Aug. 23, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals litigation over alleged abuse suffered by children separated at border

for their investigation breaking the news of dozens of unredacted legal claims seeking more than $200 million in damages for trauma and abuse alleged by parents and their children who had been separated at the border; these included children who were sexually molested by other children in foster homes.The administrative claims shared with The Associated Press were heartbreaking: Young children pulled from their parents’ arms by government agents were sent to foster homes and residential shelters where they suffered sexual and other physical and emotional abuse. The reporters revealed the high cost of the claims: more than $200 million for 38 claims is just “the tip of the iceberg” said lawyers. And this was the first report that some separated children in foster homes – considered safer and healthier – had been sexually molested. The story ran with exclusive photographs and video of a father whose young son, whose heart was failing, was put in a foster home where he was molested by other children.https://bit.ly/2YQwnbLhttps://bit.ly/2L0R1Mv

May 17, 2019

Best of the Week

AP examines patient consent before pelvic exams; states, med schools split on legislation

“Don’t dismiss a [story] idea just because it’s unfamiliar. Pelvic exams aren’t exactly in the wheelhouse of the State Government Team, but it turned out to be a really terrific and distinctive topic.”

That’s one editor’s takeaway from a story by Providence, Rhode Island, reporter Jennifer McDermott and Seattle medical writer Carla Johnson, both of whom, acting on a heads-up from New York photo editor Jenny Kane, found that it’s common practice for medical students to perform a pelvic exam on women under anesthesia as part of their training. Whether the patients have given consent for that exam is not clear, drawing the interest of state lawmakers.

The pair faced multiple obstacles in reporting the story, including initial reluctance by doctors and harried legislators to discuss the issue, but McDermott and Johnson succeeded in defining the conflict between medical schools and elected officials seeking to protect patient rights. Their efforts resulted in a unique story that received heavy play among major AP customers, both online and in print.

For their teamwork, execution and sensitive handling of a complex topic, McDermott, Johnson and Kane win 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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April 27, 2018

Best of the States

AP lands elusive first interview with two black men arrested at Starbucks

The arrest of two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia for sitting without ordering anything turned into a major crisis for the coffee chain and sparked a national conversation on unconscious bias and overt racism.

But the two men at the center of the controversy sought to maintain their privacy as they tried to make sense of the ordeal. They even moved to a hotel to hide out as the scandal unfolded with numerous interview requests to tell their story.

Knowing the sit-down with the men was essential, Pennsylvania Editor Larry Rosenthal pressed for an interview, noting that one conversation with AP would relieve the pressure they were feeling from so many outlets. Errin Haines Whack, the AP’s national race and ethnicity writer, followed up with a written pitch. She noted she was based in Philly and wanted to hear both their version of events and what they hoped to see moving forward. In the end, that sealed the deal.

For landing the critical interview and delivering it in multiple formats, Whack is this week’s winner of Best of the States.

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Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the States

Request denied? Sunshine Hub sheds light on state efforts to block public access

Beyond its dramatic effects, the audio from 911 calls can provide the kind of context that is essential to the public's understanding of what happened during a newsworthy crime or emergency. Those recordings are, with few exceptions, a matter of public record. That almost changed this year in Iowa, where the state House passed – unanimously – a bill that would end the public's ability to access many 911 calls. The bill eventually died after an outcry from the media, watchdog groups and civil rights organizations, but it was not unusual. A months-long project by AP reporters and data journalists found more than 150 bills introduced in state legislatures this year that were intended to eliminate or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings.

To help reporters find, track and provide input on those bills, Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen of the data team created a unique online tool that provided full access to AP customers.

Called the Sunshine Hub, it helps users keep track of legislative activity related to government transparency, suggest new bills, search for and categorize bills for research purposes, and discuss legislation with others. The Sunshine Hub directly complemented stories by Ryan Foley in Iowa, Andrew DeMillo in Arkansas and Laurie Kellman in Washington.

For their groundbreaking reporting and software development, Tumgoren, Rasmussen, Foley, DeMillo and Kellman win this week's Best of the States award.

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May 25, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: a look inside the 'pie car' and the last days of Ringling Bros.

New York City photographer Julie Jacobson and Michelle Smith, Providence, Rhode Island, correspondent, spent weeks negotiating with the parent company of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus about what sort of access they could get to the performers and crew as “The Greatest Show on Earth” drew to a close after 146 years.

What they really wanted was to get on the train where the workers lived, the last of its kind in the world. Finally the word came down: We could get on the “pie car” for the clowns’ last breakfast, but they would not be in costume, and we could absolutely not see the rest of the train, out of respect for the privacy of the performers.

But Jacobson and Smith don’t take no for an answer. The access they got, the stories they heard and the images they saw formed the basis for an exclusive and heart-tugging package of photos, traditional and 360 video, and text.

For their resourceful and revealing behind-the-scenes look at the end of a cultural icon, Jacobson and Smith receive this week's Best of the State honors.

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Sept. 02, 2016

Best of the Week

Private lives are exposed as WikiLeaks spills its secrets

When WikiLeaks announced the release of hundreds of Saudi diplomatic documents last year, AP’s Raphael Satter in Paris and Maggie Michael in Cairo provided some of the most aggressive coverage of the leak. They broke news about everything from the secretive kingdom’s checkbook diplomacy to unpaid limousine bills and cheating students.

But as they plowed through the documents, they also noticed medical and identity documents -- potentially serious privacy violations. Satter flagged the issue but never got a formal response from WikiLeaks; with other stories on the horizon and only a handful of questionable documents in hand, Satter and Michael shelved the subject.

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