Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the Week

Determined source work exposes horrific massacre in holy city of Ethiopia’s isolated Tigray region

Ethiopia’s military campaign in its defiant Tigray province has been shrouded in secrecy since the conflict started in November, but AP East Africa correspondent Cara Anna has been determined to report what happened in the virtually sealed-off region. She has chased every lead through relentless source work, building contacts and networks as she reported one exclusive after another.

For this latest exclusive, Anna had been hearing rumors of a massacre in the holy city of Axum. When phone service returned to the city recently, she was able to reach the deacon of the Axum church who described in disturbing detail the mass killings by Eritrean troops. He believes some 800 people were killed that weekend at the church and around the city, and that thousands in Axum have died in all. Anna found other survivors who corroborated the deacon’s story and offered additional details.

Her reporting scooped all other media and even human rights groups who had been investigating Axum. It also drew rare and surprisingly quick responses from the governments of both Eritrea and Ethiopia.

For determined and resourceful reporting to break through the secrecy surrounding the Tigray conflict and expose the atrocity at Axum, Anna wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 19, 2021

Best of the States

AP team finds diversity of politics and religion among West Virginia evangelicals

A tweet was the seed for this illuminating story. “Most people in my rural, Appalachian hometown are being radicalized at church by their pastor, which is the person they trust the most,” it read. AP’s Global Religion team ran with it.

Reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski visited the parishioners of three churches in Bluefield, West Virginia, including one pastor who had attended the Jan. 6 Washington rally that degenerated into a riot. The AP pair spent weeks convincing him to sit down for an interview. The result was an all-formats package of diverse congregations seeking common ground, even as they are divided on the role of evangelical Christianity in American politics. 

For applying gentle persuasion and balanced reporting to produce a nuanced look at religion and politics in one West Virginia town, Henao and Wardarski win this week’s Best of the States award. 

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Jan. 22, 2021

Best of the States

AP investigation: Capitol rioters included highly trained ex-military, law enforcement

AP reporters Michael Biesecker Jake Bleiberg and James LaPorta joined with colleagues across the country to reveal the influence of current and former members of the military or law enforcement on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The AP team surveyed public records, social media posts and videos, and the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies, finding at least 22 current or former members of the U.S. military or law enforcement have been identified as part of Capitol riot, with more under investigation. The story gave specific examples of how such training played out in rioters’ tactics and equipment during the attack.

The all-formats package received prominent play from AP customers and was the top offering on the AP News app on a busy news day. 

For timely and insightful reporting that sheds light on the backgrounds and capabilities of Capitol Hill rioters, Biesecker, Bleiberg and LaPorta win AP’s Best of the States award.

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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. 18, 2020

Best of the States

All-formats team tells the shared story of rural Missouri churches, immigrants, adversity and faith

It’s a story of two churches in rural Missouri, only 30 miles apart — and worlds apart. 

One congregation is mostly white, while the other offers services in five languages with members from around the world. The pandemic has united them, with pastors meeting to support each other, share ideas and figure out how to continue ministering to this region hit disproportionately by the coronavirus.

The team of national writer David Crary, youth and religion reporter Luis Andres Henao and video journalist Jessie Wardarski earned the trust of residents to produce an intimate all-formats story, revealing diverse Midwestern communities that aren't famous but are integral to the nation’s identity.

For compelling coverage of communities united in adversity and navigating with faith, the team of Crary, Henao and Wardarski wins this week’s Best of the States award. 

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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

Best of the States

True West: Enterprise reporting reveals lurid story that led to Idaho cold case arrest

An arrest in a decades-old Idaho cold case started Boise correspondent Rebecca Boone digging, aiming to tell a broader story about the victim, the suspect and the colorful — and at times shady — pro rodeo and gambling circuit. 

Forty years ago, Dan Woolley was shot in the parking lot of a small-town bar in the Idaho mountains. The shooter crossed the street to the only other bar in town, ordered a drink and declared, “I just killed a man.” Then he disappeared. But late last year an 87-year-old man was arrested in Texas for the slaying — a former pro rodeo rider.

Boone spent months building trust with Woolley’s son and other sources, talking to long-time central Idaho residents and historians. All while juggling her state coverage of breaking news, the pandemic and the 2020 election.

The result of her efforts, an engaging 1,900-word Saturday piece, was among AP’s top stories for the weekend. For an absorbing read that is a textbook example of a general assignment reporter chipping away at a challenging enterprise piece, Boone earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Report from a tiny hospital; weary staff treats friends, family

teamed up for an intimate look into a 25-bed rural hospital whose medical staff was struggling with deeply personal concerns as they treated people they had known long before the coronavirus hit.

Salter, from rural Missouri himself, has been covering the pandemic in the state all year, on the lookout for undertold stories. When he found a hospital with an extraordinarily accommodating public relations chief, he proposed an all-formats package that would put readers inside the Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, Missouri. As they have for years, he and Roberson collaborated on this package, Salter working the phones to interview patients and staff while Roberson suited up in personal protective gear to capture poignant photos and video on the hospital floor.

Said Roberson: “What makes this story different and interesting to me are the close relationships between the hospital and its patients. The fact they are often neighbors, coworkers and sometimes even family makes the story unique and somehow more personal.”https://bit.ly/37PkEvJhttps://bit.ly/37VRyuS

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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

Best of the States

Amid heightened racial tensions, ‘Looking for America’ series examines ‘sundown towns’

Many white Americans have likely never heard of “sundown towns,” where Black people were once forbidden after dark. So Tim Sullivan, Noreen Nasir and Maye-E Wong visited one such town, Vienna, Illinois, on the second stop in AP’s “Looking for America” series, to see how it is faring in a year marked by racial protests.

While there is no longer a rule against Black people in Vienna after sunset, the habit persists for many out of fear and tradition. With deep reporting and compelling visuals, the AP team captured a lingering racial divide that is obvious to some people but virtually invisible to others. 

For a probing but nuanced package that speaks to a thread of systemic racism, the all-formats team of Sullivan, Nasir and Wong earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 09, 2020

Best of the Week

AP launches ‘Looking for America’ series with an immersive trip into Appalachia

Assignments don’t come much more challenging or ambitious: Take a road trip across the nation to see how Americans in different regions and are facing the confluence of COVID-19, economic meltdown, racial protests and a tumultuous presidential election. The first installment of the project had to both launch the series and hold its own as a story, and this AP all-formats team came through beautifully.

The story focuses on Ohio communities in the much-maligned Appalachian region, thoughtfully acknowledging both the truths and the enduring stereotypes so often associated with it. The resulting package resonated for days with readers.

For compelling journalism that speaks to core issues affecting Americans in a turbulent year, the team of enterprise reporter Tim Sullivan, enterprise photographer Maye-E Wong and video journalist Noreen Nasir earns AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Oct. 09, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP looks at the Black Lives Matter conversation in rural Kentucky

added nuance and depth to AP’s coverage of national protests over the killing of Breonna Taylor by defying stereotypes about Blacks living in Appalachia, and offering reasons for hope that racial progress is possible in the region.In a story that captured the complexity of multiple fault lines of ethnicity and class – including preconceived notions about white Appalachians – the Report for America journalist examined the perspective of young Black people living in the mountains who have found hope in the national reckoning on race. https://bit.ly/2SDk5xM

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Sept. 25, 2020

Best of the Week

AP investigates medical care at immigrant detention facility after explosive allegations

The allegations were explosive: A nurse at an immigration detention facility in rural Georgia said a gynecologist she called “the uterus collector” performed mass hysterectomies without detainees’ consent. 

Reaction was fast and furious, but the AP treated the unsubstantiated allegations cautiously. Immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant dug into the story amid intense competition, reaching out to sources, doctors and a detainee who had surgery performed without her consent. 

While his review did not find evidence of mass hysterectomies, Merchant revealed a growing pattern of women not consenting to procedures that potentially jeopardized their ability to have children. Three days later, the AP was first to report that the doctor would no longer treat immigrant detainees.   

For impressive work that broke new ground on a highly charged story, Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Sept. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

A year after AP report, charges against former Mississippi priest

followed up with the latest developments from his 2019 reporting that uncovered sexual assault by clergy, settled on the cheap in rural Missisippi. That reporting has now prompted sexual assault charges against a former Catholic priest.A year ago, Rezendes and AP colleagues unraveled the case of a former Franciscan friar accused of sexually assaulting three impoverished Black boys. Spurred by this reporting, Mississippi authorities convened a grand jury that handed up sexual battery charges and had the man extradited from Wisconsin. Without the original work of Rezendes, there would have been no criminal case. Said La Jarvis Love, one of the men who told his story to AP: “I’m happy that me saying something got something done.”https://bit.ly/3m7ZShhhttps://bit.ly/2FnUUMm

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July 17, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: As virus cases surge, PPE is again in short supply

used solid reporting and data analysis to reveal that despite federal assurances, supplies of personal protective gear (PPE) are running short again as coronavirus cases surge around the country. The analysis found that FEMA distributed a disproportion amount of PPE to mostly rural states. Montana, for example, had received 1,125 items of protective gear per case, compared with 32 items per case in Massachusetts, an early hot spot. The AP story beat a national newspaper’s PPE story by a day. https://bit.ly/3j7jC34

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May 15, 2020

Best of the States

Bearing witness as COVID-19 ravages rural Georgia counties

Telling the stories of people who have suffered devastating losses is difficult at the best of times, but with this story, focused on one predominantly black rural county in southwestern Georgia where the pandemic is hitting hardest among some of America’s most exposed, the all-formats team of Claire Galofaro, Brynn Anderson and Angie Wang also had to cope with the challenges of reporting in a pandemic. 

The journalists knew they would have to take cautious risks to tell this important story, while also dealing with the emotional and ethical issues of potentially putting the people they spoke to in danger. They spent much of their time sorting out how to best protect their sources, while also getting a story worthy of the risk those sources were taking to tell it.

That story, intimately told and richly illustrated, connected with readers, some of whom said it made the pandemic finally feel real. Many said it inspired them to act, and others wrote to compliment the journalism. 

For a significant, poignant package that reveals in personal terms the already deep inequities exploited by the pandemic, Galofaro, Anderson and Wang are recognized with this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 24, 2020

Best of the States

AP travels to the edge of America for start of the 2020 census in tiny Alaska town

On the edge of America, the U.S. Census started in a tiny Alaska town on the Bering Sea. Toksook Bay, population 661, is only reachable by plane, and isn’t an easy place to live, much less report. The temperatures hover around zero, and daylight is scarce this time of year.

After months of planning, Alaska news editor Mark Thiessen and San Diego photographer Greg Bull spent four days in the remote community, getting rare access to day-to-day life and an interview with the person who would be the first counted, 90-year-old Lizzie Chimiugak. 

And when the Census director finally arrived, delayed by bad weather that kept many other news organizations away, Thiessen and Bull were able to quickly file the spot news that Census 2020 had begun.

For overcoming myriad technical obstacles and very cold fingers to cover the news in a far-flung part of the country, while also providing a window into a world unlike any other place in the U.S., Thiessen and Bull win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 24, 2020

Best of the Week

AP reporting reveals nonstop chaos in overburdened immigration courtrooms

Led by reporters Amy Taxin and Deepti Hajela, the AP harnessed its vast geographic reach and expertise on the topic of immigration to deliver a striking, all-formats examination of the nation’s beleaguered immigration court system. 

AP journalists fanned out to courtrooms across the U.S. to vividly illustrate chaos in the nation’s immigration courts, plagued by a 1 million case backlog. 

The reporting uncovered personal stories of immigrants entangled in the system, including an in-depth package from rural Georgia by reporter Kate Brumback and photographer David Goldman, and video by producer Noreen Nasir.

For a revealing look at a legal system struggling to cope with the influx of immigrants, and families caught up in the grinding legal process, Taxin, Hajela, Brumback, Goldman and Nasir share AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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