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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Dec. 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Preparation, sourcing pay off with standout vaccine coverage

worked nonstop for weeks to gain access to the launch of the COVID-19 vaccine campaign, the largest vaccination program in U.S. history. They reached out to old sources and spent weeks cultivating new ones, breaking down barriers to ensure that AP was positioned to cover the story – from trucks rolling with vaccine deliveries to the first jabs in arms.The source reporting paid off. Tips were aggressively followed and coordination between video, photo and regional news desks led to robust back-to-back all-formats pieces on the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, including healthcare workers receiving injections. Video went live from several hospitals that were among the first to vaccinate front-line workers.Play was unmatched. The vaccine shipment story appeared appeared on more than 2,500 news sites and landed on at least 69 front pages including the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit News, the Kansas City Star and others.The story of the initial vaccinations appeared on at least 1,300 news sites and 64 front pages, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Orange County Register and others. And The New York Times used AP photos as its lead image on consecutive days.https://bit.ly/3nYf15rhttps://bit.ly/3hdKNIUhttps://bit.ly/3mKf57o

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Nov. 06, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Dual scoops on expanding Iran nuclear program

scored a double scoop on a significant development Iran’s nuclear program. Rising used his contacts at the International Atomic Energy Agency to land a formal interview with Rafael Grossi, the IAEA director general, then he and Gambrell composed a set of questions that would break new ground on the agency’s monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program. At the top of the list was information on Iranian plans to build a new facility in Natanz.

In the interview, Grossi confirmed officially for the first time that his inspectors on the scene had observed the start of construction on the new facility, but that it was not yet complete. After Rising’s interview broke the initial news Gambrell reached out to satellite firms he has worked with repeatedly. By early the next morning the AP was out first with pictures showing construction at the site, including a time-lapse video used by television clients. The story received wide play, with NBC News and others directly citing the AP for the reporting. Iran even drew comment from Iran.https://bit.ly/3mTqvpHhttps://bit.ly/3enj4nK

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Oct. 23, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Data, reporting reveal millions exposed to wildfire pollution

used government air pollution data, academic studies and interviews to report exclusively that the western wildfires exposed at least 38 million people in five states to unhealthy levels of smoke, causing emergency room visits to spike and potentially thousands of deaths among the elderly and infirm. The all-formats package included the experience of an Oregon woman whose smoke-triggered asthma attacks twice sent her to the emergency room.https://bit.ly/34hvDgShttps://bit.ly/3m6yeR0

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Oct. 16, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reaches Nobel winner before anyone – including prize committee

was the first to reach and get reaction from the head of the World Food Program following the Nobel Peace Prize announcement, putting AP ahead not only of other media, but the Nobel committee itself.The beat was possible thanks to Thomas’ quick reaction and the good relations the Rome video team has developed with Rome-based WFP. Thomas reached WFO Executive Director David Beasley through a longtime contact who was traveling with the director in Niger. Not only did Thomas get Beasley on the phone, she made sure he provided a video statement that AP expedited to clients. Thomas was also first to receive another clip from WFP in which Beasley, who was in Niger, celebrated the news with co-workers. A still frame was grabbed from the video, sharply handled by the London photo desk to keep AP ahead of other agencies in all formats on one of the top stories of the week. AP’s urgent with Beasley’s reaction to the peace prize moved an hour before major competitors, and video of him celebrating was five hours ahead of a primary competitor.Thomas’ scoop capped a week of excellent coverage by AP's Nobel Prize team, with fast filing of teh announcements across formats and aggressive efforts to locate and interview winners.https://bit.ly/3doVTcchttps://bit.ly/33ZR4Tz

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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. 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. 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 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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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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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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May 08, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Data: Most California health volunteers not eligible

obtained data revealing that more than 85% of the 93,000 people who signed up for the California Health Corps either didn't have the required medical license or failed to fill out an application. Gov. Gavin Newsom had described the program as an army of volunteers to accommodate the expected massive surge of COVID-19 cases. Thompson found only about 5% of the sign-up total had been cleared to participate, and that 233 were being paid to staff an emergency hospital established in a vacant arena with no patients.https://bit.ly/2WyP53Khttps://bit.ly/3fkJvKV

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May 01, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: VA struggles to protect patients, staff from virus

studied internal Veterans Affairs documents and inspector general reports, and worked sources among VA nurses and on Capitol Hill to report that the agency responsible for the health care of 9 million veterans was struggling to deal with the coronavirus. VA nurses were going to work without adequate protection against the virus and some 1,900 VA health care workers have contracted the coronavirus, according to agency documents obtained by the AP. Twenty have died. https://bit.ly/35msqLY

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April 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP traces black Americans’ history of mistrust toward the medical field

As New York, Chicago, New Orleans and other cities with large black populations began to emerge as hot spots for COVID-19, reporters Aaron Morrison and Jay Reeves decided it would be relevant to examine how black Americans have historically mistrusted the medical field.

The pair connected the skepticism in the black community in part to the aftermath of the notorious “Tuskegee Study,” in which roughly 600 poor black Alabama men were left untreated for syphilis to track the disease’s progress. The secret program was exposed in 1972 and ended, but its effects linger, well beyond Alabama.

With photography by Bebeto Matthews, the story received heavy play as the nation wrestled with the high rate of coronavirus infections among the black community.

For setting the AP apart with a timely examination of black Americans’ mistrust of the medical field, Morrison, Reeves and Matthews win this week’s Best of the States award. 

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April 03, 2020

Best of the States

Surviving the coronavirus upheaval may depend on your paycheck – a tale of 2 families

California's Bay Area is full of extremes: poverty and wealth; homelessness and opulence; high-end industry and the service workers who support it. Those extremes matter when it comes to weathering the shutdown in response to the coronavirus.

 Jocelyn Gecker and Olga Rodriguez set out to show how that divide plays out, telling the stories of Rebecca Biernat, a San Francisco attorney, and Sonia Bautista, a hotel worker, and their families. With photographer Jeff Chiu they developed an intimate portrait of the two families – what they have in common and the differences in how they are adjusting to the shutdown.

 For doggedly seeking out the right subjects, overcoming distancing restrictions and expertly weaving together two tales to tell a deeper story about inequality amid turmoil, Gecker, Rodriguez and Chiu earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 27, 2020

Best of the Week

AP is there: Exclusive access to the first human trial of coronavirus vaccine

The world had been waiting for this moment: the start of a clinical study searching for a vaccine for the new coronavirus – but no one knew when exactly the first shots would be given. AP reporters in Washington, D.C., learned where and when it would take place, laying the groundwork for an all-formats team to witness the start of the experiment in Seattle.

The result: AP was the only news organization present, sending updates in real time as the first participants received an experimental COVID-19 vaccine. The newsroom at AP’s New York headquarters erupted in cheers when the exclusive crossed the wire; text, photos and video swept play worldwide.

For ensuring AP was the only news organization in the room at a critical juncture of the coronavirus pandemic response, and for delivering distinctive journalism to customers worldwide, the team of Lauran Neergaard, Ted Warren, Carla K. Johnson, Michael Ciaglo, Federica Narancio and Marshall Ritzel wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 28, 2020

Best of the States

Be Prepared: Source work, planning deliver top coverage of Scouts’ bankruptcy

David Crary heard from his legal sources that something big was coming for the Boy Scouts of America, which has been besieged by sexual abuse lawsuits: a bankruptcy filing.

Weeks before the paperwork was filed, Crary, who has been covering the organization for 20 years, set into motion plans to ensure the AP was well-covered. When the Scouts’ filing finally came out late on a holiday, his sharply written prep had the story on the wire within minutes, explaining the gravity of the filing and the reasons behind it.

AP journalists around the country pitched in, including Brady McCombs who gathered reaction from Scouts and local councils, spinning it into an engaging follow-up, and correspondent Randall Chase who attended the Scouts’ first bankruptcy hearing in a Delaware court. Their efforts were rewarded with outstanding play.

For their careful planning and flawless execution of coverage of the Scouts’ bankruptcy filing, Crary, McCombs and Chase win this week’s Best of the States award.

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