Jan. 11, 2021

Best of the Week

AP traces child labor from Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields to major brands, Girl Scout cookies

For the third installment of their groundbreaking investigation into labor abuse in Asia’s palm oil industry, reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason linked child labor to the supply chains of the makers of popular cereals, candies and ice creams, including KitKats, Oreos and Cap’n Crunch. They also traced the oil to that most American treat: Girl Scout cookies. 

Joined by photographers Binsar Bakkara and Mark Humphrey, and video journalist Allen Breed, their reporting found that some tens of thousands of children toil in the palm fields, some kept from school and forced to work for free or for little pay. Some are trafficked.

The framing of the story — through the eyes of a young girl in the fields in Indonesia and a Tennessee Girl Scout campaigning to have palm oil removed from the cookies — resonated with readers; reaction on social media led the Girl Scouts to address the issue with their suppliers.

For shedding unprecedented light on the children toiling in Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields, and connecting the abusive practice to major consumer brands, McDowell, Mason, Bakkara, Breed and Humphrey share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 28.

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Jan. 11, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Greece team tracks down nurse who built a home ICU

dug behind the scenes to reveal the extraordinary lengths one man went to in caring for his COVID-19-stricken mother-in-law and other relatives — the nurse created an intensive care unit in his home. Kantouris won the international competition to track down the man whose feat had begun to appear in local media reports. He interviewed nurse Gabriel Tachtatzoglou, delving into his motivations and methods for taking on the high-risk endeavor. Tachtatzoglou had spared his family members from hospitalization in an overburdened local facility while simultaneously easing the patient load in Greece’s most heavily affected region, where ICUs were already at capacity. Visuals were a challenge as the makeshift ICU was dismantled when the family recovered, but photo stringer Papanikos complemented the story with a visit to the home for a portrait shoot. Athens staffer Derek Gatopoulos drafted this installment of AP’s “One Good Thing” series, which was picked up even by the Greek press. https://bit.ly/3oy9nHv

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Dec. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats team tells wrenching stories from Paris hospital

broke through administrative barriers to produce powerful character-driven storytelling as the staff of one of France’s largest hospitals coped with the relentless tide of COVID cases and deaths. Since March, repeated AP efforts to gain access to Paris hospitals inundated with virus cases had been met by “Non” — or silence. So Leicester found workarounds. He interviewed staff, including a top surgeon, outside Bichat Hospital as well as on Zoom and by phone. His reporting eventually put AP on the map for senior administrators and doctors, winning access to the 900-bed hospital. Over the course of two days the team reported in all formats on the last hours of a patient who died of COVID complications, and from inside an operating room as surgeons performed procedures after months of COVID delays. The team’s harrowing stories drew praise the hospital and from rival publications. “Beautiful and heart-wrenching,” said a New York Times staffer. An editor at New York Magazine called it “tender, beautiful, and bitter,” while the hospital’s surgical ICU chief called it “a brilliant display of the daily reality in ICU.” https://bit.ly/2WmxHQ0https://bit.ly/3r5uRgchttps://bit.ly/3ahdpPThttps://bit.ly/2IVF7Xp

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Dec. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP finds rural hospital running out of staff during surge

acted on a source’s tip to reveal the pandemic’s toll on rural Midwestern hospitals during the current case surge. She told the story of a tiny Kansas hospital, full of patients and struggling to function as much of its own staff was sidelined with COVID-19. At one point a doctor and physician assistant tested positive on the same day, briefly leaving the hospital without anyone who could write prescriptions or oversee patient care. Hollingsworth spoke with hospital staff, including the radiology technician who slept in an RV in the parking lot for more than a week because his co-workers were out sick and there was no one else available to take X-rays.A medical staffing agency saw the story and responded by offering to send nurses to the town to help out, a sign of the power and reach of the AP. https://bit.ly/34gVpl1

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP wins first Rome interview after acquittal of Cardinal Pell

landed the first interview with Cardinal George Pell after his return to the Vatican following acquittal in Australia on sex abuse charges. Winfield worked for months to win the access, triangulating with Pell’s publisher, his secretary and the former Australian ambassador to the Holy See to give AP the edge.Pell’s comments to AP about a swirling Vatican corruption investigation made headlines, since he had tried to root out financial corruption when he was Vatican treasurer but was forced to abandon the efforts when he had to return to Australia to face trial.https://bit.ly/37KclRQhttps://bit.ly/3m3gzJx

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP connects palm oil industry, top brands to abuse of women

followed up on their initial reporting that exposed widespread labor abuse in the palm oil industry, conducting a comprehensive investigation into the brutal treatment of women in the production of the omnipresent ingredient, including rapes by plantation supervisors, serious health issues from toxic chemicals and injuries from back-breaking loads. The pair then traced the oil produced by these women to the supply chains of top Western beauty brands — including conglomerates that make billions of dollars as they market the empowerment of women.Mason and McDowell persuaded dozens of female workers to tell their searing stories, spending months getting the women to trust them and then arranging clandestine meetings in an effort to protect the workers from retaliation by plantation owners. They bypassed the stonewalling of major Western brands that refused to say whether their products contain palm oil by using company data and U.S. Customs records to link the workers’ abuse to the brands’ palm oil supply chains.The package featured striking digital display, video and evocative photos by Indonesia-based stringer Binsar Bakkara, as well as a powerful series of closeups of workers’ hands cradling familiar products containing the fruits of their labor.The story is nearing 250,000 page views on AP News. The Clorox Company, which owns Burt’s Bees Inc., said it would raise the allegations of abuses with its suppliers, calling AP’s findings “incredibly disturbing.” https://bit.ly/3liKAV3https://bit.ly/2VeVUXRhttps://bit.ly/3mlXgfd

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Oct. 30, 2020

Best of the States

AP breaks news on the opioid epidemic and Purdue Pharma, with focus on victims

AP reporters from three different teams broke distinctive, significant stories on the continuing drug overdose crisis in the U.S., which has been overshadowed this year by the coronavirus pandemic:

— A state-level report showing that overdose deaths are on pace to reach an all-time high this year, and that overdoses increased after the virus began spreading in the U.S.— An accountability story on President Donald Trump’s handling of the opioid crisis, and how the issue has been overlooked in the presidential race.— A major scoop on a settlement between the federal government and Purdue Pharma, complete with details of criminal charges and the $8 billion settlement. 

But the depth of coverage didn’t end with the major news beats. All three stories put victims at the center of the reporting. 

For revealing stories that broke news and provided a powerful reminder of an ongoing epidemic that has contributed to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans, Mike Stobbe, Adrian Sainz, Farnoush Amiri, Geoff Mulvihill, Meghan Hoyer and Michael Balsamo win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 23, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Nevada sought to use Chinese COVID tests from UAE

joined forces for this rare hybrid story of state and international politics, revealing how the rush for medical supplies amid the pandemic raised new concerns about international trade and safety. Price used Nevada public records to report that one way the state tried to secure testing kits was by leveraging a former MGM CEO’s connections with the United Arab Emirates, which partnered with MGM to build a $9.2 billion multi-resort development in Las Vegas. The UAE donated 250,000 Chinese-made test kits that weren’t eventually used because federal officials raised concerns about patient privacy, test accuracy and the involvement of a Chinese company that is the world’s largest genetic sequencing firm. Gambrell framed the reporting around U.S. officials’ concern that foreign powers could exploit the pandemic to access medical histories and genetic traits of test takers. https://bit.ly/37mUYIl

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Oct. 16, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Ukraine revisited: A surge of COVID, a shortage of doctors

returned to the Ukraine to follow up on their May coverage of the country’s outbreak of COVID-19, finding that over the past five months the situation has deteriorated even more. Amid a critical shortage of doctors, the virus has recently made a fierce comeback and many of the healthcare workers they previously documented have since died of the virus.The pair focused on a small hospital in the western part of the country that had been designed for 100 patients but already held 106. They also told the powerful story of a 51-year-old therapist, featured in their earlier story describing the challenges of the outbreak. The man had died the previous week of double pneumonia, which his colleagues believe was caused by the coronavirus, even though he tested negative for it. The therapist’s widow told Chernov she was grateful for AP’s coverage earlier in the year: The stories were so widely published that the whole country knew of her husband and was mourning his death with her.Working with reporter Yuras Karmanau, currently in Kyiv, Chernov and Maloletka produced a deeply reported text story, two exclusive video stories and a comprehensive photo package that gave an intimate look at the crisis in Ukraine. The all-formats work was used by numerous key AP customers.https://bit.ly/3iUbjGv https://bit.ly/3nMI63Mhttps://bit.ly/3lLt64Ghttps://bit.ly/2SO71G6

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Oct. 02, 2020

Best of the Week

AP exposes palm oil labor abuses linked to the world’s top brands, major banks

While covering the Rohingya crisis, investigative reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason knew tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Myanmar were vulnerable to exploitation. They suspected desperate men were being tricked or sold into the massive palm oil industry that supplies some of America’s most iconic food and cosmetic brands.

Working with photographers Gemunu Amarasinghe and Binsar Bakkara, they vividly documented the horrors some workers in Malyasia and Indonesia face. Workers spoke of brutal conditions including child labor, outright slavery and allegations of rape.

Reaction was swift, with the  U.S. government saying it would block shipments from a major Malaysian producer mentioned in the story.

For exposing abuses affecting tens of thousands of workers in a global industry that manufactures a vast array of products we buy and use daily, McDowell, Mason, Amarasinghe and Bakkara win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Sept. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Inside a COVID ICU as Marseille becomes Europe’s new virus hotspot

took readers inside an already-full COVID intensive care unit in Marseille as the French city became Europe’s latest virus hotspot. Cole’s single-handed multiformat reporting delivered the first visual documentation that France’s resurgent infections aren't just numbers, but people struggling to survive.Cole showed both the drama of COVID intensive care and the daily reality for its staff amid this new wave – and the personal touch of a nurse who took the time to brush a patient’s hair and moisturize her skin.The impact was immediate – the story saw immense use across Europe in all formats, as well as international markets.https://bit.ly/2FHO7NThttps://bit.ly/32y0WDo

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Sept. 11, 2020

Best of the Week

From migrants to COVID, Morenatti delivers a week of outstanding images

Rarely does a Best of the Week award to go to a single AP journalist for work on a variety of stories. But the consistent excellence in the images of Barcelona-based Emilio Morenatti – on stories large and small – moved the judges to make an exception. 

He started the week with a powerful story on migrants crossing a treacherous stretch of the Atlantic to the Canary Islands. And he finished with a remarkable set of photos on a COVID-19 patient, wheeled in his hospital bed to a promenade on the Barcelona waterfront. In between those stories he covered soccer star Lionel Messi’s spat with Barcelona, daily life and more.   

Each of his assignments reflected the highest standards of visual journalism and a level of emotional investment that few can match, earning Morenatti AP’s Best of the Week accolade.

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Aug. 28, 2020

Best of the States

From the front line to the homefront, behind the scenes with COVID nurses

Photographer Jae Hong wanted to tell the story of the nurses on the front lines of the battle against coronavirus. Not just the long, stressful hours caring for patients, but the fear they carry home of spreading the virus to their own families.

Hong found a Los Angeles-area hospital that would grant access to the COVID unit, then he and reporter Stefanie Dazio spent hours getting to know the nurses and asking to meet them at their homes for interviews and photos. 

The result was an intimate, beautifully rendered look at the nurses, their dedication and their sacrifices. The story included a nurse who is a new mom, comforting a patient’s family as the man took his last breaths.

For a poignant and revealing look at nurses’ commitment to both their patients and their families during the pandemic, Hong and Dazio share this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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Aug. 07, 2020

Best of the States

Players open up to AP, describe coach’s abusive practices at Oregon State

National sports writer Eddie Pells was first approached in February by the mom of a player who said she had some concerns about abuses going on in the volleyball program at Oregon State. 

Over the next five months, Pells conducted dozens of interviews both in and out of the program, and checked with experts to learn if volleyball coach Mark Barnard was over the line. Several athletes spoke to Pells, including a former OSU player who described how the coach’s abusive practices contributed to a suicide attempt. 

Pells’ exclusive led to immediate calls for the coach’s firing and questions about the university officials who didn’t take action after hearing complaints. 

For months of persistent and sensitive reporting despite uncertain prospects, resulting in an impressive story with impact, Pells wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 31, 2020

Best of the Week

AP exclusive leads to release of migrant kids held in US hotels for deportation

Earmarked for deportation, the immigrant children, some mere toddlers, were parked in nondescript hotels – out of sight and, the Trump administration thought, out of mind.  But not out of reach of an Associated Press exclusive.

With an investigation based on source work, court records and witness accounts, immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant exposed how the Trump administration held children in hotels despite federal anti-trafficking laws and court rulings that mandate child-appropriate facilities.

Merchant’s exclusive sparked outrage and accusations of child abuse. Five days later, the Trump administration said it would not expel 17 people, including children, detained at one Texas hotel, and the hotels pledged to stop allowing the practice.

For his investigative story that punctured layers of secrecy and changed the fortunes of all-but-invisible immigrant children, Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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July 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: US Catholic Church lobbies, gets windfall in federal PPP funds

Based on a tip following AP’s previous reporting on the Paycheck Protection Program, AP anticipated that the Roman Catholic Church might be one of the program’s biggest winners. 

Investigative reporters Reese Dunklin and Michael Rezendes started digging, first showing how the church had successfully lobbied for special treatment under the program, then, when the federal data dropped, the full extent of the church’s windfall. An analysis on deadline revealed $1.4 billion to $3.5 billion in forgivable loans, with many millions going to dioceses that paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy because of sexual abuse claims.

The story had an immediate impact with strong play and engagement in digital, print and broadcast outlets.

For being both first and authoritative on this highly competitive story, and for holding a remarkably powerful institution accountable, Dunklin and Rezendes share this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 17, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exposing how ‘desperation science’ slows the race for a remedy

revealed how pressure and politics have corrupted and delayed the scientific process, slowing the development of effective treatments against the coronavirus pandemic.Marchione reviewed studies that are underway and interviewed dozens of doctors, researchers, patients and policy experts as she looked at organizations trying to do rigorous science, as well as the issues undermining that research. Young found creative ways to tell the story visually, including a GoPro mounted on a medical cart. Together they document a Pennsylvania COVID-19 patient enrolled in a clinical trial.The story – challenging to report because of the fluid and chaotic nature of the subject itself – attracted readers and generated interest on social media, a strong showing for non-breaking news.https://bit.ly/2B1uyxRhttps://bit.ly/2CFLpqo

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May 22, 2020

Best of the States

Inside the Navajo Nation as it endures the coronavirus outbreak

If the Navajo Nation were its own state, it would have the second highest per-capita rate of coronavirus cases in the United States, trailing only New York. 

AP’s Felicia Fonseca, one of the preeminent reporters covering Native issues for any news organization, and photographer Carolyn Kaster reported from the heart of the crisis. Donning full protective gear and a healthy measure of courage, they documented families, doctors and volunteers, while national writer Tim Sullivan added further reporting and masterful writing assistance from afar. 

The story and photos capture the vast beauty of the land and the intimate grief of the people, including one family that has lost four members to the virus. The package played heavily in the Southwest U.S. and was among AP’s most downloaded and viewed for several days.

For a revealing look at a Native community in the midst of the health crisis, Fonseca, Kaster and Sullivan share this week’s Best of the States honors.

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