Oct. 30, 2020

Best of the States

AP breaks news on the opioid epidemic and Purdue Pharma, with focus on victims

AP reporters from three different teams broke distinctive, significant stories on the continuing drug overdose crisis in the U.S., which has been overshadowed this year by the coronavirus pandemic:

— A state-level report showing that overdose deaths are on pace to reach an all-time high this year, and that overdoses increased after the virus began spreading in the U.S.— An accountability story on President Donald Trump’s handling of the opioid crisis, and how the issue has been overlooked in the presidential race.— A major scoop on a settlement between the federal government and Purdue Pharma, complete with details of criminal charges and the $8 billion settlement. 

But the depth of coverage didn’t end with the major news beats. All three stories put victims at the center of the reporting. 

For revealing stories that broke news and provided a powerful reminder of an ongoing epidemic that has contributed to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans, Mike Stobbe, Adrian Sainz, Farnoush Amiri, Geoff Mulvihill, Meghan Hoyer and Michael Balsamo win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

In Mississippi, ‘Looking for America’ examines Black voting rights

looked at at the circumstances faced by Mississippi’s Black voters for the third installment of AP’s “Looking For America” road trip series.The highly evocative package was framed in the context of the “Mississippi Burning” murders of three civil rights activists in 1964 – and it found that too little has changed. The AP team saw the issue through the eyes of a now-elderly activist who was close to two of the murder victims more than 50 years ago. They reported that while poll taxes and tests on the state constitution may be gone, Black voters still face obstacles such as state-mandated ID laws and the disenfranchisement tens of thousands of former prisoners.The text, photos and video, with digital presentation by multimedia journalist Samantha Shotzbarger, perfectly captured the frustration that so many decades later, Black voters are still challenged by the state.The work was highlighted in a long entry in Politico’s Playbook, and attracted attention in the U.S. and internationally.https://bit.ly/31THAI1https://bit.ly/3jzaKCphttps://bit.ly/3oCX50E

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Oct. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Most arrested in US protests aren’t leftist radicals

set out to determine who had actually been arrested in the protests that have rocked the U.S. since the killing of George Floyd in May. They scrutinized the arrest records of every person charged in federal court with protest-related crimes, delivering an important accountability story that showed the Trump administration’s claims of leftist-incited violence during racial unrest were overblown. The trio read through thousands of pages of court documents and sifted through 286 federal cases where people were charged with federal crimes of violence. They found only one mention of antifa and very few cases of organized extremism.They also called dozens of lawyers, activists and sources to determine what was going on behind the numbers, finding an effort by the Department of Justice to pursue cases that normally would be handled in the state systems, and exaggeration by the president of the danger posed to the public. The team’s reporting undercut claims that left-wing extremists were running rampant in American cities. On a busy news day, the story received outstanding play online and in print. https://bit.ly/2HMltwl

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Oct. 23, 2020

Best of the Week

AP documents international child labor as families put children to work during pandemic

When Mexico announced in August that its 30 million students would start the school year using a combination of internet and television-based distance learning, many poor families chose to send their children to work to help survive the pandemic’s economic toll. 

With tens of millions of out-of-school children worldwide, AP decided to look at this sad phenomenon on a broad level, from Latin America, where children hammered away inside amber mines or labored in brick kilns, to Kenya where girls had been forced into prostitution while others broke rocks in a quarry. 

For their important and compelling work, the team of Maria Verza, Eduardo Verdugo, Alexis Triboulard, Carlos Valdez, Juan Karita, Carlos Guerrero, William Costa, Jorge Saenz, Tom Odula, Brian Inganga, Sheikh Saaliq and Dario Lopez wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Oct. 23, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: PG&E lacked basic training before California blackouts

solved a central mystery of Pacific Gas & Electric’s intentional power shutoffs: why the utility was so prone to bungling the intentional blackouts.Following an earlier exclusive looking at PG&E’s blackout response last fall, Pritchard received a tip: PG&E had revealed it did not require emergency management personnel to be trained in emergency management. The pandemic interrupted that reporting, but he and Liedtke revisited it just as blackout season returned to California this year. Their central finding was startling: Among the hundreds of people who handled the 2019 blackouts from PG&E’s emergency operations center, only a handful had any training in California’s Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) – the playbook that California has used for a generation. In response to the reporters’ questions, PG&E revealed to AP that only “several” emergency operations center workers or executives had any SEMS training, something not even the executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission knew.The story rippled through the San Francisco Bay Area media market and outward from there, receiving strong play in broadcast, online and in print. https://bit.ly/2FNzlFA

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Oct. 23, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Nevada sought to use Chinese COVID tests from UAE

joined forces for this rare hybrid story of state and international politics, revealing how the rush for medical supplies amid the pandemic raised new concerns about international trade and safety. Price used Nevada public records to report that one way the state tried to secure testing kits was by leveraging a former MGM CEO’s connections with the United Arab Emirates, which partnered with MGM to build a $9.2 billion multi-resort development in Las Vegas. The UAE donated 250,000 Chinese-made test kits that weren’t eventually used because federal officials raised concerns about patient privacy, test accuracy and the involvement of a Chinese company that is the world’s largest genetic sequencing firm. Gambrell framed the reporting around U.S. officials’ concern that foreign powers could exploit the pandemic to access medical histories and genetic traits of test takers. https://bit.ly/37mUYIl

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Oct. 09, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigates Brazil’s weak response to burning wetlands

went beyond just documenting the fires that swept across Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands, decimating wildlife, but also reported that the government’s meager response allowed the blazes to spiral out of control. Almost one-quarter of the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands, went up in flames – an area bigger than the state of Maryland, and double what California lost this year.

The Brazilian government said it mobilized hundreds of troops and agents. as well as aircraft dropping water, to douse the fires. The AP team used witness testimonials, local data and its journalists’ own observations – they didn’t find a single armed forces member during five days in the northern Pantanal, where the fires were centered. Sources yielded further evidence and a government source who was involved in the Pantanal fire response later confirmed the AP’s findings, despite continued assertions by Brazil’s environment ministry that its response was stellar.

The team produced multiple packages with especially strong video and photos. The work was the most used from Latin America by AP clients for all of September.https://bit.ly/33zTrMvhttps://bit.ly/36KwSad

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Oct. 09, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP delivers fastest, most complete coverage of Trump refugee cap

teamed up to provide the fastest, most complete coverage of the Trump administration’s announcement that it would resettle no more than 15,000 refugees in 2021, another record low.Their work began days before the Sept. 30 deadline for a decision. Lee worked sources on his State Department beat, while Watson drew on her long experience covering refugees, speaking with advocates and with an Eritrean refugee in the U.S. whose dream of reuniting with his family became more remote as a result of Trump’s decision. At 11:26 p.m. on the evening of the deadline, Lee received confirmation of the 15,000 cap from the State Department. Watson rushed it to wire, delivering a 700-word story by 12:04 a.m., including a quote of Trump vilifying refugees at a campaign rally that night in Minnesota. A major competitor moved its story at 2:37 a.m., and no one else had a story for hours. https://bit.ly/2Gr9NyA

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Oct. 09, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive audio: Black man died after beating by Louisiana trooper

exclusively obtained an audio clip from the body-camera footage of a Louisiana state trooper implicated in the death of a Black motorist last year, capturing the trooper saying, “I beat the ever-living f--- out of him.” It is the most direct evidence yet to emerge in the death last year of Ronald Greene, which troopers initially blamed on injuries from a car crash at the end of a chase. The long-simmering case has now become the subject of a federal civil rights investigation and growing calls for authorities to release the full body-cam video.

Mustian, a former investigative reporter for The New Orleans Advocate, is deeply sourced on the Louisiana State Police and has been consistently out front on this story. He broke the news that federal investigators were stepping in, and his scoop on the trooper’s 27-second audio received strong play through several busy news cycles. https://bit.ly/3d4CwoH

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP pauses to get story of ‘discarded’ Trump ballots right

resisted competitive pressure, holding off on a Department of Justice press release on an investigation into “discarded” military ballots for President Donald Trump, instead taking the time to do a more deeply reported story.Most media rushed to publish when a U.S. attorney in the battleground state of Pennsylvania took the unusual step of announcing the ongoing investigation, saying nine mail-in ballots for the president had been “cast aside” in a county elections office. The county manager later blamed the incident on confusion over the appearance of the envelopes, but conservative social media quickly seized on the initial announcement while the Trump campaign blamed Democrats for “trying to steal the election.”The original press release, however, was short on details and no one, federal or local, was talking. Pennsylvania news editor Christina Paciolla brought the story to the attention of AP’s voting team, and a deeper examination began.The AP drew on expertise across the organization to produce a far more well-informed story the following day, providing essential context and new information, including the U.S. attorney defending his announcement of the votes for Trump, and that Attorney General William Barr had previously briefed the president on the case. https://bit.ly/3if2LJZ

Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Surge of mail-in voting could mean surge of ballot-marking errors

used her deep expertise on voting procedures, along with strong source work, to report that poorly marked ovals or boxes on mail-in ballots could become this year”s version of the hanging chads from the disputed 2000 presidential election.With tens of millions of Americans filling out their ballots at home and voting by mail for the first time this year, experts anticipate that many of those voters will make mistakes marking ballots, forcing election workers to try to discern their intent. As Cassidy noted, states with a long history of voting by mail have detailed guidelines for processing and interpreting such ballots. But states that ramped up their vote-by-mail efforts this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic do not have that experience, potentially leading to confusion and disputed vote counts. https://bit.ly/3jii45V

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP data analysis finds poor mail delivery in battleground states

revealed that Postal Service districts across the nation are missing the agency’s own standards for on-time delivery as tens of millions of Americans prepare to vote by mail – and the lag times are especially pronounced in key regions of some battleground states.Postal Service delivery times, some of them obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, indicate that the district covering Detroit and the eastern third of Michigan, the part of the state that is being most heavily contested politically, has the worst on-time delivery in the nation. Regions of Ohio and Pennsylvania show similar underperformance. In fact, the data showed that no Postal Service region is meeting the agency’s target of delivering more than 95% of first-class mail within five days. https://bit.ly/2GecGlX

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Sept. 25, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals Walmart, Amazon donations to Q-linked lawmaker

reviewed campaign finance records and social media posts, finding that Walmart, Amazon and other corporate giants donated to the reelection campaign of a Tennessee lawmaker who had amplified and promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory. Milligan helped compile and review Federal Election Commission data for 81 current or former congressional candidates who have expressed support for or interest in QAnon. The AP analysis showed that dozens of QAnon-promoting candidates have run for federal or state offices during this election cycle. Collectively, they have raised nearly $5 million from thousands of donors. Individually, however, most of them have run poorly financed campaigns with little or no corporate or party backing. Kunzelman’s story showed up in more than 200 news outlets with strong engagement, including Hollywood director Judd Apatow, who tweeted a link to his 2.4 million followers. https://bit.ly/3j0AnfH

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Sept. 25, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Feds probing in-custody death of Black man in Louisiana

reported exclusively on the launch of a federal investigation into the death last year of Ronald Greene, a Black man in Louisiana, following what state troopers say was a struggle at the end of a traffic chase. It is a long-simmering case in which police have refused to release any body camera video or records. Mustian’s deep reporting also included confirmation of a separate FBI civil rights investigation and the publication of graphic death photos. The probe has raised questions that the Louisiana State Police has so far refused to answer.https://bit.ly/33Zvf58https://bit.ly/33Z1yBd

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Sept. 18, 2020

Best of the States

Putting a human face to the numbers: A waiter made homeless by the pandemic

Since the pandemic took hold in America, myriad stories have covered the broad economic impact of millions laid off or underemployed. But few have captured how the chilling trickle-down effect is changing lives.

Enter Kelli Kennedy. The Florida reporter produced a compelling, poignant story on one man's struggle with the devastating effects of the coronavirus shutdowns. Orlando resident Jeff Lello lost his waiter job, ended up homeless and briefly lived in a tent in the woods. 

The story was among AP’s most-read of the week, drawing feedback from readers, colleagues and even politicians.

For a stark narrative of unemployment wrought by the pandemic, Kennedy’s story wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Absentee ballot rejections could soar in battlegrounds

analyzed voter turnout and ballot rejection data, finding that the number of absentee ballot rejections is likely to soar in key presidential battleground states this fall – enough that it could tip the balance in a close race. They also found the problem is more pronounced in some urban areas where Democratic votes are concentrated and rejections trended higher during this year’s primaries.

Cassidy and Bajak looked at how many people voted by mail in this year’s post-Covid primaries, the percentage of those ballots that were rejected and the state’s turnout during the 2016 presidential election to project how many absentee ballots could get rejected in the coming election if those numbers remained stable. Their analysis found between 185,000 and 292,000 voters in the seven key states they examined could be disenfranchised. https://bit.ly/3hfnXyP

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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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Sept. 04, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Despite reports to the contrary, AP finds redwoods still standing

broke the news that the massive and renowned old-growth redwood trees at Big Basin Redwoods State Park had largely survived the region’s devastating wildfires. After other media reported that the ancient trees were “doomed” and had been “wiped out,” Mendoza and Sanchez hiked several smoky miles over waist-high fallen trees to find that the old-growth trees in the park – including the iconic Father and Mother of the Forest – were most definitely standing and had not burned. Even the signs marking the trees were unscathed.The positive news resonated with readers as far away as Iran and India, generating heavy engagement. https://bit.ly/31RxYOh

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Aug. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Records show businesses swayed governors on reopening

worked with his AP statehouse colleagues in every state to reveal how businesses influenced governors’ decisions on when to reopen state economies during a critical period of the coronavirus pandemic. AP obtained thousands of pages of emails through public record requests filed over several months in all 50 states. In a number of those states, governors overruled public health recommendations at the behest of business interests, only to have to reverse those decisions as COVID cases flared. The story received heavy play, and some AP bureaus added state-specific sidebars for their AP members. https://bit.ly/3hN27UN

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Aug. 21, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: NY State is likely undercounting nursing home deaths

analyzed available data to show that New York’s coronavirus death toll in nursing homes, already among the nation’s highest, is likely undercounted by thousands. New York is the only state among those with major outbreaks that only counts residents who died on nursing home property, not in hospitals, leading to speculation the administration of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is manipulating its figures to make it appear it is doing better on nursing homes than other states. https://bit.ly/2DUz6Yz

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