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 States

AP Exclusive: Closing of coal plant on tribal land upends a community and a culture

Coal-burning generating plants are closing in the U.S., and coal mines are shutting down amid worries of climate change and the new economies of renewable energy.

Against that backdrop, correspondents Felicia Fonseca and Susan Montoya Bryan traveled to Arizona’s remote Navajo Generating Station to the tell the story of workers, their families, a community and the tribal nations who have depended on coal and are feeling the profound effects of the plant’s impending closure. 

In their all-formats package, the pair let workers explain what they were losing, and how the local economy is taking a massive hit with millions of dollars of revenue no longer flowing to the Hopi and Navajo tribes.  

For a comprehensive, compelling look at the impact of coal’s decline on a community and a culture, Fonseca and Montoya earn this week’s Best of the States 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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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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Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Records show Montana official’s misuse of state vehicle

When the Helena Police Department cited the statute of limitations in declining to bring charges against Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton for misuse of a state-owned vehicle, Helena reporter Amy Hanson dug deeper.

After multiple public-records requests Hanson found that Secretary of State Corey Stapleton traveled tens of thousands of miles more than what had been previously reported, including many times when he had no official events on his calendar. And she found that the misuse continued until he turned in the vehicle in March, well within the statute of limitations.

For determined reporting that resulted in a textbook example of accountability journalism, Amy Hanson wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 11, 2019

Best of the Week

AP provides dramatic all-formats coverage of Iraq’s deadly protests

The calls on social media were informal and scattered, urging demonstrations Oct. 1 in Baghdad to protest deteriorating living conditions in the battered Iraqi capital. There was nothing to indicate that the protests would be more significant than previous actions. But Khalid Mohammed, AP’s chief photographer in Baghdad, had a hunch. He put the demonstrations on the bureau’s planner and urged all formats to be ready, despite the prevailing mood of skepticism.

Mohammed’s assessment proved prescient. The demonstrations erupted into five days of furious violence, the worst in the country since the quieting of its internal war against the Islamic State group. AP’s staff witnessed the first violence and stayed on the grueling story for days.

For their anticipation and courageous eyewitness journalism that set AP apart, Mohammed, photographer Hadi Mizban, video journalist Ali Jabar and reporter Qassim Abdul-Zahra share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Oct. 11, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Trump allies sought lucrative Ukraine gas deal

for breaking the story that while Rudy Giuliani was pushing Ukrainian officials last spring to investigate one of Donald Trump’s main political rivals, a group of his business associates was also active in the former Soviet republic, trying to install new management at the top of Ukraine’s massive state gas company. Two people with knowledge of the plans told AP that these businessmen and Republican donors, touting connections to Giuliani and Trump, were prepared to steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies. https://bit.ly/2IteINg