Aug. 23, 2019

Best of the Week

Chance encounter, tenacious reporting reveal harassment allegations against Placido Domingo

Jocelyn Gecker’s bombshell investigation of sexual harassment allegations against opera superstar Placido Domingo started with a song.

San Francisco-based Gecker was at a party about 18 months ago when she noticed the beautiful voice of the woman next to her singing “Happy Birthday,” and complimented her. The woman was a former opera singer who confided that the industry had a dark underbelly, offering her assessment that “Placido Domingo is the Bill Cosby of the opera world.”

The discussion sparked months of work by Gecker to publicly reveal what many said had been an open secret in the opera world. In all, Gecker would find nine women who accused Domingo of sexual harassment and a half-dozen more who said the star made them uncomfortable. Getting people to go on the record proved challenging, but a breakthrough came when one of Domingo’s accusers agreed to tell her story on camera. The resulting 5,200-word story – and Domingo’s response – commanded instant attention and heavy engagement in global media.

For finding a major international story in an unlikely setting, and her care in dealing with sources while reporting tenaciously on a sensitive topic, Gecker earns AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Aug. 09, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Agency exclusive, all-formats interview with Indonesian president

for the first agency interview with Indonesian President Joko Widodo since his re-election last April. Wright pressed his contacts at the palace until they agreed to the interview, and when the palace requested that someone with Middle East expertise conduct the interview, Laub joined the Jakarta team for a wide-ranging interview. The all-formats package put AP ahead, especially in the eyes of Southeast Asian clients who are eager for stories about neighboring countries and their leaders.https://bit.ly/2YwTC9Qhttps://bit.ly/2TimhKS

Feb. 08, 2019

Best of the Week

Exclusive AP analysis: The NFL keeps getting younger and cheaper

The unusually short careers of NFL players have long been a thorny issue among the players, the league and even fans of one of the most injury-prone leagues in sports. A pair of high-profile contract disputes during the 2018 season placed the topic front-and-center yet again.

But what more was there to say?

Denver-based national sports writer Eddie Pells and Global Sports Editor Michael Giarrusso came up with the idea of mining data to illustrate how average experience on NFL rosters has changed since 2011, when the league and players agreed to a contract designed in part to help veterans get a bigger share of revenue.

Pells was joined by New York-based data journalist Larry Fenn who started digging. After scouring season-opening rosters from the last 14 years, Pells and Fenn had the data: Average experience in the league was going down consistently as every team chose younger players over veterans who would earn more – even if the veterans were better players.

Pells then asked more than a dozen AP writers in the field for reaction from key players on the teams they covered, while Fenn worked with Top Stories designer Phil Holm, who produced insightful illustrations of the data. Pells also collaborated on videos that were used on social media and embedded in the story.

Other stories in the package included a profile of a typical 4-year player who is cut just as he became eligible for a larger contract, a piece on shortened careers at the center position, and a column foreshadowing collective-bargaining hurdles. Pells also did a story looking at how Super Bowl champions shed expensive players after winning the title.

The package was released in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, commanding attention across the football landscape and getting about double the usage of typical top sports stories. Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Sally Buzbee called it a blueprint for how to plan coverage around big events by timing enterprise and breaking news when attention is high.

For using data and creative storytelling to quantify one of the NFL’s central issues and break news during the biggest sports week of the year, Pells, Fenn and Holm share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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July 27, 2018

Best of the States

Private messaging apps used for official business test open records laws

Smart phone private messaging apps are great for keeping secrets. The apps delete messages almost immediately and do not allow them to be saved, copied or captured with a screenshot.

But what about use of the apps by government officials and elected representatives? State Government Team reporter Ryan Foley spotted a trend of public officials increasingly using such apps for official business. It’s a trend that alarms advocates for open government, who say it undermines state laws designed to ensure transparency and access to records.

Foley’s research was based in large part on use of a new legislative tracking tool called the Sunshine Hub that was developed by AP Data Team members Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen. The tool allowed Foley to see whether bills addressing the trend were being introduced in state legislatures across the country. And indeed they were.

The resulting story won play on more than two dozen front pages and prompted several editorials, including one in The Columbus Dispatch warning that officials’ use of message-vanishing apps was the same as destroying public records.

For their efforts in exposing a potentially dangerous anti-transparency trend among government officials, and developing a unique tool to track it, Foley, Tumgoren and Rasmussen win the Best of the States award.

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June 22, 2018

Best of the Week

AP first with news of 2,000 kids separated from families at US border

It was the answer to the question everyone was asking, about the biggest story in the world. Just how many children had been separated from their parents at the U.S. border as a result of the Trump administration’s new zero-tolerance immigration policy?

Colleen Long, newly arrived on her Washington beat, got the hugely important scoop, beating all of her seasoned competitors with that very number: nearly 2,000.

Long had just moved to the nation’s capital after more than a decade covering law enforcement in New York, assigned to the Department of Homeland Security. She went right to work grilling sources – anybody she could find.

After speaking to some two dozen people, Long hit pay dirt. A source called and said, “I'm going to give you a big scoop.”

The information put AP more than an hour ahead with the news that, at that point, nearly 2,000 children had been forcibly removed from their families at the border over a six-week period. Long’s competitors – including reporters who have been covering the beat for years – had to wait for the numbers to be released on a conference call later in the day.

For determined, aggressive reporting that yielded a huge payoff, Long wins the Beat of the Week award.

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May 04, 2018

Best of the States

FOIA reveal: Governor shields ally and agency in alleged harassment case

When Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds abruptly fired a longtime friend and political ally last month, she said it was due to “credible” sexual harassment allegations. But her staff said no other information would be available about the behavior of Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison.

Statehouse reporter Barbara Rodriguez and Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley knew there was more to the story, but after filing FOIA requests, the governor's office told them there were no such records, prompting a rare case where reporting the denial would be newsworthy: that there was no evidence, correspondence or investigation into the allegations before Jamison was terminated.

Hours after that story moved, the governor’s office acknowledged they had made a mistake. There was a written detailed complaint against Jamison, but the office insisted it was exempt from FOIA.

Rodriguez and Foley didn’t stop there. They appealed the denial, leading the governor’s office to reverse course again and release the document, which immediately caused a firestorm.

It showed that Jamison had allegedly been harassing female subordinates for years, and that senior officials in the agency were aware of his behavior but apparently didn’t report it – which led to calls for an independent investigation. The governor initially rejected those calls but as pressure built, she announced she had hired a prominent outside lawyer to conduct such an investigation.

For aggressive reporting that shed light on accusations of sexual misconduct by a public official – including the lack of transparency surrounding the charges – the pair shares this week's Best of the States award.

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Feb. 16, 2018

Best of the Week

AP staffers on three continents scramble to fact-check the pope on Chile abuse

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield sensed a potentially explosive development in Chile's long-running sex abuse and cover-up scandal when she noticed a cryptic tweet from a former member of the Pope Francis' abuse advisory board.

Board member Marie Collins had tweeted that Francis was well aware that victims of Chile's most infamous predator priest had placed Bishop Juan Barros at the scene of their abuse. Collins herself had been involved in relaying those concerns to him.

Intrigued and sensing an important twist in a story that AP has already dominated, Winfield and Santiago correspondent Eva Vergara kicked off an extraordinary effort that would culminate in a three-day, multinational, cross-format papal fact-check, prompting calls for the pope to come clean about a scandal that now threatens his legacy.

Over the course of one frantic weekend the enterprise involved a Paris airport stakeout by senior TV producer Jeff Schaeffer, a missed Super Bowl party hosted by Philadelphia-based TV producer Yvonne Lee and a surreal TV interview conducted by AP reporters on three continents.

For teamwork that spanned the globe, in service of a story of immense global interest, Winfield, Vergara, Schaeffer and Lee are recognized with Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 29, 2017

Best of the States

The Next One? Sports launches hub and multiyear plan for exclusive reporting on top hoops prospect

While books and movies have shed light on the world of big-time amateur basketball, no one has published stories along the way – until now. With the first story in a series, Detroit sportswriter Larry Lage and others in a team from Sports established AP as the authority on news about Emoni Bates, a 13-year-old who stands at 6-foot-7, just started the eighth grade and is primed to be the biggest basketball prospect in the United States. The goal is to understand the high-pressure world of college basketball recruiting by following a single promising player’s path.

Lage, hybrid video journalist Mike Householder and photographer Paul Sancya of Detroit reported with the specific intent of presenting the stories in multiple ways, then worked with Chicago sports writer Jim Litke and east regional sports editor Oskar Garcia to craft the hub presentation of the text, photos, video and audio.

For their strong, revealing work, Lage, Householder, Sancya and Litke share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Aug. 10, 2017

Best of the States

Photographer reports exclusive details of Oakland player using gay slur against fan

A photographer needs more than a good eye to do the job.

On Friday night, August 4, Los Angeles-based photographer Mark J. Terrill landed the AP a scoop with sharp hearing.

In the eighth inning of the Angels’ game against the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles’ CJ Cron made a diving stop of Matt Joyce’s hard-hit line drive, which elicited loud cheers from the crowd in Anaheim. As Joyce ran back to the dugout Terrill heard the Oakland player in a heated exchange with a fan, cursing at the fan using a gay slur.

Terrill's reporting was used by AP's stringer covering the game for Sports, and expanded by Baseball Writer Ron Blum who recognized the importance of the incident. The AP story went unmatched overnight. Even after the A's addressed the incident, most media outlets continued to cite the AP story throughout.

For their enterprising efforts, Terrill and Blum split this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

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April 28, 2017

Best of the States

AP delivers unmatched cross-format coverage as Arkansas pursues unprecedented execution plan

In February, Arkansas announced a series of April executions that, if carried out, would make history in the United States: Over an 11-day period, the state would put to death eight inmates – two each on four days. No state had performed so many executions in such a short time since the Supreme Court re-instated the death penalty in 1976.

And Arkansas, which had not carried out an execution since 2005, had a curious justification for the expedited timetable: the supply of one of its three execution drugs was expiring at the end of the month. Officials were not confident they could obtain more.

Weeks before the first planned execution, a team of AP journalists in Arkansas and beyond set out to both chronicle the executions and offer deep and varied enterprise that broke news. Their work earns this week's Best of States award.

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Dec. 16, 2016

Best of the Week

Ransomed: The freeing of 226 Christians from Islamic State

What AP’s Lori Hinnant knew, from a conversation with Beirut bureau chief Zeina Karam early this year, amounted to a fascinating mystery: A series of Syrian villages had been emptied and many of their people taken hostage by the Islamic State group, but now most appeared to be free. It was clear that ransoms were paid, but no one would talk about how it happened.

The hostages were more than 200 Assyrian Christians who were rescued through a fundraising effort among the vanishing people’s global diaspora that brought in millions of dollars. These were the broad outlines of the story that Hinnant’s months of reporting confirmed, but even better were the exclusive details she unearthed _ including IS sending one villager with a ransom note to his bishop, the church dinners and concerts held around the world for donations, and the decision, fraught with ethical qualms and legal risks, to pay a ransom.

Hinnant’s resulting “thriller,” as one admirer called it, is the Beat of the Week.

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Dec. 08, 2016

Best of the Week

Blum breaks news on a new baseball labor deal and the scoops keep coming

All week, AP Baseball Writer Ron Blum knew that a new labor contract between Major League Baseball and its players was close. Each day, he stayed on the phone, talking to both sides, figuring out how far apart they were. Wednesday night, they were close. Then, the call came: They had a deal. “You’re the only person we trust to get it right,” the source told Blum about why he got the story.

Over the next few hours, Blum got more. The terms of the deal began to emerge. New players would not be able to use smokeless tobacco. The league that won the All-Star Game would no longer get home-field advantage in the World Series.

For those scoops — and more — Blum earns the Beat of the Week.

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