nationwide gap in police training

A mother shot fatally shot in front of her 3-year-old son. A suspect killed while an officer tried to handcuff him. A Homeland Security agent was shot at a Texas high school by a U.S. marshal fumbling with equipment. These are among the more than 1,400 unintentional discharges found by Seattle reporter Martha Bellisle in an investigation that highlights the shortcomings of police weapons training.

No agency tracks how often local, state and federal officers accidentally fire their weapons. Over the course of more than a year, Bellisle exhaustively documented 1,422 unintentional discharges by 258 law enforcement agencies since 2012.

With contributions from colleagues in photo and video – including the story of an Iowa woman who was killed when an officer’s gun discharged, leaving her husband and children still scarred by the tragedy – the all-formats package received prominent play.

For an exclusive that sheds light on a virtually undocumented area of firearms safety, Bellisle earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 22, 2019

Best of the Week

AP dominates with live video, photo coverage of fiery Hong Kong university siege

When heavily-armored police stormed protesters occupying Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University, AP journalists were there to comprehensively document the violent confrontation that ensued.   

The effort to retake the school and arrest protesters trapped on the campus was beamed to customers around the globe in real-time, putting AP ahead of the competition with photos and live video of a dramatic escalation in the struggle between authorities and those protesting Beijing’s tightening policies toward Hong Kong.

The scoops were the result of months of protest coverage by AP visual journalists in Hong Kong, careful planning of how to report the siege, and wise use of AP resources around the world. 

The team on the ground – photographers Vincent Yu and Kin Cheung of Hong Kong; Han Guan Ng, Beijing; and Achmad Ibrahim, Jakarta; and video journalists Raf Wober, Hong Kong; Johnson Lai, Taipei; Dake Kang, Beijing; Andi Jatmiko, Jakarta; and freelancers Katie Tam and Alice Fung – delivered days of impressive coverage around the siege.

For smart planning and outstanding execution to document a chaotic story with breathtaking speed and depth, the visuals team covering the Hong Kong protests wins AP’s Best of the Week.

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July 26, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

APNewsbreak: NRC proposes fewer inspections at US nuclear plants

for using a tip from a nuclear regulator – whom she had worked long and hard to develop as a source – to break the news that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is recommending that the agency cut back on inspections at the country’s nuclear reactors, a cost-cutting move promoted by the nuclear power industry but denounced by opponents as a threat to public safety. The agency quietly slipped the recommendation onto its website without any public notice. https://bit.ly/2JBoRIA

May 24, 2019

Best of the Week

Sky-high reporting and smart use of all formats puts AP ahead amid Persian Gulf tensions

As tensions between Iran, its neighbors and the United States ratcheted up last week, AP’s staff in Baghdad, Dubai and Tehran turned out aggressive, yet cautious coverage, bringing facts and unique perspectives to the tense and escalating situation in the Persian Gulf, often well ahead of the competition.

Those stories included reports of “sabotaged” oil tankers off the coast of the UAE, and AP broke the news that Iran had quadrupled its uranium enrichment.

Meanwhile, AP’s Tehran team produced an all-formats piece on the mood of people on the city’s streets that could not be matched by competitors, and AP was first to report an FAA warning that Iran could misidentify commercial flights in the region.

AP was also aggressive on related developments, ensuring that clients had video and text coverage of tweets by President Donald Trump and Iranian officials.

For smart judgment, planning and effective use of AP’s resources to break news and bring facts to a region on edge, the team of Jon Gambrell, Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Mehdi Fattahi, Bassem Mroue, Nasser Karimi and Vahid Salemi wins AP's Best of the Week, with the support of their colleagues and contributors in the region.

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May 10, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: California synagogue hadn’t used security funds received shortly before shooting

After a gunman opened fire in a Southern California synagogue on Passover, killing a woman and wounding a man, his 8-year-old niece and the rabbi leading the service, the inevitable question was asked: Could anything have been done to stop the violence?

Reporters Don Thompson and Adam Beam in Sacramento and Julie Watson in San Diego combined to report exclusively that the synagogue itself had recognized security deficiencies and even received a state grant to address them.

But it hadn’t spent the money, the AP team revealed.

For their exclusive follow-up to a crime that generated global attention, Thompson, Watson and Beam 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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Jan. 25, 2019

Best of the Week

All-formats team dominates coverage of Nairobi terror attack

From the first blasts, gunfire and panicked phone calls, the Nairobi bureau immediately assumed a terror attack, aggressively mobilizing resources in a textbook example of cross-format journalism that put the AP ahead on every element of a major breaking story: an extremist attack on a hotel complex that left 21 people dead, in addition to the five attackers.

Senior video producer Khaled Kazziha called freelance video journalist Joe Mwihia, who slipped into the scene with Kenyan special forces, filming exclusive footage as officers cleared rooms, guns drawn, and ran down rumors of a grenade. His three hours of exclusive reporting earned him the byline on the text story based on his detailed contributions.

Meanwhile, staff video journalist Josphat Kasire rushed to the scene with a LiveU and quickly scooped competitors with the first live shot showing burning cars, injured people, survivors fleeing in droves and witness accounts. His compelling footage became the heart of the text story, and the live images continued overnight as the attack unfolded.

Contributing to the outstanding video coverage were freelance cameraman Idi Ali Juma, freelance camera assistant Moses Ndungu and freelance producers Geoffrey Kaviti and Desmond Tiro.

“Sheer bravery,” international editor Ian Phillips said later of the team’s work.

Around the same time, Nairobi photographers Ben Curtis and Khalil Senosi captured gripping images of people fleeing the mayhem and security forces aiming weapons at attackers, among their standout photos.

The play for the photos, video and text was off the charts, including major client Sky News running live and packaged videos on a day busy with Brexit news.

For their formidable breaking news coverage across all formats, the Nairobi team of Kazziha, Curtis, Senosi, Mwihia, Kasire, Ali Juma, Tiro, Kavita and Ndungu wins AP’s Best of the Week.

Special Citation

The Best of the AP committee has also awarded a special lifetime citation to Libya freelance photographer and video journalist Mohamed Ben Khalifa, who died Jan. 19 when the military convoy with which he was traveling came under missile fire in southern Tripoli.

The committee honored Ben Khalifa for the body of his work, carried out with integrity and courage for The Associated Press and his other media clients.

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Sept. 28, 2018

Best of the Week

AP dominates multiformat coverage of attack on Iran military parade

A Sept. 22 assault on a military parade in Iran was the country’s deadliest terror attack in nearly a decade. AP's entire team of journalists in Tehran drew on its vast expertise to convey key details and the broader context of the shootings that killed at least 25 people and wounded 60 others.

Staffers swung into action soon after gunmen disguised as soldiers suddenly opened fire on the annual military celebration in Ahvaz, in southwestern Iran. The attack sent parade viewers fleeing in panic, the scenes of chaos and fear broadcast live across the country.

For their dominating work in covering the breaking news, the Tehran-based team of Nasser Karimi, Ami Vahdat, Vahid Salemi, Ebrahim Noroozi, Mehdi Fattahi, Mohammad Nasiri, Mohsen Ganji, Saeed Sarmadi share the Best of the Week award.

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June 08, 2018

Best of the Week

Global video exclusives as North Korean official travels for summit prep with Trump

The low-key, secretive trip by senior official Kim Yong Chol from North Korea to the U.S., carrying a letter for President Donald Trump, could have gone undocumented were it not for clever, enterprising work by staffers on two continents.

Senior video producer Raf Wober, based in Hong Kong, noticed high security in Beijing's airport, recognized Kim, and used his cellphone to capture video as the North Korean walked through the airport. Wober's video and his alert to the Asia Desk set off a worldwide scramble as Trump later announced that Kim was heading to the U.S. for talks about the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit.

In New York, the team of video journalists Sara Gillesby, Joseph Frederick, Luke Sheridan, Ted Shaffrey, David Martin and Robert Bumsted picked up Wober’s efforts, using technology and street smarts to get exclusive live shots that included Kim’s plane arriving at John F. Kennedy airport, Kim walking on the tarmac to a motorcade, and his arrival at a Manhattan hotel.

All of which was unmatched by the competition, resulting in strong play in the U.S. and internationally.

For their quick and creative thinking to net AP worldwide exclusives, Wober and the New York video team share the Beat of the Week award.

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May 31, 2018

Best of the Week

Mind-blowing exclusive: Security troops on US nuclear base took LSD

After five years exposing the struggles of the U.S. Air Force’s nuclear missile corps – security lapses, leadership and training failures, morale problems – Bob Burns uncovered an exclusive that was mind-blowing in every sense of the word: Airmen guarding a base in Wyoming had bought, distributed and used LSD.

Burns, a Washington-based national security writer, knew from his previous reporting on the missile corps that illegal drug use was a recurring problem and that the Air Force was reluctant to discuss it.

When the court martial proceedings began in 2016 he started filing FOIA requests for the transcripts and supporting legal documents. It took the Air Force well over a year to finish responding to Burns’ requests, but by January 2018 he had the bulk of the records he needed to piece together the story, including trial transcripts and related documents, with descriptions of drug experiences of airmen, ranging from panic to euphoria.

For his extraordinary revelation that some of the nation’s most deadly weapons were in the hands of hallucinating airmen, Burns takes this week's Beat of the Week award.

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May 17, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Texas biker accused of killing man who was shot by police

In the three years since the deadliest biker shooting in U.S. history, Fort Worth correspondent Emily Schmall has meticulously gathered documents, reports and court records to put together a spreadsheet that integrates autopsy reports, firearms analyses and ballistics evidence, including the names and serial numbers of the weapons, to whom they were traced, where they were recovered from and whether they were linked to a death or injury.

Her work paid off last week when prosecutors handed down the first murder charges in the case. Schmall was able to exclusively report that prosecutors had charged one of the bikers for murdering a man who was shot twice by a SWAT officer.

For persistent, investigative reporting that exclusively illuminated potential problems with a shifting strategy in a closely-watched case, Schmall wins this week’s Best of the States.

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April 20, 2018

Best of the Week

Exclusive AP photo of missiles streaking over Damascus dominates global play

When President Donald Trump tweeted a warning last week about a possible missile strike on Syria, the AP was well ahead in its planning for what would eventually follow.

An AP cross-format team had applied for visas for Damascus a month ago. Last-minute negotiations and a bit of luck led to them being issued two days before air strikes by the U.S., France and Britain..

And when the missiles started raining down, Hassan Ammar, a Beirut-based photographer, captured the signature image of the Damascus night sky. His photo, which dominated world play, earns the Beat of the Week.

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March 09, 2018

Best of the Week

Nothing routine about it: Larger-than-life photo of Putin dominates play

It's hard to pull off a truly distinctive photo at a set-piece event with the world's press also gathered there. Russia's Chief Photographer Alexander (Sasha) Zemlianichenko, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, did just this with a low angle on the big screen of Putin's face, staring down and dominating the audience at Putin's state-of-the nation address March 1. The photo, which graced front pages and websites around the world, wins the Beat of the Week.

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Feb. 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Man charged with selling armor-piercing bullets to Las Vegas shooter

In the days after the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people, authorities said gunman Stephen Paddock acted alone. But search warrants showed that police and the FBI were looking at two "persons of interest."

One was Paddock's girlfriend, whom police had cleared, and the other was a man named Douglas Haig of Arizona.

Haig talked to various media, including the AP, and held a news conference characterizing his sale of tracer ammunition to Paddock as a lawful transaction.

But Phoenix newsman Jacques Billeaud wasn’t convinced. He called a source he has cultivated in law enforcement who was willing to help but didn’t know the answer to Billeaud’s questions. Then, a few days later, the official called to say that Haig indeed had been charged with a crime. Billeaud quickly checked an electronic court records system and found that armor-piercing ammunition with Haig's fingerprints had been found in Paddock's hotel room. Haig was charged with illegally manufacturing and selling the ammunition.

Billeaud's relationship with his source put the AP ahead, and customers used the AP as first word on a competitive story. For sticking with the story and using long-term source work to break news, Billeaud will receive this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Feb. 02, 2018

Best of the States

AP uncovers NJ utility lobbying for a bailout, and blackout of financial records

In the weeks before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie left office, a measure quickly advanced through the Legislature that would give PSEG, the state’s largest utility, a $300 million bailout for its nuclear power plants.

That got the curiosity of statehouse reporter Michael Catalini, who started digging.

A records request turned up more than a dozen emails showing that the company had lobbied for the bailout and wrote in a clause itself to prevent the public release of financial information proving it needed the money.

The bill introduced in the Legislature included language to shield the company’s books from the public, but failed to get to Christie’s desk during December’s lame-duck session. It re-emerged after Democrat Phil Murphy took office.

Catalini’s story revealing the lobbying effort was published a day before a committee hearing on the bill. Lawmakers rewrote the measure after the story appeared to clarify that PSEG would be required to submit “any financial information” to the state utility regulator.

For holding the utility and state lawmakers accountable, Catalani receives this week's Best of the States award.

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