Feb. 14, 2020

Best of the States

Records reveal Virginia attorney-lawmaker privilege that delays court proceedings

Sometimes accountability stories are hiding in plain sight, but getting to them requires first recognizing the potential and then doing a whole lot of digging. Virginia reporter Sarah Rankin did both of those things. 

After seeing a one-sentence mention in a legal trade publication, Rankin began the hunt for a deeper story about a continuance privilege granted to lawyer-legislators, and how one Virginia lawmaker used the privilege to consistently delay court hearings. 

Rankin plowed through records of cases that involved Virginia lawmaker Jeff Campbell, the defense attorney for a one-time NASCAR race driver accused of domestic violence. She found that Campbell had employed the continuance privilege at least 30 times over three years, more than double any other lawyer-legislator.

For seizing on the brief mention, then following up with determined reporting that revealed a potential for abuse by lawyer-lawmakers in Virginia and elsewhere, Rankin wins the week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 14, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Trump on trial: AP delivers coverage for the history books

for anchoring expansive and informative coverage of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial – just the third such trial in American history. Coverage of the trial in all formats showcased the AP’s unmatched ability to meet the call of history with sharp storytelling, delivered with speed but hanging on substance. The AP’s mainbar provided a definitive account of the trial for more than three weeks running. And as lawmakers weighed the ultimate judgment on a president, journalists in Washington carefully reported the arguments in real-time while churning out informative sidebars, fact-checks and explanatory guides. The final story alone, on the Senate vote to acquit Trump, appeared on more than 200 newspaper front pages across the country, and hundreds of websites. https://bit.ly/2UQ9EcK

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Jan. 31, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: NFL’s Saints allegedly do damage control for Catholic Church on abuse crisis

New York-based federal law enforcement reporter Jim Mustian never gives up on a story.

Sticking with a case he began covering at another news organization in another state more than two years ago, Mustian landed a jaw-dropping exclusive for the AP: That a trove of hundreds of confidential emails has surfaced allegedly showing executives of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints doing public relations damage control for the area’s Roman Catholic archdiocese amid its clergy sexual abuse crisis.

The story had an immediate, visceral impact with readers and earned praise from fellow journalists.

Mustian will continue to chip away at this story and, hopefully, reveal more about the Saints and their involvement with the church. But for now, Mustian’s sticktoitiveness and tough accountability reporting earns him this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 31, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: More than 100 state lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct

for tallying more than 100 state lawmakers across the U.S. who had been credibly accused of harassment in the #MeToo era in the past three years – and what actions, if any, states have taken to address the problem. After a Michigan state lawmaker was accused by a young reporter and a fellow lawmaker of sexual harassment, AP moved quickly to provide a completely distinctive story – as well as an exclusive data set that members could mine for their own use. https://bit.ly/2GBJLFb

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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

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusives lead all-formats coverage of Virginia pro-gun rally

for exclusive reporting and photo/video dominance around a massive pro-gun rally in Richmond, Virginia, including breaking the news that Gov. Ralph Northam temporarily banned all weapons on the Capital grounds and a story that four Democrats opposed legislation that would have sought to ban assault weapons in the state, effectively killing the measure. https://bit.ly/3aDMYlhhttps://bit.ly/37njd6lhttps://bit.ly/2sTFrhl

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Jan. 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP reveals chronic problems, personal stories behind a deadly period in Mississippi prisons

The Associated Press began chronicling rising violence across Mississippi’s troubled prison system in late 2019, but after four deaths in four days it became clear that something bigger was going on.

Reporters Jeff Amy and Emily Wagster Pettus explored the history of underfunding and other problems in the state’s prison system. In addition to official documents describing understaffing, the pair obtained photos and video shot by a prisoner that showed the conditions inside the infamous penitentiary at Parchman. 

AP also published all-formats interviews with grieving mothers of prisoners killed, and reported on the state’s decision to house inmates at a private prison.

For bringing much-needed insight and context to a chaotic, evolving situation and giving voice to those affected by the deadly violence, Amy and Wagster Pettus receive this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 17, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Lawsuit alleges decades of abuse at New Hampshire youth center

for breaking the news of a lawsuit alleging dozens of victims and decades of abuse at a state-run New Hampshire youth detention center. The lead plaintiff in the suit gave Ramer an exclusive interview and he allowed AP to photograph him, something no other media outlet had done. Ramer also reported that one of the plaintiff’s alleged abusers worked as a clubhouse attendant for the Boston Red Sox until he was suspended without pay in July. https://bit.ly/35U707C

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Jan. 10, 2020

Best of the Week

AP breaks news of Soleimani killing; dominates all-formats coverage

The source’s initial tip seemed fairly run-of-the-mill for Baghdad: A late-night rocket attack hit the international airport.

But AP’s Baghdad correspondent Qassim Abdul-Zahra sensed something unusual was afoot. He alerted colleagues and kept digging, teasing out a name that set alarm bells ringing: Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general and one of the Middle East’s most powerful protagonists, might have been in the car. 

Soon, from three sources, came confirmation that Soleimani was dead. Regional news director Zeina Karam’s AP alert reached our customers well ahead of the competition and triggered a response by teams, across the region and beyond, that would maintain AP’s edge with all-formats coverage astounding in its breadth, speed and insight.

Usage in all formats was off the charts, both by AP customers and on social channels.

For standout work in a competitive tour de force, AP’s Middle East team of Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Zeina Karam, Jon Gambrell, Nasser Karimi, Ahmed Sami and Nasser Nasser share Best of the Week honors.

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Dec. 20, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Accidental shootings show nationwide gap in police training

A mother shot fatally shot in front of her 3-year-old son. A suspect killed while an officer tried to handcuff him. A Homeland Security agent was shot at a Texas high school by a U.S. marshal fumbling with equipment. These are among the more than 1,400 unintentional discharges found by Seattle reporter Martha Bellisle in an investigation that highlights the shortcomings of police weapons training.

No agency tracks how often local, state and federal officers accidentally fire their weapons. Over the course of more than a year, Bellisle exhaustively documented 1,422 unintentional discharges by 258 law enforcement agencies since 2012.

With contributions from colleagues in photo and video – including the story of an Iowa woman who was killed when an officer’s gun discharged, leaving her husband and children still scarred by the tragedy – the all-formats package received prominent play.

For an exclusive that sheds light on a virtually undocumented area of firearms safety, Bellisle earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 20, 2019

Best of the Week

How tramadol, touted as the safer opioid, became a 3rd world peril

It was supposed to be the safer opioid, a way to fight pain with little risk of addiction. That promise has meant much less regulation of tramadol than other opioids. And its relatively low cost has made tramadol the drug of choice in many developing countries, becoming what the United Nations calls “the other opioid crisis.”

National writer Claire Galofaro spent months researching the issue – but how to illustrate the story from a fresh perspective?

Galofaro turned to New Delhi-based correspondent Emily Schmall, who traveled to India’s Punjab state, where she talked to people struggling with addiction, visited a treatment center and gained unprecedented access to officials trying to stem the crisis. 

The deeply reported story, one of the top-read pieces on AP News, also delved into tramadol’s heavy toll in Africa, and its trafficking among terrorist groups. 

For their work exposing an aspect of the international opioid crisis that has received far less attention, Galofaro and Schmall win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Dec. 13, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Iowa felons list bars a police department from voting; omits a drug dealer

Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley has written extensively about problems tracking felons who are ineligible to vote in Iowa, but it had been five years since he’d gotten a copy of the database itself. So when a trusted source produced a state database of 103,000 felons, Foley set to work analyzing the data. He found it riddled with errors, including laughable mistakes – such as the Des Moines Police Department being banned from voting.

The story was used extensively by Iowa newspapers and broadcasters, who were especially interested given that Iowa’s governor is seeking to change the law regarding voting by felons who have completed their sentences.

For detailed research and reporting that produced an engaging story of statewide interest, Foley earns AP’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 02, 2019

Best of the States

AP Investigation: Catholic review boards often fail sex abuse survivors

In addressing its clergy sex abuse crisis, the Catholic church has touted a key reform: independent review boards with lay people. 

But an exhaustive investigation by the AP team of Reese Dunklin, Matt Sedensky and Mitch Weiss methodically discredited that claim. 

The reporters unearthed dozens of cases nationwide in which review boards rejected complaints from survivors, only to have them later validated by secular authorities. They also found that bishops stacked the boards with their own aides and attorneys. In a few cases, board members were themselves clergy accused of sexual misconduct. 

The rock-solid reporting was brought alive by the storytelling, with revealing details down to the pink sweater one board member was knitting while listening to a survivor’s story of abuse. 

For their comprehensive investigation into the Catholic church’s deeply flawed system for addressing claims of abuse, Dunklin, Sedensky and Weiss earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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Nov. 13, 2019

Best of the Week

Only on AP: In his last days, al-Baghdadi sought safety in shrinking domain

The death of the Islamic State group “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was one of the most competitive stories in the world in recent weeks. Journalists scrambled to uncover details of the U.S. operation and how the Islamic State leader ended up in a hideout in Syria.

Beirut-based Middle East reporter Sarah El Deeb put the AP out front with a story based on exclusive interviews recounting al-Baghdadi’s final days, as he was shuttled furtively around Syria by a dwindling circle of confidants. 

Enhancing the narrative were dramatic details from a teenage girl who had been enslaved by al-Baghdadi as he sought refuge. El Deeb elicited the previously untold details through sensitive and dogged reporting.

The story stood out from the many accounts that simply echoed the official account of al-Baghdadi’s death, demonstrating not only the AP’s dominance on a global story but also its trusted ability to provide facts-based reporting from the ground in the region.

For outstanding source work and reporting on a story of intense interest, Sarah El Deeb wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

 

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Nov. 08, 2019

Best of the Week

Dodging flames, AP team delivers extraordinary all-formats coverage of raging California wildfires

When two burning tree limbs crashed in flames on the exact spot where Marcio Sanchez had been standing just moments earlier, the shaken AP Los Angeles photographer called two colleagues to check that they both had his wife’s phone number, figuring that “if something happened to me, they could tell her.” He then plunged back to work, capturing vivid images of the furious wildfires tearing across swaths of California.

That incident captured the commitment of AP journalists during a frenetic week documenting the wind-whipped wildfires and accompanying blackouts. Sanchez was joined in the riveting coverage by photographers Noah Berger and Greg Bull, reporters Janie Har and Don Thompson, and more than a dozen others on the ground and in AP bureaus.

The engrossing, all-formats coverage was among the most popular on AP all week.

For their extraordinary work during a hectic and dangerous week, Sanchez, Berger, Bull, Thompson and Har share AP’s Best of the Week.  

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