Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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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. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Investigation: China, others spread theory that US created COVID

collaborated on a nine-month investigation of the AP’s investigative and fact-checking teams, in a joint effort with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab. They found that China, Russia, and Iran — drawing on one another’s online disinformation — amplified false theories that the COVID-19 virus was a U.S. bioweapon created in a military lab or was designed by Washington to infect their countries. The resulting in-depth investigation, bolstered by an immersive digital presentation and an explanatory video, provided a comprehensive look at the online battle between Washington, Moscow, Tehran and Beijing to control the narrative about the origins of the pandemic.The package of stories was widely used by news organizations around the world, including by the South China Morning News and Germany’s DW News.https://bit.ly/37L711shttps://bit.ly/2O2N1Awhttps://bit.ly/2MpNQ5S

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Feb. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP’s Texas staff steps up for coverage of historic storm

pushed through last week’s winter storm coverage with top-notch storytelling even as many suffered hardship of their own.When deadly subfreezing temperatures, snow and ice smacked much of the southern U.S., it knocked out the power grid in Texas, the nation’s energy capital — and that was only the beginning. The bursting pipes, boil water advisories and accusations of price gouging that followed would only exacerbate the suffering for millions left shivering while nearly 80 people died.AP reporters showed in spot and enterprise stories that everything came down to a failure of government, particularly in Texas and neighboring Deep South states where infrastructure breakdowns revealed how unprepared much of the nation is for extreme weather.All this happened as many Texas staffers suffered along with their neighbors, with no power, heat or water. But they got creative and kept up the effort for a fully multiformat report, writing stories on phones when WiFi didn’t work, calling in feeds or charging electronics at colleagues’ homes. One Dallas reporter relocated to the home of an AP retiree when her own power was knocked out.https://bit.ly/2ZMQANFhttps://bit.ly/3dIKS7Dhttps://bit.ly/3r4YEWhhttps://bit.ly/3bAFQHBhttps://bit.ly/3bFHasKhttps://bit.ly/3uuAarl

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Feb. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation reveals nonexistent mask shortage

acted on a tip from a former federal official to reveal that hospitals were continuing to ration medical masks for their workers even when they had months of supply in store. The team’s investigation found a logistical breakdown at the heart of the perceived mask shortage, rooted in federal failures to coordinate supply chains and provide hospitals with clear rules about how to manage their medical equipment.The initial tip came from a source inside the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who shared pages of emails asking why U.S. manufacturers weren’t able to sell their products. In a series of interviews, the reporters surveyed hospital procurement officers representing more than 300 hospitals around the country and learned that all had two to 12 months supply of N95 masks in storage, but almost all were limiting workers to one mask per day, or even one per week. Meanwhile, at least one manufacturer had so many masks warehoused that it recently got government approval to export them.The story was used widely, and Dearen was interviewed live on CBS News. https://bit.ly/3pOAhub

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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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Feb. 19, 2021

Best of the Week

Latest on New York COVID policy: State sent over 9,000 virus patients to nursing homes

For nine months, AP has led all media on the story of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial directive to return recovering coronavirus patients from hospitals to nursing homes during the pandemic.

Last week, reporters Bernard Condon and Jennifer Peltz added to that record. Using data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, they reported exclusively that more than 9,000 patients in New York were released under the state’s policy, amid criticism that it accelerated nursing home outbreaks. The latest AP scoop has helped put Cuomo and his administration on the defensive at home and nationally.

For keeping AP at the forefront of this accountability story for the better part of a year — including their latest break documenting the release of COVID patients into nursing homes — Condon and Peltz earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 19, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Tragedies frame high school for Parkland seniors

has stayed in regular contact with students and parents from the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting, a connection that helped her produce a poignant account of this year’s graduating class which endured the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting as freshmen and who are now living through the pandemic as seniors. Theirs is a story of a high school career disrupted and bookended by two separate traumas. In one of the most moving tales, Miami reporter Kennedy highlighted the life of one senior who lost her best friend in the shooting and moved to another state and school only to face difficulty connecting with new friends because of the pandemic. https://bit.ly/37q89Hx

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Feb. 12, 2021

Best of the States

AP analysis: In the US, a centuries-old race war continues to rage against people of color

As AP race and ethnicity writer Aaron Morrison covered the protests that grew out of the 2020 killings of George Floyd and others, he also saw President Donald Trump on TV, trying to undermine the racial reckoning at every turn.

Fast forward to Jan. 6, when a mob of mostly white rioters, upset that Trump wasn't reelected, violently breached the U.S. Capitol. Morrison connected the dots of what he described as a war of white aggression. “A war rages on in America,” Morrison wrote in this analysis piece, “It started with slavery and never ended ...” 

With powerful video by Noreen Nasir, portraits by Chris Carlson and presentation by Alyssa Goodman, the package received prominent play and sparked discussion both online and within the AP.

For a timely, compelling package that looks at the state of race relations with historical context and thoughtful analysis, the team of Morrison, Nasir, Carlson and Goodman earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 12, 2021

Best of the Week

AP delivers powerful multiformat coverage of fast-moving Myanmar coup

Early in the morning of Feb. 1, AP’s Yangon bureau alerted colleagues in the Bangkok regional hub of rumors that lawmakers and other elected political leaders had been arrested. With communication lines down in the capital Naypyitaw, confusion gripped other parts of the country, but an alert went out to say there were reports of a coup underway. 

Photos, video footage and detailed descriptions of the situation on the ground in Myanmar quickly followed, and were crucial in fleshing out the text story being written in Bangkok. 

That initial work under difficult conditions set the stage for strong, competitive coverage of a challenging and rapidly evolving story that continues through today. And it is that outstanding work that AP honors with the Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Catholic Church, sitting on billions, amassed PPP aid

investigated the Catholic Church’s receipt of billions in federal aid during the pandemic, breaking news and bringing accountability to both a massive government program and one of the world’s most powerful institutions. The investigative reporters conducted an exclusive and exhaustive analysis showing that while Catholic entities were sitting on at least $10 billion in cash, the nation’s nearly 200 dioceses and other Catholic institutions received at least $3 billion from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, making the Roman Catholic Church perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the program, according to AP’s review.The reporting required was formidable, including joining a federal lawsuit to get the full PPP data. Dunklin and Rezendes then led a blitz by colleagues to hand check tens of thousands of data points. That work tracked the apparently disproportionate aid to Catholic recipients compared to other faith groups and national charities.The package reverberated through a busy news day and was covered in outlets as diverse as Slate and the Catholic News Agency.https://bit.ly/371q7QGhttps://bit.ly/3aPLVzOhttps://bit.ly/3qfXeI4

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Feb. 05, 2021

Best of the States

AP months ahead of New York state in identifying undercount of nursing home deaths

When AP reported exclusively last August that New York state was undercounting its COVID nursing home death toll by thousands, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ripped the story as part of a politically motivated “blame game.”

But the state’s own investigation, announced last week, reached a nearly identical conclusion, affirming AP’s reporting.

AP’s 2020 investigation had seized on the fact that New York counts just residents who died at nursing homes, not those who were transported to hospitals and died there. AP’s analysis of federal data indicated that the state’s official toll was undercounted by 65%, or well over 4,000 deaths. 

For sharp reporting that led the media pack, withstood criticism from the governor and months later was vindicated, this week’s Best of the States award goes to Bernard Condon, Matt Sedensky and Meghan Hoyer (now data director at The Washington Post).

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Indian farmers storm Red Fort; AP visuals stand out

braved tear gas and sword-wielding Sikh protesters to capture dramatic live video and stunning images of angry and defiant farmers storming the iconic Red Fort as India celebrated its Republic Day. Farmers have been protesting for months over new agriculture laws, and AP reacted quickly when a group of farmers on tractors deviated from an orderly parade, breaking through barricades to storm the city’s emblematic 17th century landmark.Amid aggressive threats by protesters, the photographers and video journalists recorded the dramatic breach of the fort, a profoundly symbolic challenge to the Hindu-nationalist government. AP was live with video at key points and captured the extraordinary turn of events as protesters scaled the walls and hoisted a Sikh religious flag from the fort ramparts. In a sudden escalation, Ganguly was roughed up by an unruly mob, his camera cards snatched as outnumbered police watched. With the situation spiraling out of control the team was pulled out to ensure their safety.Despite the enormous challenges, AP had better competitive coverage thanks to preparation, smart coordination and decision making on the fly. We offered outstanding visuals, including faster video edits to our customers, and updates showing police trying to clear protesters from the fort.https://bit.ly/2YJx5Fphttps://bit.ly/36LpgU2https://bit.ly/3cH0Z5lhttps://bit.ly/2YIdm8U

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Data analysis exposes racial inequity in vaccinations

collaborated on a piece that exposed racial disparities in the early rollout of the vaccine, with African Americans lagging behind the rest of the country in getting shots. The team was initially stymied by a lack of comprehensive national data and scattered figures from state to state and city to city. But they were able to piece together data from 17 states and two cities to make a powerful, data-driven statement on the issue.The story showed that Black Americans were getting shots at rates dramatically below their share of the population, a disturbing development considering how much of a role race has played in disproportionately affecting people of color in the pandemic. The analysis put the AP out front on a critical issue, two days before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out its own analysis of the issue. https://bit.ly/39OwuIQ

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals details of Eritrean atrocities in Tigray region

reported the first detailed account of crimes being committed by Eritrean military forces within Ethiopia’s isolated Tigray region. Journalists following the crisis in the defiant region have struggled to find credible eyewitness accounts of the Eritreans’ presence. But the relentless work by Anna, AP’s East African correspondent based in Kenya, finally paid off: A source put her in touch with a woman, normally a resident of Colorado, who, while on a trip to Ethiopia, witnessed Eritrean troops and their crimes firsthand in the remote village where her mother lives. Anna was able to draw out shocking details of the killing of children, mass graves and the looting of homes.The story, widely used by AP clients, was hailed as the first to document Eritrean activity in Tigray. Anna followed up with a second scoop in which the U.S. State Department called for all Eritrean forces to leave Tigray immediately, citing “credible reports” of atrocities.https://bit.ly/3rqiyuehttps://bit.ly/3cOrDsKhttps://bit.ly/3jeRRpK

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Jan. 29, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reporting prompts release of California virus data

wanted to know the reasoning behind California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s sudden and unexpected lifting of the stay-at-home order for a 13-county region amid a surge in the pandemic. That the state wouldn't make the data available after days of inquiries struck the pair as the latest example of Newsom not delivering on a promise of transparency during the pandemic.The preporters, based in Sacramento, proceeded to deliver a story with experts criticizing the secrecy, from public health authorities to government accountability advocates. Their story received enormous attention and was widely cited, intensifying criticism and pressure on the state.Three days after the story ran, Newsom held a news conference to announce the stay-at-home order was being lifted for the rest of the state’s regions. Under questioning from Ronayne, the state’s health director promised some of the relevant data would be released; later in the day the specific regional projection numbers were revealed to the public for the first time.https://bit.ly/3qMydnmhttps://bit.ly/3ccMHZF

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Jan. 22, 2021

Best of the Week

Trust in AP: Unmatched sourcing delivers scoop on fears of National Guard insider attack

On the news-heavy weekend between impeachment and inauguration, Lolita Baldor broke a story that became the dominant item for news organizations across platforms: Top military officials feared insider attacks from National Guardsmen activated to protect the inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all 25,000 troops sent to the city.

And officials weren’t whispering their concerns anonymously; Baldor quoted the Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy. That was no fluke; Baldor has built trust with McCarthy and other top officials at the Pentagon. The Army granted her exclusive, off-the-record access to an inaugural planning session, then arranged on-the-record interviews with a number of leaders.

Baldor’s scoop immediately lit up social media and was picked up by some 330 news outlets, including networks and major publications.

For impressive source work that produced a major scoop in the intensive buildup to the inauguration, Baldor wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Jan. 22, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Determined reporting exposes severe hunger in Tigray region

revealed for the first time the full extent of severe, widespread hunger and the threat of starvation in Ethiopia’s defiant Tigray region, which has been under attack by government forces for more than two months.With Tigray virtually cut off from the rest of the world and our local journalist under extreme pressure from the Ethiopian government, Anna, AP’s East Africa correspondent, set out to report from Nairobi. She reached out to the few aid organizations able to operate in Tigray and to refugees who had fled the conflict to neighboring Sudan; they described acute malnutrition bordering on famine. Building on these contacts, Anna obtained minutes of Ethiopian government meetings in which the government’s own officials warned of imminent, widespread starvation threatening hundreds of thousands of civilians. She also sourced satellite images that showed aid warehouses in the region destroyed during the conflict.Her fact-based, compelling description of the desperate situation in Tigray was the first comprehensive reporting by any news organization to pull all these elements together. The story won prominent play in major news outlets and was hailed as an important exposé by international agencies and authorities, including the United Nations.https://bit.ly/39KJ4HD

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Jan. 22, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Nimble all-formats team dominates Uganda election coverage

used journalistic savvy and resourcefulness to overcome both an internet ban and AP’s competitors to deliver outstanding all-formats coverage of Uganda’s Jan. 14 presidential election.Uganda had gone to great lengths to discourage international observation of the polls. Just getting into the country with all-important live broadcast equipment required driving into the country at a less-policed border point.And Uganda was widely expected to cut its internet on election day. When it did, reporter Muhumza was unfazed, having wisely filed comprehensive advance copy to colleagues outside the country. He updated with key quotes and details sent by text message.Despite the internet cut, the video team of Kasire and Mwihia noticed that international roaming data was still working. They promptly switched all the SIM cards in their LiveU unit, delivering an incredible four-hours of agency-exclusive live video showing polls opening and heightened security. Authorities eventually got wise and cut off roaming data too.Meanwhile, Delay’s decision to rent a vehicle with black-tinted windows also paid off, allowing him to move around the capital to make compelling photos of security forces without drawing unnecessary attention.Ultimately, the team used its local contacts and managed to negotiate their way into the heavily guarded state broadcaster, where they continued to discreetly file developments for days via state TV’s still operational fast internet — an enormous edge over our competitors who had to rely on much slower communications. The final triumph was to patch and broadcast, live and exclusive, a clean feed of President Museveni's national address on his win.https://bit.ly/39FxH3Chttps://bit.ly/2KEm8l0https://bit.ly/396i1Hy

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Jan. 15, 2021

Best of the States

AP reporting reveals some front-line health care workers balking at COVID vaccine

The AP team of Bernard Condon, Matt Sedensky and Carla K. Johnson assembled the most detailed national look yet at one of the most vexing snags in the coronavirus vaccine rollout: Surprising numbers of health care workers — who have seen firsthand the misery inflicted by COVID-19 — are refusing the shots.

The deep reporting, with contributions from colleagues across the country, found the paradox occurring in nursing homes and hospitals, with some individual facilities seeing a refusal rate as high as 80%. The story, one of AP’s most-read on an extremely busy news week, quoted both health workers expressing fears of vaccine side effects and frustrated facility administrators.

For bringing to light an important part of the stumbling early rollout of the much-anticipated vaccine, Condon, Sedensky and Johnson win this week’s Best of the States award.

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