Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 11, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP documents China’s clampdown on hunt for virus source

investigated why, for almost a year, little information has come out of China on the source of the coronavirus pandemic.The Associated Press learned what was behind the lack of transparency. In a rare leak of thousands of pages of government documents, Beijing correspondent Kang found that President Xi Jinping issued orders to clamp down on any research that put China in an unfavorable light. The country also denied entry to international scientists.Through dozens of interviews and a review of documents and emails both public and private, Kang and London reporter Cheng reported on the hidden hunt for the virus — and where that work had been shut down. This kind of narrative is especially difficult to report from China, given the difficult access and the constant threat of reprisals.In a key element of the story, Beijing video journalist McNeil and photographer Ng experienced firsthand the kind of obstruction AP was writing about — the pair was tailed by multiple cars, chased and ordered to leave as they tried to visit the bat caves of Yunnan province. Despite the intense pressure, they managed to get into a bat cave, adding some critical color to the story.Taken together with AP’s earlier stories, the riveting story completed the picture of how China’s culture of secrecy and top-down management had allowed the virus to spread faster.https://bit.ly/3nmzcIOhttps://bit.ly/2XuCJKR

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Dec. 04, 2020

Best of the States

All-formats package reveals challenges of rural education during the pandemic

On the sparsely populated fringe of the Navajo Nation, AP Report for America journalist Cedar Attanasio saw a storytelling opportunity: the bus system used by the Cuba, New Mexico, school district to solve distance-learning challenges for some of the country’s most isolated, vulnerable students during the pandemic. 

Reporting for text, photos and video, Attanasio rode one of the school buses used to transport meals, assignments and counselors to remote students, a number of whom do not have electricity, let alone internet. When the bus driver was forced to quarantine, Attanasio took to his car, chasing buses on their routes and interviewing students and their families.

For delivering an insightful multiformat package that reveals the pandemic’s impact on education in a disadvantaged community — prompting one reader to donate $1000 to the school board — Attanasio earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 23, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: PG&E lacked basic training before California blackouts

solved a central mystery of Pacific Gas & Electric’s intentional power shutoffs: why the utility was so prone to bungling the intentional blackouts.Following an earlier exclusive looking at PG&E’s blackout response last fall, Pritchard received a tip: PG&E had revealed it did not require emergency management personnel to be trained in emergency management. The pandemic interrupted that reporting, but he and Liedtke revisited it just as blackout season returned to California this year. Their central finding was startling: Among the hundreds of people who handled the 2019 blackouts from PG&E’s emergency operations center, only a handful had any training in California’s Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) – the playbook that California has used for a generation. In response to the reporters’ questions, PG&E revealed to AP that only “several” emergency operations center workers or executives had any SEMS training, something not even the executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission knew.The story rippled through the San Francisco Bay Area media market and outward from there, receiving strong play in broadcast, online and in print. https://bit.ly/2FNzlFA

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Aug. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

A year in the making: Exclusive AP interview with Placido Domingo

scored a coveted exclusive: an all-formats interview with Placido Domingo. Barry spent a year convincing Domingo’s team that the singer should sit down and talk to the news agency that broke the story about investigations and sexual misconduct allegations against him. When Domingo’s team finally agreed, Barry was able to negotiate access for photos and video to cover not just the interview, but the concert on the eve of the interview, which for cultural events in Italy is not always the case.Barry conducted the interview in English and Italian, keeping her composure even when her line of questioning prompted Domingo’s family to “swarm” her. The story received wide play with news outlets directly crediting the AP’s interview and previous reporting. Some non-AP customers, including the BBC, were forced to credit the AP in their stories on the interview and Domingo’s denial of abusing power.https://bit.ly/34CurW0https://bit.ly/3ltJKGG

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July 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

No Canada: Blue Jays barred from playing in Toronto

broke the unexpected news that the Blue Jays were not allowed to play their games in Toronto amid the coronavirus pandemic, due to concerns over players traveling to and from the U.S. Gillies worked his sources, with one of them informing him of the decision moments after government officials ended their call with team management. Blue Jays players no doubt learned of the news from AP. Other news media used, credited and quoted the AP scoop. https://bit.ly/2E9mEns

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July 10, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exploring racial trauma caused by images of police brutality

took a fresh, insightful look at racial injustice, exploring the trauma caused by exposure to images of police brutality.

Nasir started reporting on the issue while in Minneapolis covering the aftermath of the George Floyd killing. She followed up with interviews of people who experienced the trauma, as well as a psychiatrist and others who specialize in racial trauma therapy. Hong meanwhile delivered fresh images of a man who tries to find balance between his awareness of racial injustice and the pain inflicted by such images.https://bit.ly/2VY45sehttps://bit.ly/3iEqqF5

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July 10, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

July Fourth through the lens of a reporter’s Mexican American family

excavates pain and patriotism in his family history, in particular his great-uncle’s World War II service, to examine the meaning of Independence Day and reclaim the holiday at a time of national reckoning. Contreras’ first-person story recounts years of racism against his family. But he chooses to focus on his Mexican American great-uncle who was wounded on Iwo Jima, even as the Contreras family was subject to Jim Crow in Texas.That episode in the Contreras family history resonated through the generations, and today family members use it as a cornerstone of their Independence Day celebrations. In the process of his eloquently told tale, Contreras not only redefines the holiday for himself and his family; he makes a valuable contribution to AP’s coverage of inequality, capturing many threads of recent American history in the process. https://bit.ly/38ySUvc

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June 05, 2020

Best of the Week

Coverage of Floyd protests, Brazil’s virus toll, commands global attention

The end of May saw unprecedented news: The coronavirus pandemic continued to spread infection and wreak economic havoc around the globe, while much of the world’s attention pivoted suddenly to protests across the U.S. that spread to Paris, London, Australia and elsewhere after the suffocation death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

This week’s Best of the Week recognizes AP’s work surrounding each of those mega-stories, with top honors going to Baltimore-based photographer Julio Cortez for his iconic photo of a protester holding an American flag aloft, and to the AP all-formats team in Brazil for continuing coverage of the virus in a nation being ravaged by COVID-19.

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June 05, 2020

Best of the States

AP takes an in-depth look at the life of Ahmaud Arbery, killed while running

When smartphone video emerged more than two months after Ahmaud Arbery was killed by a white father and son while running through a Georgia neighborhood, the case burst into the national consciousness. AP race and ethnicity writer Aaron Morrison headed to Brunswick, Georgia, seeking to tell the full story of the 25-year-old’s life. 

Morrison and video journalist Sarah Blake Morgan interviewed Arbery’s mother on the road where her son was killed. That conversation became a centerpiece of the text and visual package, with further reporting by Russ Bynum and Kate Brumback completing the picture. 

For a nuanced and unflinching profile of Arbery’s life that spotlights the racism experienced by many young black men and captures the pain of a grieving family, Morrison, Morgan, Bynum and Brumback share this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 05, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Madrid exposes failings at ravaged care home

followed up on their initial spot story about a Madrid nursing home that became a flash point when the Spanish army found the body of an 84-year-old resident locked in his room at the height of the virus outbreak. The AP team gained the trust of relatives of residents who had died as well as workers from the care home, learning that the 160-bed facility had seen widespread cost cutting for years and that management made a series of highly questionable decisions during the crisis.https://bit.ly/2U9jdCshttps://bit.ly/2XyMf0l

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May 01, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP takes a multinational look at the issues facing nursing homes

AP teams in Europe and the U.S. put together packages looking separately at the issues and concerns facing nursing homes during the coronavirus outbreak.

The European team produced three all-formats exclusives taking a searing look behind the scenes of nursing homes in Britain in France, exposing the pain that residents, families and medical staff are suffering as COVID-19 cuts a deadly path through homes for the elderly, killing thousands.https://bit.ly/3d0c3Yahttps://bit.ly/2VMG2Nc

In the U.S., New York staffers exposed the lack of coronavirus testing in U.S. nursing homes with two strong pieces, one finding only a third of such facilities have access to tests despite more than 13,000 deaths, and another on an outbreak in Brooklyn in which none of the 55 residents listed as dying from COVID-19 had ever been tested.https://bit.ly/3d18LE0https://bit.ly/2KMU630

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Dec. 20, 2019

Best of the Week

How tramadol, touted as the safer opioid, became a 3rd world peril

It was supposed to be the safer opioid, a way to fight pain with little risk of addiction. That promise has meant much less regulation of tramadol than other opioids. And its relatively low cost has made tramadol the drug of choice in many developing countries, becoming what the United Nations calls “the other opioid crisis.”

National writer Claire Galofaro spent months researching the issue – but how to illustrate the story from a fresh perspective?

Galofaro turned to New Delhi-based correspondent Emily Schmall, who traveled to India’s Punjab state, where she talked to people struggling with addiction, visited a treatment center and gained unprecedented access to officials trying to stem the crisis. 

The deeply reported story, one of the top-read pieces on AP News, also delved into tramadol’s heavy toll in Africa, and its trafficking among terrorist groups. 

For their work exposing an aspect of the international opioid crisis that has received far less attention, Galofaro and Schmall win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Nov. 01, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Ukraine’s Zelenskiy pressured by Trump months before call

Desmond Butler and Michael Biesecker, global investigations reporters in Washington, wanted to fill out the timeline of the diplomatic scandal at the heart of House impeachment inquiry. While Biesecker worked sources in Washington, Butler traveled to Ukraine to meet with associates of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and with other sources developed over years of investigating wrongdoing in the former Soviet Union.

What they learned moved the needle on a complex narrative — associates of the Ukrainian leader said that pressure from the Trump White House started much earlier than was known previously, dating from shortly after Zelenskiy’s election in April, and before he took office as president. 

The scoop was the latest in a series of breaking stories and exclusives by the pair that have defined coverage of the impeachment investigation and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s role in it.

For meticulous work that led to a major scoop and widened the horizons of the ongoing Ukraine-Trump story, Butler and Biesecker share AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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Oct. 11, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Trump allies sought lucrative Ukraine gas deal

for breaking the story that while Rudy Giuliani was pushing Ukrainian officials last spring to investigate one of Donald Trump’s main political rivals, a group of his business associates was also active in the former Soviet republic, trying to install new management at the top of Ukraine’s massive state gas company. Two people with knowledge of the plans told AP that these businessmen and Republican donors, touting connections to Giuliani and Trump, were prepared to steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies. https://bit.ly/2IteINg

Sept. 13, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP package from Australia reveals global ravages of opioids

for months of careful relationship building with opioid addicts and their loved ones, resulting in a richly-detailed package about opioid addiction in Australia, where stigma around addiction remains high. The stories revealed how drug companies and the Australian government have contributed to the crisis, and an intimate narrative provided striking detail about the pain and impact of opioid dependency on addicts and their families. To find the right subjects, Gelineau contacted countless rehab centers, doctors, pain groups, nonprofits and addiction specialists, combed through online forums and social media and read through thousands of signatures on petitions related to opioid abuse. Putting the pieces together also required painstaking sifting through data from Australia’s de-centralized health system and 12 years of coroners’ reports to find early warnings about the opioid crisis. The work resonated with readers, and the director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which funded the stories, called them “stellar journalism ... so well told and presented,” while the mother profiled in the team’s narrative piece wrote to Gelineau, “I’m so grateful for having met you, Sam and Goldie. You have given me a voice.”https://bit.ly/2kebqV7https://bit.ly/2lKn9ez

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Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP gets first word of plan to allow drilling, mining near national monument

for breaking the news that the government would allow mining, drilling, grazing and recreation on lands around Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah that had been off limits. President Donald Trump downsized the protected area two years ago.

Impressed by AP’s fairness in coverage of the ongoing debate about managing public lands in the West, the Bureau of Land Management reached out to McCombs to share embargoed materials and the first interview by the region’s acting director ahead of the plan’s release. The APNewsBreak revealed that not only would the formerly protected lands be made available to a wide variety of uses but that those activities could have an adverse effect on the monument that is home to dramatic formations and vistas and is prime territory for paleontologists. https://bit.ly/2UafUcE

Aug. 23, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Many US employees feel devalued even in a booming job market

for documenting how the kinds of jobs Americans long enjoyed – permanent positions with stability, bonuses, pensions, benefits and opportunities to move up – have become rarer, which is why many don’t feel much like beneficiaries of what’s now the longest economic expansion on record. Drawing on economic research, government data and interviews with workers, Smith sketched a picture of lagging wages, eroding benefits and demands that employees do more without more pay. Her reporting concluded that the loyalty and security many say they once felt from their employers have diminished, and with it a measure of their satisfaction. https://bit.ly/2P914oj