Oct. 18, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Venezuelan fishermen live, work in oil industry wasteland

for a beautifully shot all-formats package that captures the collapse of Venezuela’s once-prosperous oil industry through fishermen and women who scratch out an existence on the blackened, sticky shores of Lake Maracaibo. People cast their nets and lines in waters fouled by black gunk seeping from broken rigs that once fueled the country’s wealth. Abd spent several days in the villages of Cabimas, documenting the home life and workday of the fishers. He returned with a team including Smith and Nunes. They watched the fishermen struggle with oily nets, and interviewed women who scrub oil from fish and crabs before eating or selling them. On his second trip to Cabimas, Abd brought a 19th century-style box camera to make black and white portraits of the fishermen and industrial decay around them. The package played widely on web sites including the Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, The Seattle Times, MSN and Yahoo.https://bit.ly/2pd49quhttps://bit.ly/2Bnd5wwhttps://bit.ly/2MqwenJ

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June 21, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Smart, resourceful effort yields scoop on crew of stricken tanker

for using their years of experience in Dubai to get around restrictions, sending exclusive video, photos and text as the crew of an oil tanker that had been attacked in the Gulf of Oman arrived in the city-state. Advised by correspondent Nasser Karimi that there was only one flight the crew could take from Iran, Gambrell and Abuelgasim rushed to Dubai’s airport, leaving their gear in the car to avoid the attention of authorities. When the sailors arrived the pair sprang into action, shooting photos and video with their iPhones as the crew left the airport.https://bit.ly/2L0D96thttps://bit.ly/2ZwjjUM

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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Feb. 22, 2019

Best of the Week

AP breaks global news with unprecedented Maduro interview

“How quickly can you and your boss get here?”

The curt text message to Andean News Director Joshua Goodman from Venezuela’s normally evasive communications minister promised a tantalizing scoop. It set Goodman and Ian Phillips, vice president for international news, on an intercontinental dash to Caracas to secure embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s first-ever interview with an English-language news agency.

Among the exclusives from the interview, Maduro revealed that his foreign minister had twice met secretly in New York with a Trump administration envoy. It came against a tense backdrop as the U.S. joined other Latin American nations in calling for the leader’s ouster.

The unprecedented access came as the result of Goodman’s years of source development with the Venezuelan government, including cultivating pro-government sources and making sure cabinet ministers saw that AP’s coverage of the nation was fair and balanced.

The package was a dominating all-formats beat for the AP and a massive draw for customers, with video of the interview downloaded more than 840 by clients around the world. And in a surprise first, Venezuelan state TV also carried the 42-minute interview in its entirety in prime time.

For his masterful source development, resourcefulness and quick work to put the AP ahead, Goodman wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 01, 2019

Best of the States

Trump rollbacks benefit fossil fuel industry but carry steep cost

Over the past two years, the Trump administration has relentlessly moved to relax or repeal major environmental and safety rules for the fossil fuels industry to further its energy goals. Each change was reported by news outlets, including the AP. But Billings, Montana, correspondent and environment team member Matthew Brown decided to look more deeply into the highly touted savings to industry as well as the societal costs.

Brown painstakingly examined 11 major rules targeted by Trump’s administration, wading through many thousands of pages of government documents. Brown identified $11.6 billion in potential savings for companies that produce, use and transport fossil fuels, with billions more expected from a freeze of vehicle fuel efficiency standards that will hike fuel consumption.

But Brown also discovered that those savings will come at a steep cost, including more premature deaths and illnesses from air pollution, increased greenhouse gas emissions and additional derailments of trains carrying explosive fuels.

His Only on AP story ran on front pages of at least 16 newspapers and on numerous web sites. The Washington Post displayed both the main-bar the accompanying glance.

For in-depth reporting and comprehensive accounting of the administration’s actions on important environmental and safety issues, Brown wins this week’s Best of the States.

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July 20, 2018

Best of the States

AP investigation: Pence family’s failed gas station empire cost taxpayers millions to clean up

Indianapolis correspondent Brian Slodysko’s investigative story started from one sentence buried in a news release. It said that the public was paying for environmental cleanup at a contaminated petroleum storage site in Indianapolis that Vice President Mike Pence’s family abandoned after their gas station empire went bankrupt in 2004. The release didn’t mention Pence, just Kiel Brothers.

After attending a demolition celebration, where he photographed a crew tearing down a massive tank that had long-blighted a neighborhood, Slodysko worked over the coming months to detail how extensive contamination from the business was – and quantify the public cost.

The result: Indiana taxpayers paid more than $21 million to clean up after the company, in all likelihood a conservative figure because many of the documents were redacted, missing or incomplete.

But cost alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Slodysko’s review of public records showed that the Pence family business – which was run by Mike Pence’s older brother Greg, who is now running for Congress – repeatedly received favorable treatment from the state.

The story ran, or was teased, on the front page of at least eight Indiana papers, including the Indianapolis Star, which ran the story and photo across the top. It was also featured on the website of the Columbus Republic, Mike Pence’s hometown newspaper.

For an investigation that revealed the millions of tax dollars used to clean up more than 85 contaminated sites in three states, Slodysko earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 19, 2018

Best of the States

Strong sourcing, teamwork put AP ahead on offshore drilling news

For Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout, the first day of the legislative session began with the usual pomp and circumstance, and Gov. Rick Scott’s annual state of the state speech. From there it took a quick turn.

A source in Scott’s office called Fineout at around 4 p.m. to say that Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke would be flying in from Atlanta to meet with the governor – and both would be willing to talk to the media afterward. Fineout immediately emailed Matthew Daly in Washington, who covers Interior, and who had tapped into a key political problem in the Trump administration' recently announced offshore drilling plan: Republican governors were not on board.

At around 6 p.m. Zinke and Scott strode through Tallahassee’s small airport and dropped the news that Florida would be removed from the administration’s oil drilling plan. Before the two officials stopped talking, Fineout emailed Daly in D.C. to let him know the news that would soon create a torrent of criticism from other states that oppose the oil drilling plan. By the time Fineout got back to his car in the parking lot, Daly was moving the news alert.

Daly and Fineout’s model of teamwork put AP so far ahead some in the competition didn’t bother to catch up. For their initiative and coordinated effort to give AP an important beat, Fineout and Daly share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Dec. 08, 2017

Best of the Week

AP reveals how dirty US fuel byproduct contributes to India’s dangerously polluted air

Oil extracted from the tar sands of Canada has contributed to booming production among American refineries, but it also has created a messy legacy: Ton upon ton of a filthy byproduct called petroleum coke. U.S. utilities don’t want it because of its extremely high sulfur content, leaving refineries with one option – getting rid of it – because stockpiling had stirred community outcries. Tammy Webber, a Chicago-based reporter with the environmental beat team, wondered: If refineries couldn’t offload the substance in the U.S., what were they doing with it?

Through a year’s worth of detective work, Webber and her beat team colleague in New Delhi, Katy Daigle, traced the shadowy network that trades in oil refineries' bottom-of-the-barrel leftovers. They found that India was the leading destination of “petcoke” from the U.S., and Indian officials had no idea the amount of petcoke flowing into the country was 20 times more than just six years before. Nor did they know how it was being used in a country already choking on some of the world’s dirtiest air.

Within 24 hours of the story hitting the wire, India’s government announced it would phase out imports of petcoke and had begun working on a policy to end the practice.

For revealing the secretive transport of petroleum coke from the U.S. to one of the world’s most polluted countries, and for drawing an immediate reaction from the government of India, Webber and Daigle win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Oct. 06, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Chief Texas oil regulator vacationed at the height of hurricane

Hurricane Harvey killed more than 80 people and triggered historic flooding in Houston and across large swaths of Texas. But it also sparked oil spills and gasoline shortages. Those presented major tests for the state’s Railroad Commission, which, despite its peculiar name, actually regulates the energy industry – with historically lax enforcement.

So when the commission’s executive director, Kim Corley, abruptly resigned, the timing and circumstances made Austin newsman Paul Weber curious. He began making calls and soon secured a tip: Corley had been on vacation and unreachable at the height of the Category 4 hurricane that walloped the industry she was paid $180,000 annually to safeguard.

For his exclusive on a hyper-competitive story, Weber wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 08, 2017

Best of the Week

Toxic waste sites flooded; AP on the scene ahead of EPA

Hurricane Harvey inundated homes, flooded freeways and swamped entire neighborhoods. Florida-based reporter Jason Dearen, who was deployed to Houston to help cover the disaster, knew there might be something else submerged beneath the turbid floodwaters. Superfund sites, some of the nation’s most contaminated places, are scattered along the low-lying Gulf coastline, including in the Houston area.

Dearen had been trying to obtain a copy of a federal study about the risks of flooding at those sites from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but had been stonewalled for two weeks. Harvey’s destruction provided new urgency to his request. For help, he reached out to Washington investigative reporter Michael Biesecker, a fellow member of the AP’s environmental beat team.

Through creative reporting that relied on data, collaboration and Dearen’s newfound skills as a boat man, they became the first journalists to report on the extent of flooding at contaminated waste sites in and around Houston. The on-site observations by Dearen and freelance 360-video producer Claudia Prat raised concerns that some of the decades-old toxic stew left over from the oil, gas and chemical industries may have mixed with floodwaters. They also were on the ground – and on the water – before the EPA’s own inspectors. For their efforts, Dearen, Biesecker and Prat win Beat of the Week.

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April 14, 2017

Best of the States

Brown reveals thousands of safety defects on oil train lines in 44 states

As domestic production of oil has increased in recent years, Billings, Montana, Correspondent Matthew Brown closely followed derailments of trains carrying volatile crude. A train from North Dakota jumped the track, exploded and killed 47 people in Canada in 2013. In Brown’s own state, a derailment near the town of Culbertson spilled 27,000 gallons of oil in 2015. Last year, Brown reported that more than 800 potential safety violations were discovered on Union Pacific freight lines after a fiery June 2016 oil train derailment in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

But Brown wanted to know how widespread the problem really was. By pushing repeatedly for public records and working with a longtime source, Brown was able to exclusively report the results of a two-year federal inspection program for the nation’s oil trains – and he revealed that some safety defects uncovered where similar to ones blamed in derailments that triggered huge fires or oil spills in Oregon, Virginia, Montana and elsewhere. For his AP NewsBreak, Brown wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 08, 2016

Best of the States

Digging in for winter at Dakota Access pipeline protest

The Associated Press has aggressively covered the Dakota Access pipeline since even before construction began on the four-state pipeline to carry oil from North Dakota. The AP tracked the approval process and then was there every step of the way as the project spawned demonstrations from Native Americans and others who set up protest camps by the pipeline’s final piece near the Missouri River, saying construction would damage cultural artifacts and that a pipeline leak could pollute tribal water supplies. In the past few months, the AP has had coverage almost every day.

While Bismarck staffer James MacPherson had covered the story cross-format with the help of colleagues, a visually-focused enterprise project was in the works for December, bringing in staff from afar to provide video and photo elements of the largest camp to accompany a piece that was to explore the protest in the context of other issues being faced by Native Americans now and into the Trump administration. On Friday, Nov. 25, the news forced us to speed up our timeline for visuals as the Army Corps of Engineers gave a Dec. 5 deadline for protesters to get off the land.

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