Dec. 24, 2020

Best of the States

Joint investigation reveals ‘leadership vacuum’ after backlash against public health officials

AP reporter Michelle Smith was working on another project in June when she came up with the names of a dozen or so public health officials who had quit, retired or been fired. Sensing a trend, Smith and reporters at Kaiser Health News continued to track those departures as the pandemic worsened and the backlash against public health restrictions became more strident.

The journalists contacted officials in all 50 states and interviewed dozens of people, finding a public health leadership vacuum developing at a critical time in the pandemic. They told the stories of public servants who toiled through the pandemic only to be reviled by their neighbors — including the wrenching story of an official whose husband would not even follow her recommendation to require masks in the family store. The timely all-formats story included a data distribution, interactive graphics and a sidebar with portraits and quotes of public health officials. 

For a deeply reported package that examines a vital component of the pandemic response, Smith, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Hannah Recht and Lauren Weber earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP breaks news of USOPC change on athlete protests

used his longstanding contacts in the leadership of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee to break the news that the organization was ready to heed the calls of its stars and won’t sanction athletes for raising their fists or kneeling on the medals stand at next year’s Tokyo Games and beyond.The USOPC knew Pells was monitoring the issue — they offered him advance interviews along with copies of their recommendations so the AP could have the story ready to publish before the official news release. Other news outlets used Pells’ story or had to scramble to match it. https://bit.ly/3gQSW5M

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Sources: Trump liaison banned from Justice Department

delivered a widely read scoop after working their sources to confirm a curious rumor: An official serving as President Donald Trump’s eyes and ears at the Department of Justice was banned from the building after pressuring Justice Department staffers to reveal insider information about ongoing cases and the department’s work on election fraud.Heidi Stirrup, an ally of top Trump adviser Stephen Miller, had also extended job offers to political allies for positions at some of the highest levels of the DOJ without consulting senior department officials or the White House counsel’s office, and also attempted to interfere in the hiring process for career staffers, a violation of the government’s human resources policies, a source told the AP. https://bit.ly/374EDaH

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals how major terrorism prosecution almost fell apart

delivered an exclusive, deeply reported account of how the Department of Justice’s biggest terrorism prosecution in years almost didn't happen. The case involves two alleged Islamic State militants dubbed “The Beatles,” British citizens blamed for the jailing, torture and murder of Western hostages in Syria.Tucker spoke to roughly a dozen current and former U.S. and British officials — many of whom rarely, if ever, grant interviews — as well as relatives of slain hostages. The story broke news in several areas, revealing for the first time how grieving families reached a gradual consensus to take the death penalty off the table, a major sticking point. Tucker also reported the behind-the-scenes involvement of current and former FBI officials who encouraged the families to prod the administration into action, and never-before-seen email correspondence from a senior Justice Department official to one of the victims’ relatives.https://bit.ly/3m1IcCOhttps://bit.ly/37Std99

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Persistence pays off with story of bureaucrat blocking transition

wanted to know more about Emily Murphy, the little-known federal official who stalled the formal presidential transition by waiting more than two weeks to “ascertain” that Joe Biden was the apparent winner of the presidential race.Madhani reached out to every recent administrator of Muphy’s agency — the General Services Administration — as well as some lawmakers Murphy had worked for, but he wasn’t having any luck. His 10th call, a fortuitous cold call to Dave Barram, who ran the GSA during the Bush-Gore standoff in 2000, proved to be the jackpot. Madhani found Barram’s number in an online database.Barram revealed that he’d spoken with Murphy before the election to talk through how to handle ascertainment. He laid out his advice to her: “If you do the right thing, then all you have to do is live with the consequences of it.’”The call with Barram didn’t occur until late in the day, but Madhani instantly knew he had a story. He worked late to turn it around for AP’s most reader-engaged story of the day. https://bit.ly/32YG5ZQ

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP catches Georgia presidential certification announcement error

alertly caught a discrepancy in an official news release announcing that the Georgia secretary of state had certified the state’s election results, naming Joe Biden as the winner. As other news organizations rushed to publish, Brumback sought confirmation and learned that the release had been sent in error — Georgia hadn’t certified its results yet. AP quickly reported the mix-up and others had to update their stories; one major publication needed 90 minutes to correct its reporting.Catching the mistaken announcement was just the latest example of Brumback’s outstanding coverage of Georgia’s closely contested election. She relied on her deep understanding of Georgia’s voting system and a strong source network built over years. https://bit.ly/39keohM

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source work leads to scoop on largest US dam demolition

used strong source development to break news of plans for the largest dam demolition in U.S. history, affecting four massive hydroelectric dams along the Oregon-California border. Native American tribes that have fought for decades to remove the dams and restore vital salmon habitat. Flaccus had reported from the region earlier, but the coronavirus and coverage of Portland’s racial justice protests kept her from returning during the summer. Still, she followed developments and kept in touch with the key players. Her sourcing paid off when she learned recently that an announcement was imminent on plans to demolish the dams. Flaccus pushed for an embargo, reporting and writing the story in advance with the understanding of tribal leaders and the governors of Oregon and California that she would hold her story until the official announcement.Her deeply reported APNewsBreak moved 15 minutes before the official news release, detailing the restructured deal that will almost certainly lead to the largest dam demolition in U.S. history, a first step in what would also be the largest salmon recovery project in history — a project that would also rejuvenate area tribes.Oregon’s biggest newspaper didn’t try to match the story; they used Flaccus’ story and photos in their entirety. https://bit.ly/3qaV8to

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Nov. 06, 2020

Best of the Week

As families respond to the crisis, AP reveals desperate state of Venezuelan COVID treatment

Venezuela was one of the least-prepared countries in the world to fight the coronavirus. But it has arguably succeeded on one front: suppressing news of the virus’s true impact on its people. The country has acknowledged only 814 COVID deaths. But this Caracas-based all-formats AP team scored a breakthrough, telling the actual story in a country where contradicting the government’s official narrative can lead to detention.

Documenting two women working to ensure the survival of their fathers, the AP journalists delivered a hard-won, startling and exclusive look at the bleak state of health care and the plight of relatives who risk their own lives to care for loved ones in the COVID-19 wing of a rundown public hospital.

For their determination and courage to report this story and expose Venezuela’s ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Smith, Cubillos and Arraez earn AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Nov. 06, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Use of racial slurs not ‘isolated’ at Louisiana State Police

reported exclusively on a string of racial slurs used by Louisiana State Police troopers, both in their official emails and spoken on the job, refuting the contention of the agency’s superintendent that the use of such demeaning language was just “isolated.”Mustian reviewed hundreds of police records and found at least a dozen instances over a three-year period in which employees forwarded racist emails or demeaned minority colleagues with racist nicknames. He also exclusively obtained documents of an accidental “pocket-dial” of sorts in which a white trooper sent a voice mail to a Black trooper that blurted out his name and then a vile racist slur. The state police superintendent made an abrupt retirement announcement in the midst of Mustian’s reporting, which follows weeks of his coverage on the still-unexplained death of Ronald Greene, a Black motorist taken into custody last year following a police chase. Reeves faced criticism for his secretive handling of the case, including the refusal to release body-cam video that, according to those who have seen it, shows troopers beating, choking and dragging Greene. The case is now the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. Mustian’s story on the racial slurs received strong play, including on the front page of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune/Advocate. https://bit.ly/34VHCkp

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Oct. 23, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP breaks news on suspension of C-SPAN’s Scully

was first to report that C-SPAN’s Steve Scully had been indefinitely suspended for lying about a tweet in which he consulted with a former Trump administration official about how to deal with social media criticism from the president. Bauder reported that Scully falsely blamed a hacker for the controversial tweet to former White House press secretary Anthony Scaramucci ahead of the second presidential debate, which Scully was to moderate.

The scoop was an instant success online, viewed by more than 125,000 people on APNews in the first hour, and it became a trending topic on Twitter after Trump tweeted about it. https://bit.ly/35oh5eV

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Oct. 16, 2020

Best of the States

11 weeks in the bubble: AP writer’s exhaustive NBA report goes well beyond the games

Through 78 days at Walt Disney World, basketball writer Tim Reynolds proved himself virtually unstoppable, turning out game stories on deadline while also spinning insightful pieces that examined the major topics of 2020, from coronavirus concerns to racial injustice issues and the presidential election – not to mention the league’s work stoppage. The so-called bubble may have confined him to an arena in central Florida, but Reynolds’ relentless NBA coverage reminded readers that sports illuminate our lives in ways big and small.

In all, Reynolds wrote an eye-popping 200-plus stories, collecting exclusives along the way. He capped his efforts with his insightful analysis of LeBron James’ legacy after James led the Lakers to their record-tying 17th NBA title. 

For his exhaustive, and exhausting, work that went well beyond the games in the NBA bubble, Reynolds wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 09, 2020

Best of the States

AP ties Supreme Court nominee to faith group said to subjugate women

When President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Barrett and her supporters clearly did not want to discuss the nominee’s reported ties to a religious group called People of Praise.

Enter reporters Michelle Smith and Michael Biesecker. Using on-the-record interviews and an archive of deleted web pages, the pair documented Barrett's deep ties to the charismatic Christian group and painted a detailed picture of the organization’s beliefs and practices from its early days to the present. And the reporters went on to reveal how the organization had systematically deleted all mentions of Barrett and her family from its website.

For deep, resourceful reporting that sheds new light on the current Supreme Court nominee on the cusp of her confirmation hearings, Smith and Biesecker share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Teamwork delivers sweeping coverage of Supreme Court nomination

coordinated their reporting to deliver smooth, comprehensive coverage – and exclusives – as the death and memorial of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg transitioned to the rollout of President Donald Trump’s nomination for the now-vacant seat: Judge Amy Coney Barrett.The AP team focused on Barrett as the front-runner for the nomination and had a robust package ready for Trump’s formal announcement. Coverage of the nomination included a revelatory biography of “Scalia’s heir,” how the nomination came about, how Barrett could be the polar opposite of Ginsburg on the court and how the GOP was investing some $10 million in a digital ad blitz to promote Barrett as the next justice on the nation’s highest court.https://bit.ly/2GgS506https://bit.ly/34e1EoMhttps://bit.ly/34gKhUChttps://bit.ly/33gm7u6

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Sept. 04, 2020

Best of the States

AP investigation: Thousands of environmental waivers granted amid pandemic

When the Trump administration waived enforcement of environmental protections because of the pandemic, a former EPA administrator called it a “license to pollute,” while public health officials told AP that it would be difficult to determine the impact.

At that, five AP reporters around the country embarked on a two-month, brute force effort to wrest loose state data on the suspended regulations.

They found more than 3,000 instances of environmental waivers to oil and gas companies, government facilities and other operations, with nationwide implications for public health. 

For deep reporting and painstaking analysis to document the potential consequences of relaxed environmental regulation, the team of Knickmeyer, Bussewitz, Flesher, Brown and Casey wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 21, 2020

Best of the Week

Dual honorees: Stunning coverage of Belarus protests, and a Ganges River odyssey

This week two distinctly different bodies of work share AP’s weekly honors for their outstanding coverage:

An all-formats team in Minsk, Belarus, facing constant police intimidation, continued to provide extensive coverage of mass protests over the nation’s disputed presidential election. That work included exclusive video of a bloody protester falling to the ground dead in front of heavily armed police, footage that forced the government to reverse its narrative of the incident.

And in work of a different dimension entirely, New Delhi photographer Altaf Qadri spent many months documenting life along the 1,700-mile River Ganges, considered sacred by almost 1 billion Hindus in India. 

Starting with a treacherous two-day hike to the foot of the Himalayas – the remote source of the Ganges – and ending in the fast disappearing mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, Qadri captured a breathtaking range along his odyssey: celebration and death, solitude and fellowship, daily life and holy rites. 

For extraordinary work in enterprise and spot news journalism, Altaf Qadri and the Belarus team of Mstyslav Chernov, Sergei Grits, Yuras Karmanau, Dimitri Kozlov and Dmitri Lovetsky share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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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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