Nov. 15, 2019

Best of the States

AP Investigation: At least 1,680 aging US dams pose a risk to thousands

Severe storms, extreme flooding and aging infrastructure present a rising peril throughout much of the U.S., but trying to assess the risks has been extremely difficult. The reason: The federal agency overseeing the nation’s dams has sealed off the most essential information about their condition and the potential threats to those living downstream.

Prying that information loose took the kind of dedicated, 50-state effort that the AP is uniquely positioned to pursue. Data journalist Michelle Minkoff and Northern New England correspondent Michael Casey, collaborating with state government team member David Lieb and a visual team led by video journalist Allen Breed – as well as a cast of AP state reporters, photographers and data journalists – produced a deeply reported and visually stunning package revealing the dangers of nearly 1,700 aging dams, from Hawaii to Massachusetts.

Some two years in the making, the package resulted in explosive play – more than 100,000 page views on AP News and more than 80 front pages. 

For their exhaustive efforts to unlock critical public information and relay the findings in an engaging fashion, Minkoff, Casey, Lieb and Breed win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 11, 2019

Best of the States

AP Investigation: Priests accused of abuse have access to children, dozens commit crimes

As the ranks of dioceses promising to release lists of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse began to mushroom at the beginning of this year, Philadelphia reporter Claudia Lauer and Washington-based data editor Meghan Hoyer started to strategize: How could they leverage the information on a scale never before accomplished? 

After months of systematic, dogged work, the result was “Where Are They Now,” a blockbuster investigation that found almost 1,700 priests and other clergy members living with little to no oversight, many with positions giving them access to children. Dozens have committed crimes, including sexual assault. 

The story received exceptional play online and in print, and AP Managing Editor Brian Carovillano called it, “One of the most monumental pieces of AP journalism in my memory.” 

For a stunning investigation that breaks new ground in the already impressive body of work that is “The Reckoning” series, Lauer and Hoyer win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 04, 2019

Best of the States

AP reveals research into a rare-but-severe infection carried by family pets

It could have been a routine follow-up story, but Milwaukee video journalist Carrie Antlfinger found a way to tell that story and break news. 

Very little was known last year when Greg Manteufel, a perfectly healthy Wisconsin man, developed a severe blood infection attributed to a bacterium commonly found in the saliva of cats and dogs. 

While reporting on Manteufel’s effort to reclaim his life after more than 20 surgeries and the loss of his limbs, Antlfinger discovered an angle that had not been pursued by other outlets: Researchers had identified a genetic factor that appears to make otherwise healthy people susceptible to the disease.

Antlfinger shot video, photos and wrote the story, which received strong play in all formats.

For a compelling story of recovery that also broke medical news, Antlfinger receives this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 27, 2019

Best of the States

AP investigation shines light on dark side of CBD craze

Responding to AP’s call for ambitious journalism in 2019, Holbrook “Bert” Mohr of the U.S. investigative team tossed out an idea during a brainstorming session: Authorities in Mississippi had found vapes containing fentanyl and synthetic marijuana in stores near Mohr’s home. What caught his eye was that the product was labeled as CBD. 

That led to a collaboration by the Investigations and the Health and Science teams that would offer not just the exclusive results of laboratory testing — finding cheap and illegal synthetic marijuana instead of natural CBD in vapes and edibles — but also telling details about the people who bring dangerous products to market. 

The “Spiked CBD” package broke through. It was easily the top story on AP Mobile, and Mohr’s bylined story appeared on the front page of at least 23 newspapers; it was teased on the front of nearly 100 others. 

For identifying and leading a collaborative investigative project that connected with customers and readers, Mohr receives this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Best of the States

In Mississippi Delta, Catholic abuse cases settled on cheap

As allegations of sexual abuse by clergy have proliferated across the Catholic Church, millions of dollars in settlement money has been paid to victims. Some have received as much as $500,000 apiece.

Not La Jarvis D. Love.

At an IHOP in the Mississippi Delta, a white official from the Franciscan religious order offered to pay him just $15,000 to keep years of alleged abuse secret.

“He said if I wanted more, I would have to get a lawyer and have my lawyer call his lawyer,” Love told The Associated Press. “Well, we don’t have lawyers. We felt like we had to take what we could.”

The story, the latest in AP’s investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church, revealed deals struck with two black men for abuse they said happened in grade school that represent far lower amounts than what other clergy abuse survivors have received. It also revealed the men had been asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, which had long been banned by U.S. Catholic leaders.

Despite the challenges, the team – investigative reporter Mike Rezendes, photographer Maye-E-Wong, video journalist Sarah Blake Morgan, digital storytelling producer Samantha Shotzbarger and researcher Randy Herschaft – produced extraordinary work. Herschaft discovered several critical threads that showed an alleged abuser was working with children even after the church had known about one of the men’s allegations.

For their sensitive work on a complex, emotional and previously untold story, the team of Rezendes, Morgan, Wong, Shotzbarger and Herschaft win this week’s Best of the States.

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Aug. 23, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Many US employees feel devalued even in a booming job market

for documenting how the kinds of jobs Americans long enjoyed – permanent positions with stability, bonuses, pensions, benefits and opportunities to move up – have become rarer, which is why many don’t feel much like beneficiaries of what’s now the longest economic expansion on record. Drawing on economic research, government data and interviews with workers, Smith sketched a picture of lagging wages, eroding benefits and demands that employees do more without more pay. Her reporting concluded that the loyalty and security many say they once felt from their employers have diminished, and with it a measure of their satisfaction. https://bit.ly/2P914oj

Aug. 16, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Former classmates say Ohio shooter kept a 'hit list' and a 'rape list'

for reporting that the gunman in the Dayton, Ohio, shooting that killed nine people had significant red flags in his background.Following up on a thinly sourced local news report that Ohio shooter Connor Betts had a hit list in high school, Biesecker and Dunklin began calling dozens of former classmates, particularly those who may have had a chance of knowing Betts well. They struck paydirt with a former track teammate and a classmate who gave firsthand accounts of knowing not only about the hit list of people Betts wanted to kill, but also a rape list of girls he wanted to sexually assault. Both students had knowledge of separate high school suspensions of Betts, and with help from Smyth and others on the ground in Dayton, AP found more people who could confirm the accounts. https://bit.ly/2YIUEQg

Aug. 02, 2019

Best of the Week

Only on AP: Intimate, compelling all-formats coverage of Congo’s deadly Ebola outbreak

It’s a story so dangerous that the journalists who covered it are still checking their temperatures regulary to ensure that they’re not infected with one of the world’s most lethal diseases. Yet AP’s all-formats journalists helped tell intimate stories about the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history.

The team – Johannesburg Chief Photographer Jerome Delay, West Africa Bureau Chief Krista Larson, Istanbul video journalist Bram Janssen and Congo stringer Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro – had been planning since April to report on the outbreak in Congo, a journey complicated not only by risk of the disease but also the threat of rebel attacks. And their story took on even greater urgency when the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a world health emergency.

Readers, and editors, around the world took notice as the team produced a series of compelling stories from the epicenter of the outbreak.

For careful planning and execution of multiformat coverage that brought the frightening outbreak to a deeply personal level, Larson, Delay, Janssen and Kudra win AP’s Best of the Week.

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July 12, 2019

Best of the States

Only on AP: Big farms find easy ways around caps on tariff aid

An AP Best of States mention in February about the hundreds of companies avoiding President Donald Trump’s steel tariffs raised questions about Trump’s $12 billion aid package to farmers hurt by the tariffs. What happened next shows how states can produce sharp, data-driven journalism – simply by calling on the data team for help.

AP filed Freedom of Information Act requests for U.S. Department of Agriculture data that was analyzed by Balint Szalai, a Hungarian investigative reporter embedded with AP’s data team, and Washington data team intern Riin Aljas.

Among their findings: Many big farming operations were legally collecting far more than the supposed caps on aid.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis reporter Steve Karnowski spoke to longtime USDA critics and interviewed farmers who defended taking the big checks, saying they didn’t even cover their losses under Trump’s trade war.

The Only-on-AP story ran on dozens of sites, and because the data and analysis were released to AP members in advance, many chose to localize their stories.

For sophisticated data analysis and on-the-ground reporting that shed light on a key consequences of trade policy, Karnowski, Szalai and Aljas share this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 14, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Navy reassigns unconventional war college head after AP reveals probe

“... Due to the distractions caused by the unfounded AP article last week, I am stepping down as President of YOUR college effective immediately.”

Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harley, head of the elite U.S. Naval War College, pushed the button on that all-staff missive Monday after the Navy announced it was reassigning him in the wake of exclusive reporting by Jennifer McDermott and Michelle R. Smith – reporting that produced two APNewsBreaks in 72 hours.

Their first NewsBreak moved Friday, confirming the military was investigating allegations that Harley spent excessively, abused his hiring authority and otherwise behaved inappropriately, including keeping a margarita machine in his office. Three days later, the AP team was first again with word that the Navy was removing Harley from his post pending the outcome of its probe.

Both stories gained huge traction with customers and on social media. The scoops by McDermott’s and Smith were “just the tip of the iceberg,” one source said, and they’ve since led to new tips.

For dogged and diligent reporting that exposed questionable leadership at the heart of the Navy’s brain trust, McDermott and Smith win this week’s Best of the States prize.

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June 14, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP accompanies 98-year-old D-Day veteran to Normandy 75th

for accompanying D-Day survivor Ray Lambert, 98, to Normandy on the 75th anniversary of the battle, providing a rich, emotion-laden personal travel diary as the former Army medic made what is likely his last trip back to the site of the June 6 landings. Working in all formats, Breed captured Lambert’s activities, from packing his bags to his triumphant return to France. The four-part video series included intimate moments such as a visit with school children in a local village and a trip to the shores of Omaha Beach, where Lambert had saved numerous comrades. And on the day of the anniversary, President Trump singled out Lambert in his D-Day speech at the U.S. cemetery.https://bit.ly/2ZkkSF6https://bit.ly/2XONru8

May 10, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: California synagogue hadn’t used security funds received shortly before shooting

After a gunman opened fire in a Southern California synagogue on Passover, killing a woman and wounding a man, his 8-year-old niece and the rabbi leading the service, the inevitable question was asked: Could anything have been done to stop the violence?

Reporters Don Thompson and Adam Beam in Sacramento and Julie Watson in San Diego combined to report exclusively that the synagogue itself had recognized security deficiencies and even received a state grant to address them.

But it hadn’t spent the money, the AP team revealed.

For their exclusive follow-up to a crime that generated global attention, Thompson, Watson and Beam win this week’s Best of the States.

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April 26, 2019

Best of the States

A powerful retrospective and breaking news, 20 years after Columbine mass shooting

Twenty years have passed since the Columbine high school massacre, which was, to many people, the beginning of school shootings as we know them. In those years, life has changed: Mass shootings happen again and again, schoolchildren participate in lockdowns instead of fire drills, and many reflect on the moment in time when two young men took 13 lives with them on their suicidal quest.

AP was uniquely positioned to cover the two decades since the massacre, with journalists who were there, those who cover the Colorado community every day, and experts in polling, education and guns. Stories by Denver reporter Kathleen Foody and videojournalist Peter Banda led a deep all-formats package by dozens of journalists across the AP telling not just of the carnage but of those who survived it, their struggle, and the future.

But all the planning couldn't prepare anyone for this spot development: Early in the week, Sol Pais, a young Florida woman, prompted panic over a possible attack at Columbine, later taking her own life near the Colorado school. Miami reporter Kelli Kennedy tracked down a good friend of Pais who not only filled in personal details about her in an exclusive interview, but supplied photos of Pais and cast doubt on the official narrative about her friend.

The overarching theme of the spot and enterprise coverage focused on the short and long-term mental health issues from school shootings. The result was a unique, meaningful package that received impressive play nationally – online and in print. The video was among the top-used AP videos of the week.

For their work spearheading the package, and breaking news, Foody, Banda and Kennedy win this week’s Best of the States.

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March 15, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Twin Texas scoops: UT fires former football star; GOP governor packing courts

for breaking two completely unrelated Texas scoops: that the University of Texas had fired former star quarterback Vince Young from his part-time job as an ambassador and development officer for the school, and for reporting that after barely three months after Democrats showed signs of cracking Republican dominance in state elections, Gov. Greg Abbott used the power of his office to appoint GOP judges who had been rejected by voters to new positions on the bench.https://bit.ly/2J6ZNe3https://bit.ly/2TB5fe3