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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June 26, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Coronavirus test yields rare coverage during Beijing outbreak

turned an unpleasant task into a unique coverage opportunity last week. He had been identified as someone who had been in the vicinity of a market at the center of a new coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese capital, and a local official told him to report for coronavirus testing.AP and other foreign media had been barred from the site, so when Schiefelbein reported for testing, he began discreetly taking photos and reporting a first-person account from the Beijing’s testing program. The story and photo gallery, including the voices of others who were summoned for testing, gave AP’s audience a distinctive look inside the testing process as the Beijing outbreak drew global attention. https://bit.ly/2Vh0xRL

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June 12, 2020

Best of the Week

AP Exclusive: WHO’s behind-the-scenes frustration to get virus info from China

China and the Trump administration had opposing narratives about the early days of the new coronavirus epidemic: China bragged about providing information quickly to the world through the World Health Organization, while the Trump administration accused China and WHO of colluding to hide information.

It took The Associated Press – drawing on recordings, documents and interviews – to tell the definitive story: Rather than colluding with China, WHO itself was being kept in the dark, praising China in public to shake loose information while expressing considerable frustration in private.

AP’s widely praised story, months in the making, was so sensitive that we did not name the two main journalists to avoid blowback in China and to prevent anyone from identifying our sources.

For in-depth reporting that drew back the curtains and punctured the preferred narratives of China, WHO and the Trump administration at the same time, the AP reporters who produced this stunning piece earn Best of the Week honors. 

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May 15, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Only on AP: ‘Impossible’ access, stunning visuals of Ukraine hospitals

Video journalist Mstyslav Chernov and freelance photographer Evgeniy Maloletka used their extraordinary access to western Ukrainian hospitals to produce powerful images of medical workers desperately treating COVID-19 patients despite a medical system in crisis. They also visited one hospital’s makeshift morgue and a cemetery where families grieved over lost loved ones. Chernov had driven 2,500 kilometers (1,600 miles) across three countries, then worked tirelessly to earn the trust of medics who eventually gave him and Maloletka rare access to document the dire situation. The play was impressive among AP customers and across media in Ukraine. One foundation even reached out to the pathologist who had set up an outdoor morgue, supplying the medic with protective gear, disinfectants and a tent.https://bit.ly/2LmvBKuhttps://bit.ly/2WsZdvWhttps://bit.ly/2WwwUNb

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May 15, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source work yields exclusive: $6M aid for tennis players

worked sources to score a 24-hour beat on all competition, reporting that a $6 million fund was being set up to help more than 800 lower-ranked players who are going broke during the pandemic. Fendrich’s story went unmatched until the official announcement, getting wide play, including ESPN.com and Tennis.com, and was the subject of a panel discussion on Tennis Channel.https://bit.ly/35UvPBQhttps://bit.ly/2YZwoJl

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May 08, 2020

Best of the States

Sourcing, records yield scoop: Texas AG helped donor fight Colorado lockout

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he’d sent a letter leaning on Gunnison County, Colorado, to end an order expelling non-residents during the pandemic, AP’s Paul Weber immediately wondered: Why was the top law enforcement official in Texas picking a fight with a remote county two states away in the middle of the crisis? And did Paxton have donors there? 

Weber and colleague Jake Bleiberg started combing campaign finance and property records, quickly finding that some of Paxton’s biggest donors have homes in the wealthy mountain resort town of Crested Butte, Colorado. 

Persistent reporting and extensive public records work revealed that Paxton’s push against the Gunnison health order stood to benefit an exclusive group of Texans, including campaign donors who gave the attorney general a total of nearly $2 million. AP Texas members jumped on the story, using it in print and online.

For alertly connecting the dots between a puzzling press release and a conflict of interest in the attorney general's office, Weber and Bleiberg earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 24, 2020

Best of the Week

AP gets ‘blockbuster’ scoop on China’s delay in warning of the coronavirus

What and when did authorities in China know about the coronavirus’ initial spread and did they react fast enough? Those have become burning questions as COVID-19 tears a deadly and destructive path across the globe.

Among the toughest to answer, too. 

The Associated Press cracked open China’s lockdown on information with an exclusive story – based on internal documents and expert testimony – revealing that top officials in Beijing knew about a likely pandemic, but held off on warning the public for at least six days – while tens of thousands attended a banquet in Wuhan and millions more travelled for Lunar New Year festivities.

The story’s byline – “By The Associated Press” – testified to the risks run by the reporter who secured and developed the major scoop.

For breaking through China’s tightly policed walls of information control about the critical first days of the pandemic, with a scoop secured in one of the world’s toughest media environments, the unnamed but not unsung AP reporter is this week’s Best of the Week laureate.

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March 13, 2020

Best of the Week

AP Decision Desk caps stellar Super Tuesday with instant call: California for Sanders

On Super Tuesday afternoon, AP’s Stephen Ohlemacher and Emily Swanson were locked away in a conference room – isolated from their colleagues in the Washington bureau – reviewing incoming results from AP VoteCast. AP’s survey – developed to be more accurate than traditional exit polling – was already revealing what was about to happen on the biggest night of the Democratic presidential primary campaign.

The VoteCast data revealed trends in absentee voting and shifting preferences as Democratic candidates dropped out of the race, giving AP the evidence it needed to call California for Bernie Sanders as the state’s polls closed at 11:00 Eastern. News outlets relying on exit polls would not make that call for more than a week. 

Meanwhile, Seth Borenstein was crunching the numbers on the all-important delegate count, a task that required days of painstaking analysis of incomplete data to reach this conclusion: Joe Biden won more delegates on Super Tuesday than did Sanders.

Like the Caliofornia race call, news of Biden’s delegate victory rocketed around the world. 

For completing in-depth, accurate analysis of election data on deadline, enabling AP to tell the complete story of Super Tuesday before all others, Swanson, Ohlemacher and Borenstein win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 13, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP exclusives stand out in COVID-19 coverage

New York-based health and science reporter Mike Stobbe and Rome video journalist Trisha Thomas delivered two very different exclusives that stood out amid the week’s impressive range of AP coronavirus coverage.

Stobbe was the first to report that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wanted to tell a wide swath of Americans that they shouldn’t get on commercial flights because of the virus. But the agency was overruled by the White House. Instead, federal officials settled on softer, less direct language. Realizing the significance, Stobbe pressed multiple sources until he had confirmation of the White House action.

Meanwhile, continents away, Rome visual journalist Trisha Thomas was visiting Padua when she learned the Italian city was about to be locked down. After making frantic arrangements to leave by train, she turned her personal odyssey into a cross-format package, producing a first-person essay and video story that gave a human face to Italy’s virus emergency.https://bit.ly/2TUgQCohttps://bit.ly/2W6dxL8

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Feb. 21, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Documents reveal underuse of holding cells for asylum seekers

for first reporting unsealed documents that raised questions about the Trump administration’s reasoning for forcing asylum seekers to remain in Mexico. Spagat closely watched the court file and prodded an official once a deadline had passed, breaking the news that holding cells at most U.S. facilities were no more than half full – and some were completely empty – during an unprecedented surge of asylum-seeking families from Central America. The Trump administration claimed that people had to wait in Mexico because it didn’t have the means to accommodate them. https://bit.ly/39PkhAM

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Feb. 07, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Greece plans floating barricade against migrants

for scooping even the Greek media with news that the Greek government plans to introduce a floating barrier to stop migrants from reaching the country’s islands from nearby Turkey.Gatopoulos noticed a mention of the floating barrier idea on a fringe website, then trawled through Greece’s labyrinthine online portal until he found the original document with technical details of the floating fence. He eventually managed to get official confirmation from the defense ministry even though the project still hadn't been officially announced. https://bit.ly/31ruGzs

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Jan. 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP reveals chronic problems, personal stories behind a deadly period in Mississippi prisons

The Associated Press began chronicling rising violence across Mississippi’s troubled prison system in late 2019, but after four deaths in four days it became clear that something bigger was going on.

Reporters Jeff Amy and Emily Wagster Pettus explored the history of underfunding and other problems in the state’s prison system. In addition to official documents describing understaffing, the pair obtained photos and video shot by a prisoner that showed the conditions inside the infamous penitentiary at Parchman. 

AP also published all-formats interviews with grieving mothers of prisoners killed, and reported on the state’s decision to house inmates at a private prison.

For bringing much-needed insight and context to a chaotic, evolving situation and giving voice to those affected by the deadly violence, Amy and Wagster Pettus receive this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 10, 2020

Best of the Week

AP breaks news of Soleimani killing; dominates all-formats coverage

The source’s initial tip seemed fairly run-of-the-mill for Baghdad: A late-night rocket attack hit the international airport.

But AP’s Baghdad correspondent Qassim Abdul-Zahra sensed something unusual was afoot. He alerted colleagues and kept digging, teasing out a name that set alarm bells ringing: Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general and one of the Middle East’s most powerful protagonists, might have been in the car. 

Soon, from three sources, came confirmation that Soleimani was dead. Regional news director Zeina Karam’s AP alert reached our customers well ahead of the competition and triggered a response by teams, across the region and beyond, that would maintain AP’s edge with all-formats coverage astounding in its breadth, speed and insight.

Usage in all formats was off the charts, both by AP customers and on social channels.

For standout work in a competitive tour de force, AP’s Middle East team of Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Zeina Karam, Jon Gambrell, Nasser Karimi, Ahmed Sami and Nasser Nasser share Best of the Week honors.

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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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Nov. 13, 2019

Best of the Week

Only on AP: In his last days, al-Baghdadi sought safety in shrinking domain

The death of the Islamic State group “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was one of the most competitive stories in the world in recent weeks. Journalists scrambled to uncover details of the U.S. operation and how the Islamic State leader ended up in a hideout in Syria.

Beirut-based Middle East reporter Sarah El Deeb put the AP out front with a story based on exclusive interviews recounting al-Baghdadi’s final days, as he was shuttled furtively around Syria by a dwindling circle of confidants. 

Enhancing the narrative were dramatic details from a teenage girl who had been enslaved by al-Baghdadi as he sought refuge. El Deeb elicited the previously untold details through sensitive and dogged reporting.

The story stood out from the many accounts that simply echoed the official account of al-Baghdadi’s death, demonstrating not only the AP’s dominance on a global story but also its trusted ability to provide facts-based reporting from the ground in the region.

For outstanding source work and reporting on a story of intense interest, Sarah El Deeb wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

 

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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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