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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Oct. 25, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: U.S. Census Bureau asks states for citizenship information

for following up after President Donald Trump’s executive order asking federal agencies to seek citizenship information when the U.S. Supreme Court said the question couldn't be included in the 2020 Census. Schneider learned something the Census Bureau wasn’t eager to reveal – that they were in the process of asking motor vehicle divisions in all 50 states to provide information from driver’s license data, including citizenship status. https://bit.ly/32KWOO3

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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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. 20, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Persistence, preparation pay off in all-formats Mugabe coverage

for a collaborative effort that produced outstanding images and powerful storytelling surrounding Robert Mugabe’s death, and explored the hardships of the people he left in economic crisis.

The distinctive work done by AP’s all-formats team in Zimbabwe was due in large part to the efforts of photographer Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi. His tireless negotiations with Zimbwabwean authorities over the preceding months meant AP staffers were already accredited to work in the country and could fly into Harare soon after news broke of Mugabe’s death. AP was reporting the story while other news organisations struggled to get into the country.

Mukwazhi’s persistent face-to-face contact with the information ministry was also crucial for obtaining press accreditation for Johannesburg-based Africa News Editor Andy Meldrum, AP’s foremost expert on Zimbabwe, who had been on a blacklist for 16 years for his reporting on Mugabe’s rule. Meldrum’s personal reporting from the ground defined AP’s coverage, while photo, video and text colleagues delivered comprehensive coverage ranging from the official funeral ceremonies to the daily life of Zimbabeans struggling to get by.https://bit.ly/2m2Hlbphttps://bit.ly/2m0JODehttps://apnews.com/RobertMugabe

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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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Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Breaking news of top US prison official’s ouster after Epstein death

for breaking the news that the head of the long-troubled federal prison system was being removed in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. Balsamo had been pressing sources at the Justice Department about the fate of Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons. Two guards and the warden had been disciplined, but nothing was said about the senior leadership. Balsamo worked up prep in case Hurwitz resigned or was fired.

Nine days after Epstein’s death, Balsamo heard from a source who had just met with Attorney General William Barr: Barr was going to remove Hurwitz. The decision was extremely sensitive; even Hurwitz didn't know yet. Balsamo had just a brief window to break the news before it became public, but because he had the prep in place, he was able to move quickly. AP had a 650-word story before any other outlet had even sent an alert. Hurwitz’s removal quickly became one of the top stories of the day, with Balsamo’s story receiving wide play, even by some news organizations with their own Justice Department reporters. https://bit.ly/2NBYC7k

Aug. 23, 2019

Best of the States

Foresight, persistence, sources put AP ahead on green card restrictions for legal immigrants

Few reporters were paying attention to a draft rule barring legal immigrants from getting green cards if they received benefits like Medicaid or food stamps – but AP’s Colleen Long was.

Long, AP’s Washington-based Homeland Security reporter, had spent months asking U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when the final rules would be published, making them official. With a heads-up from sources, she was eventually able to get an advance briefing and interview, writing the story just before heading off on vacation. Then, as soon as the rule appeared, she alerted the Washington desk to move the story, giving AP a major beat over other news organizations. By the time the White House and Homeland Security held briefings, Long already had all the key details on the wire.

For her skilled source-building, persistence and meticulous reporting, Long wins this week’s Best of the States honors.

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Aug. 16, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: States boost flood prevention as damage costs soar

for an AP analysis that identified $1.2 billion in estimated damage from the flooding and severe weather that affected roughly half the states this year, while also finding that many Midwest states are starting to pour tens of millions of dollars into protections against flooding that is expected to become more frequent and destructive as global temperatures rise. Lieb developed his damage figure by contacting the relevant official in every state that has experienced major flooding or severe storms this year, putting a fresh take on a topic that, when the flooding was occurring, was among the biggest stories in the U.S. https://bit.ly/2TpSi3D

Aug. 02, 2019

Best of the Week

Only on AP: Intimate, compelling all-formats coverage of Congo’s deadly Ebola outbreak

It’s a story so dangerous that the journalists who covered it are still checking their temperatures regulary to ensure that they’re not infected with one of the world’s most lethal diseases. Yet AP’s all-formats journalists helped tell intimate stories about the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history.

The team – Johannesburg Chief Photographer Jerome Delay, West Africa Bureau Chief Krista Larson, Istanbul video journalist Bram Janssen and Congo stringer Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro – had been planning since April to report on the outbreak in Congo, a journey complicated not only by risk of the disease but also the threat of rebel attacks. And their story took on even greater urgency when the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a world health emergency.

Readers, and editors, around the world took notice as the team produced a series of compelling stories from the epicenter of the outbreak.

For careful planning and execution of multiformat coverage that brought the frightening outbreak to a deeply personal level, Larson, Delay, Janssen and Kudra win AP’s Best of the Week.

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July 26, 2019

Best of the States

When worlds collide: FOIA reveals ousted Iowa official’s fixation with Tupac Shakur

When Gov. Kim Reynolds abruptly fired Jerry Foxhoven, the head of the Iowa Department of Human Services, she refused to say why.

But within days of the firing, Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley got a startling tip: The ouster may have been due to Foxhoven’s over-the-top fondness for the late Tupac Shakur. A Freedom of Information Act request yielded 350 pages of official emails referencing the hip-hop artist, and on the day before Foxhoven was asked to resign he had sent a mass email to all 4,300 DHS employees telling them to commemorate Shakur’s birthday.

Foley’s story caused a nearly instant sensation in Iowa and among national outlets that credited the AP for the scoop while giving their own spin on the story.

For investigating a tip rather than laughing it off, and then writing a story that managed the rare feat of connecting state government to a 1990s rap icon, Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 05, 2019

Best of the States

AP: Smoke from US wildfires boosting health risk for millions

After last year's deadly wildfires in California brought weeks of sooty skies to cities along the West Coast, the AP decided to take a closer look into the broader impacts of the massive smoke plumes.

Billings, Montana, correspondent and environment team member Matthew Brown teamed with Denver video journalist P. Solomon Banda to produce an all-formats report on the growing public health threat from wildfire smoke. Their work grew from a body of research that points to where smoke impacts will be worst – a broad swath of the West that includes more than 300 counties with tens of millions of people.

For diligent reporting that provided a deeper look into how wildfires affect communities throughout the region, Brown and Banda earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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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

Best of the States

Teamwork and drone visuals lead coverage after tornadoes rip western Ohio

There’s a real difference between straight aerial photography and the bird’s-eye view that AP’s audience had of the destruction after a series of tornados touched down in western Ohio late on Memorial Day. Using a drone, Cincinnati photographer John Minchillo and video journalist Angie Wang provided those images from a rare perspective – both still photos and video – showing residents coping with the wreckage and sorting through their gutted homes.

The resulting video coverage was our overall top U.S. video story for the week, and Minchillo’s still photos were widely played, including front pages of the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Two of his photos appeared in NBC’s The Week in Pictures.

From small details to sweeping landscapes of destruction, their dedication, teamwork and speed of delivery make John Minchillo and Angie Wang this week’s Best of the States winners.

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May 31, 2019

Best of the States

The one that got away: Survivor of serial killer adds emotion, depth to execution coverage

Execution coverage often focuses on the condemned inmate or the manner of death. So, faced with covering his eighth execution – a Florida serial killer – Tallahassee correspondent Brendan Farrington told the extraordinary personal story of a victim who escaped and helped police find the man after he raped her decades ago. That woman had chosen to witness the man’s execution.

Farrington doggedly tracked down the woman, now a sheriff’s deputy, who finally agreed to an interview on the eve of the execution. Her compelling story resonated with readers everywhere.

For his persistence and sensitivity in telling a personal and emotional victim’s story in what could have been a rote story on a serial killer’s execution, Farrington wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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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 Week

Source development, persistence land AP scoop with clues to failed Venezuelan uprising

The plot was bold: Fuel a military uprising in Venezuela by shifting the loyalty of key leaders, putting them in opposition to President Nicolas Maduro. But the plan to help the U.S.-backed opposition leader backfired at the moment of truth, prompting an understandable reaction from press to find out what went wrong.

While most other media speculated, AP Andean News Director Joshua Goodman used dogged reporting and years of source development to break the untold story of how the Obama and Trump administrations missed golden opportunities to woo two generals that the White House said were central to the plan.

The story garnered major play among customers and APNews users, and even earned the attention of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a driver of U.S. policy on Venezuela, who praised Goodman on Twitter.

For unearthing pivotal clues around a shadowy turn of international events, Goodman wins AP’s Best of the Week.

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May 10, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

The drive-by: AP makes key photos of Assange leaving court

for his highly competitive photos of Julian Assange leaving court. Through detailed planning, teamwork and editorial and technical insight, Dunham pulled off the tough ‘car shot’ through the tinted windows of the van carrying Assange after his appearance. AP assigned three photographers and made an educated guess at what route the van would take. Using the traffic lights, Dunham positioned himself to shoot several frames up against the vehicle window as the van stopped at a light. https://nyti.ms/2vxC7WOhttps://bit.ly/2WD6C9S

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