Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Persistence pays off with story of bureaucrat blocking transition

wanted to know more about Emily Murphy, the little-known federal official who stalled the formal presidential transition by waiting more than two weeks to “ascertain” that Joe Biden was the apparent winner of the presidential race.Madhani reached out to every recent administrator of Muphy’s agency — the General Services Administration — as well as some lawmakers Murphy had worked for, but he wasn’t having any luck. His 10th call, a fortuitous cold call to Dave Barram, who ran the GSA during the Bush-Gore standoff in 2000, proved to be the jackpot. Madhani found Barram’s number in an online database.Barram revealed that he’d spoken with Murphy before the election to talk through how to handle ascertainment. He laid out his advice to her: “If you do the right thing, then all you have to do is live with the consequences of it.’”The call with Barram didn’t occur until late in the day, but Madhani instantly knew he had a story. He worked late to turn it around for AP’s most reader-engaged story of the day. https://bit.ly/32YG5ZQ

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP catches Georgia presidential certification announcement error

alertly caught a discrepancy in an official news release announcing that the Georgia secretary of state had certified the state’s election results, naming Joe Biden as the winner. As other news organizations rushed to publish, Brumback sought confirmation and learned that the release had been sent in error — Georgia hadn’t certified its results yet. AP quickly reported the mix-up and others had to update their stories; one major publication needed 90 minutes to correct its reporting.Catching the mistaken announcement was just the latest example of Brumback’s outstanding coverage of Georgia’s closely contested election. She relied on her deep understanding of Georgia’s voting system and a strong source network built over years. https://bit.ly/39keohM

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Nov. 20, 2020

Best of the States

Using voters’ voices and hard data, AP analyzes Black support in Biden’s win

While there is little dispute that Black voters pushed Joe Biden into the presidential winner's column, AP wanted to know: How big of a factor were they?

Race and ethnicity writers Kat Stafford and Aaron Morrison began reporting on what Black voters said they wanted Biden to deliver once in office. Using the voices they collected as the foundation of the story, Stafford and Morrison teamed with data journalist Angeliki Kastanis and polling journalist Hannah Fingerhut, who infused the piece with data and voter survey findings that bolstered the anecdotes with hard numbers. 

Their collaboration put the AP days ahead of other news organizations’ pieces on Black voters’ support of Biden. For resourceful and insightful reporting and analysis on a major factor in the 2020 election, the team of Stafford, Morrison, Kastanis and Fingerhut wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 13, 2020

Best of the States

Tenacious source work leads to national newsbreak on census fraud

The on-the-record accounts from two census workers were stunning: Under pressure from supervisors amid the Trump administration’s push to bring the census to an end, they were encouraged to falsify records in the 2020 headcount.

Whom did they reveal this to? Not surprisingly, they spoke to Mike Schneider, AP’s authority on the census, who leveraged months of source development and reporting to break the story. Posted just an hour before the presidential race was called for former Vice President Joe Biden, the story still broke through with strong play and reader engagement.

For keeping the AP ahead in a critical coverage area with a terrific scoop, Schneider wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 13, 2020

Best of the Week

Count every vote, call the winners and report fast, accurate election news: There’s an AP for that

Coverage of U.S. elections is one of the AP’s most crucial missions, carried out in a sprawling but hyper-meticulous operation that stretches company-wide and brings order and clarity to the nation’s patchwork voting system.

In this year’s election cycle, upended by partisan feuding, a steady stream of disinformation and a global pandemic, the AP built on 172 years of election experience to deliver stories, photos, videos and graphics in innovative ways that didn’t just tell the story of who won, but why as well. Among the highlights was a new feature called Explainer that offered contextual looks at the reasons behind race calls for each state, bringing greater transparency to AP’s decisions when it has never mattered more.

Success on a story this massive can happen only with months, even years, of diligent planning, strong execution and the dedication of hundreds of AP journalists and support staff. For coverage that distinguished the AP in a momentous election year, the collective work of AP’s staff earns this week’s Best of the Week honors.

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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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July 10, 2020

Best of the States

Joint investigation details hollowed-out US public health departments

While it is widely understood that U.S. public health departments have suffered budget cuts over the years, a collaborative AP/Kaiser Health News team used data and deep reporting to show exactly how expansive those cuts have been.

The investigation by AP’s Michelle Smith, Meghan Hoyer and Mike Householder, teamed with KHN’s Lauren Weber, Laura Ungar, Hannah Recht and Anna Maria Barry-Jester, drew on data from disparate sources and interviews with more than 150 people to reveal a system starved of money and staff for years, and facing more cuts amid the worst health crisis in a century. 

The team’s all-formats package drew kudos and high-profile reaction from health officials, to the halls of Congress, to editorial pages.

For an ambitious story that laid bare the state of America’s public health system, the joint AP/KHN team of Smith, Hoyer, Householder, Weber, Ungar, Recht and Barry-Jester shares this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 10, 2020

Best of the Week

AP Exclusive: China forces Uighurs to cut births with IUDs, abortions, sterilization

The shocking story exposed a serious human rights issue: The Chinese government has forced the use of IUDs, abortions and sterilization on members of China’s Muslim minority in an apparent effort to reduce its population. 

The piece, which ran without a byline for security reasons, established that China is imposing birth control on Uighurs and other Muslims in a far more widespread and systematic way than previously known. The exclusive reporting drew on Uighur and Kazakh sources, research by a prominent China scholar and hours-long interviews with ex-detainees, family members and even a former detention camp instructor. 

The story elicited a strong global response from government officials, news media and the public.

For uncovering another major chapter on the plight of the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China, the unidentified AP reporter wins this week’s Best of the Week award.

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May 22, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP interview: Mom threatened by crowd leaned on faith

gave AP the first national interview with a black woman who faced down an armed all-white group – led by a sheriff’s deputy – that tried to force its way into her home. The woman, Monica Shepard, had talked to two local television stations but was avoiding further media contact. Foreman, however, felt there was a deeper story to be told.

He eventually reached Shepard and her son through their attorney, arranging for an online interview to capture video. “I was vulnerable. They had the crowd. They had the weapons. I had nothing,” Shepard told Foreman. “I was standing before a crowd, but I had the faith.” Foreman’s compelling story gave AP the beat on other media that were trying to interview the family, and was used even by outlets that had previously covered the incident.https://bit.ly/2Xfxtdnhttps://bit.ly/2zl3sB5

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March 13, 2020

Best of the Week

AP Decision Desk caps stellar Super Tuesday with instant call: California for Sanders

On Super Tuesday afternoon, AP’s Stephen Ohlemacher and Emily Swanson were locked away in a conference room – isolated from their colleagues in the Washington bureau – reviewing incoming results from AP VoteCast. AP’s survey – developed to be more accurate than traditional exit polling – was already revealing what was about to happen on the biggest night of the Democratic presidential primary campaign.

The VoteCast data revealed trends in absentee voting and shifting preferences as Democratic candidates dropped out of the race, giving AP the evidence it needed to call California for Bernie Sanders as the state’s polls closed at 11:00 Eastern. News outlets relying on exit polls would not make that call for more than a week. 

Meanwhile, Seth Borenstein was crunching the numbers on the all-important delegate count, a task that required days of painstaking analysis of incomplete data to reach this conclusion: Joe Biden won more delegates on Super Tuesday than did Sanders.

Like the Caliofornia race call, news of Biden’s delegate victory rocketed around the world. 

For completing in-depth, accurate analysis of election data on deadline, enabling AP to tell the complete story of Super Tuesday before all others, Swanson, Ohlemacher and Borenstein win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Nov. 22, 2019

Best of the States

LA photographer’s son locked down in school shooting; team coverage stands out

AP staffers displayed remarkable professionalism and composure under extraordinary circumstances in their coverage of the Nov. 14 mass shooting at Saugus High School in a Los Angeles suburb.

LA photographer Marcio Sanchez found himself in a nearly unfathomable position: He was making news photos outside a high school where a gunman had opened fire while one of his sons was locked down inside. Later, when Sanchez was safely home with his 15-year-old son Noah, his longtime LA colleague, reporter Brian Melley, did a sensitive interview with the teenager about his experience during the shooting and lockdown.

Meanwhile, veteran breaking news staffer John Antczak in the LA bureau reported the shifting numbers of casualties with careful sourcing and attribution, anchoring the coverage and avoiding the false reports put out by some media. 

AP’s full complement of all-format coverage was the product of excellent reporting and editing by staffers in the field and in the bureau. That team effort was highlighted by the remarkable work of Sanchez, Antczak and Melley, who earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 01, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Ukraine’s Zelenskiy pressured by Trump months before call

Desmond Butler and Michael Biesecker, global investigations reporters in Washington, wanted to fill out the timeline of the diplomatic scandal at the heart of House impeachment inquiry. While Biesecker worked sources in Washington, Butler traveled to Ukraine to meet with associates of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and with other sources developed over years of investigating wrongdoing in the former Soviet Union.

What they learned moved the needle on a complex narrative — associates of the Ukrainian leader said that pressure from the Trump White House started much earlier than was known previously, dating from shortly after Zelenskiy’s election in April, and before he took office as president. 

The scoop was the latest in a series of breaking stories and exclusives by the pair that have defined coverage of the impeachment investigation and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s role in it.

For meticulous work that led to a major scoop and widened the horizons of the ongoing Ukraine-Trump story, Butler and Biesecker share AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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May 31, 2019

Best of the States

The one that got away: Survivor of serial killer adds emotion, depth to execution coverage

Execution coverage often focuses on the condemned inmate or the manner of death. So, faced with covering his eighth execution – a Florida serial killer – Tallahassee correspondent Brendan Farrington told the extraordinary personal story of a victim who escaped and helped police find the man after he raped her decades ago. That woman had chosen to witness the man’s execution.

Farrington doggedly tracked down the woman, now a sheriff’s deputy, who finally agreed to an interview on the eve of the execution. Her compelling story resonated with readers everywhere.

For his persistence and sensitivity in telling a personal and emotional victim’s story in what could have been a rote story on a serial killer’s execution, Farrington wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 05, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Florida targeting massage parlor prostitution, trafficking

When police busted several massage parlors engaging in prostitution in Florida in February, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft drew all the attention, but hundreds of other men were also charged in what seemed like a new approach for Florida authorities.

AP Florida reporters Mike Schneider, Orlando, and Terry Spencer, West Palm Beach, seized on the Kraft-driven attention to dig into legal issues surrounding massage parlors and prostitution in Florida. With a deep dive into state records and a key interview with a local source, the pair landed an AP Exclusive that showed a change in strategy: Usually only low-level massage therapists were arrested. Owners were rarely charged and typically faced only fines and probation. Johns typically were not charged at all.

But the recent investigation had instead focused heavily on the possibility of widespread human trafficking. Several spa owners were charged with felonies, and authorities also charged 300 men accused of being patrons, including Kraft and the former president of Citigroup. The Martin County sheriff told Spencer that he wanted to shut down the sex-massage industry in part by targeting the demand side.

Strong play included prominent display in The Washington Post.

For their enterprising use of state records and source-building to find an AP Exclusive in a story that drew enormous global attention, Schneider and Spencer win this week’s Best of States award.

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March 22, 2019

Best of the States

Sunshine Week investigation: Public regularly denied access to police videos

Police videos of officers shooting unarmed black men have sparked angry protests in Chicago, Sacramento and other U.S. cities. But AP’s Ryan Foley wondered: Is it the norm for departments to release footage from body-worn and dashboard cameras?

Foley, based in Iowa City, Iowa, a member of AP’s state government team, investigated and found that many departments routinely deny public access to their videos of officer-involved shootings and other uses of force.

Foley filed open records requests related to roughly 20 recent use-of-force incidents in a dozen states. His letters were met with denial after denial as police departments routinely cited a broad exemption to state open records laws: They claimed that releasing the video would undermine an ongoing investigation. But critics say the exemption is often misapplied to keep embarrassing or compromising video footage from public view.

To tell the story visually, Central Region video journalist Noreen Nasir dug through AP’s archives to highlight the moments and emotions that followed the deaths of unarmed black men, including the fatal police shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. She also interviewed a woman in North Dakota whose brother died after being shot in the back of the head during a struggle with police, adding a crucial perspective to the video.

At the same time, Panagiotis Mouzakis, multimedia animation producer in London, used the many denial letters Foley had collected to create a video graphic that was incorporated into Nasir’s video, and Beat Team visuals editor Alina Hartounian developed a social plan that helped the package find a huge audience.

For shining a light on how police departments continue to withhold visual evidence and for devising creative ways to illustrate the story, Foley, Nassir and Mouzakis share this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 15, 2019

Best of the Week

AP team demonstrates what a community loses when a small-town newspaper dies

What’s lost when a newspaper dies? And how do you tell the story of this slow disaster happening in front of everyone’s eyes and still make the world sit up and take notice?

For reporters Dave Bauder and David Lieb, the answer was by focusing on the residents of one small town as they explained the death of local journalism in an authentic, vivid and compelling way.

It’s a story that’s happened repeatedly across the country, with 1,400 cities or towns losing newspapers in the last 15 years. The aftermath of the loss of the Daily Guide in Waynesville, Missouri, was richly told by a multiformat team of text, video and photo journalists as the centerpiece story for “Fading Light,” the AP’s Sunshine Week package on the decline of local news.

New York-based media reporter Bauder and Lieb, a member of the state government team based in Missouri’s capitol, spent several days in Waynesville and its twin city, St. Robert, reporting the story. Denver video journalist Peter Banda and Kansas City photographer Orlin Wagner worked closely with them to shoot visuals, while Alina Hartounian, the multiformat coordinator for the U.S. beat teams, created social videos that drove readers to the story. Bauder also secured an interview with executives at the company that shuttered the Daily Guide.

The package received incredible attention and sparked discussion online. Bauder and Lieb’s text story has been viewed nearly 120,000 times with high engagement, it has landed on nearly 30 front pages, and has been cited in several influential media reports.

For masterful work shining a light on a problem that has left whole communities less informed, Bauder, Lieb, Banda, Wagner and Hartounian win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Jan. 25, 2019

Best of the Week

All-formats team dominates coverage of Nairobi terror attack

From the first blasts, gunfire and panicked phone calls, the Nairobi bureau immediately assumed a terror attack, aggressively mobilizing resources in a textbook example of cross-format journalism that put the AP ahead on every element of a major breaking story: an extremist attack on a hotel complex that left 21 people dead, in addition to the five attackers.

Senior video producer Khaled Kazziha called freelance video journalist Joe Mwihia, who slipped into the scene with Kenyan special forces, filming exclusive footage as officers cleared rooms, guns drawn, and ran down rumors of a grenade. His three hours of exclusive reporting earned him the byline on the text story based on his detailed contributions.

Meanwhile, staff video journalist Josphat Kasire rushed to the scene with a LiveU and quickly scooped competitors with the first live shot showing burning cars, injured people, survivors fleeing in droves and witness accounts. His compelling footage became the heart of the text story, and the live images continued overnight as the attack unfolded.

Contributing to the outstanding video coverage were freelance cameraman Idi Ali Juma, freelance camera assistant Moses Ndungu and freelance producers Geoffrey Kaviti and Desmond Tiro.

“Sheer bravery,” international editor Ian Phillips said later of the team’s work.

Around the same time, Nairobi photographers Ben Curtis and Khalil Senosi captured gripping images of people fleeing the mayhem and security forces aiming weapons at attackers, among their standout photos.

The play for the photos, video and text was off the charts, including major client Sky News running live and packaged videos on a day busy with Brexit news.

For their formidable breaking news coverage across all formats, the Nairobi team of Kazziha, Curtis, Senosi, Mwihia, Kasire, Ali Juma, Tiro, Kavita and Ndungu wins AP’s Best of the Week.

Special Citation

The Best of the AP committee has also awarded a special lifetime citation to Libya freelance photographer and video journalist Mohamed Ben Khalifa, who died Jan. 19 when the military convoy with which he was traveling came under missile fire in southern Tripoli.

The committee honored Ben Khalifa for the body of his work, carried out with integrity and courage for The Associated Press and his other media clients.

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