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 31, 2020

Best of the Week

AP exclusive leads to release of migrant kids held in US hotels for deportation

Earmarked for deportation, the immigrant children, some mere toddlers, were parked in nondescript hotels – out of sight and, the Trump administration thought, out of mind.  But not out of reach of an Associated Press exclusive.

With an investigation based on source work, court records and witness accounts, immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant exposed how the Trump administration held children in hotels despite federal anti-trafficking laws and court rulings that mandate child-appropriate facilities.

Merchant’s exclusive sparked outrage and accusations of child abuse. Five days later, the Trump administration said it would not expel 17 people, including children, detained at one Texas hotel, and the hotels pledged to stop allowing the practice.

For his investigative story that punctured layers of secrecy and changed the fortunes of all-but-invisible immigrant children, Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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June 12, 2020

Best of the States

AP Analysis: After previous police killings, states slow to reform use-of-force

Calls for police reforms after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis have echoed the calls to action after a wave of killings of young black men by police in 2014. 

So what happened after those killings? 

Ohio statehouse reporter Julie Carr Smyth, working with AP colleagues around the country, found that while nearly half the states have since enacted some type of reform, only a third passed legislation limiting use of force. The reporting revealed that contributions from politically influential police unions were a key factor in stalling legislation, while a separate analysis by the data team showed that Minneapolis police disproportionately used force against blacks when compared with other racial groups. 

The day Smyth’s story moved, a number of states made proposals to limit the use of deadly force.

For quickly reporting out and leading a national look at what reforms have taken place in the last six years, Smyth wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 10, 2020

Best of the Week

Rare glimpses inside the pandemic: An ICU in Spain, a New York funeral home

“No.”

“Never.”

“Not possible.”  

“Can't be done.”

Photographer Felipe Dana and video journalist Renata Brito were told in no uncertain terms that Spanish hospitals and their intensive care units in particular would not allow access to journalists reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. And in New York, the all-formats team of John Minchillo, Robert Bumsted and Jake Seiner was given largely the same answer when they tried to get into a funeral home to document the surge of victims literally piling up.

Neither team took no for an answer. Both teams produced haunting images and text documenting the stark reality wrought by the pandemic.

The tenacity, skill and bravery on display from both teams was the difference between getting the story out to the world and revealing the human cost of the crisis – or not. It’s the latest example of AP journalists proving that “No. Never. Not Possible,” does not apply to them. And it is why Dana, Brito, Minchillo, Bumsted and Seiner share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 21, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Florida has used ‘red flag’ law 3,500 times since Parkland

marked the anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. – where 17 people were killed, allegedly by a mentally disturbed man – with smart accountability journalism about a key Florida “red flag” bill passed in the massacre’s wake.

Working over several months to get county-by-county breakdowns that no other outlet had, Spencer found that the law had been used to get weapons away from people deemed dangerous no less than 3,500 times since the Parkland shooting. Even so, his analysis showed the law is applied inconsistently, with some counties and cities using it rarely and others not at all.

The story was a strong look at how red flag laws – now passed in nearly a dozen states – are playing out on the ground, and it drew widespread attention and engagement. https://bit.ly/2P7Zws2

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Jan. 24, 2020

Best of the Week

AP reporting reveals nonstop chaos in overburdened immigration courtrooms

Led by reporters Amy Taxin and Deepti Hajela, the AP harnessed its vast geographic reach and expertise on the topic of immigration to deliver a striking, all-formats examination of the nation’s beleaguered immigration court system. 

AP journalists fanned out to courtrooms across the U.S. to vividly illustrate chaos in the nation’s immigration courts, plagued by a 1 million case backlog. 

The reporting uncovered personal stories of immigrants entangled in the system, including an in-depth package from rural Georgia by reporter Kate Brumback and photographer David Goldman, and video by producer Noreen Nasir.

For a revealing look at a legal system struggling to cope with the influx of immigrants, and families caught up in the grinding legal process, Taxin, Hajela, Brumback, Goldman and Nasir share AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Dec. 13, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Named violent crime laws underrepresent black victims

for a package that demonstrated how the vast majority of violent crime laws named for victims carry the names of white victims. With no databases available, Smyth did painstaking research with the help of other statehouse reporters, and the team reported a powerful story about one black middle-school student who was murdered, but for whom no law is named. https://bit.ly/34h6WOzhttps://bit.ly/2siKNCb

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Dec. 13, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: New abuse suits could cost church billions

for taking a hard look at the financial reckoning of the U.S. Roman Catholic sex abuse trials, and reporting exclusively that changing laws and attitudes could translate into a flood of lawsuits with potential payouts topping $4 billion. Condon and Mustian reported on the potential impact of new laws, enacted in 15 states, that extend or suspend the statute of limitations governing claims. The pair found several attorneys who have turned their entire practices over to such cases, with TV ads and billboards seeking clients. https://bit.ly/36oRoJX

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Sept. 13, 2019

Best of the Week

AP data project shows women facing restrictions increasingly seek abortions out of state

Legislative debates over restricting abortion access in the U.S. have been among the most hotly contested and thoroughly covered state government topics of recent years. But what of the women affected by those laws? A distinctive, data-driven investigation by the state government and data teams provided answers: Each year thousands of women travel to get abortions in another state, and the share of non-resident women getting abortions had risen significantly in states where conservative legislatures passed measures restricting the procedure.

To arrive at that conclusion, state government team reporter Christina Cassidy went state-by-state to gather the most recent abortion data, while data team editor Meghan Hoyer oversaw the methodology and analysis. Cassidy also worked sources to find women who had left their home state for an abortion, humanizing the story behind the data. Colleagues Alina Hartounian, Susan Montoya Bryan, Gillian Flaccus and Francois Duckett produced compelling all-formats content for the package.

A unique dataset released before publication allowed AP’s member publications to produce localized graphics and stories. The project checked all the boxes for customer and reader engagement, which was extraordinarily strong.

For putting the AP out front on one of the most contentious issues roiling American politics, Cassidy, Hoyer, Flaccus, Montoya Bryan, Hartounian and Duckett share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Best of the Week

In the face of death, the party of a lifetime

In a world focused on life and survival, death is often unseen, endured in private and acknowledged in glowing obituaries or tragic news stories. It’s also mostly out of the control of the person who is dying.

Now, with nine U.S. states allowing terminally ill people to end their lives with fatal drugs, thousands of people have legally chosen how and when to end their lives.

Seattle Photographer Elaine Thompson has long wanted to show the real, personal side of what often comes across as an impersonal process. She spent months looking for the right subject, getting tantalizingly close to success before plans fell through. She stuck with it, and when she found Bob Fuller, she enlisted reporter Gene Johnson to tell his story.

This week’s Best of the Week goes to the team of Elaine Thompson and Gene Johnson who chronicled how one man, in the face of death, created the party of a lifetime.

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Aug. 16, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Reshaping of federal courts concerns gun control supporters

for a forward-looking piece amid the blizzard of gun-related news that followed the most recent mass shootings, looking at how the reshaping of the federal courts under President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate could undermine strict gun-control laws passed by Democratic-leaning states. That scenario is already playing out in California, where a Republican-appointed federal judge has blocked a state law limiting the number of rounds allowed in ammunition magazines. Thompson’s story, turned around in a day and a half in the wake of the latest shootings, resonated with readers and editors, scoring heavy play online and in print. https://bit.ly/2KDN1BC

June 07, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Survivors of sex abuse by Boy Scout leaders tell their stories

for wrenching stories from survivors of sex abuse carried out by Boy Scout leaders. Changes in statute-of-limitation laws in various states have triggered a new wave of litigation against the Boy Scouts by men who said they were abused by unit leaders decades ago. What was missing from those stories were detailed accounts from abuse survivors – a gap filled by a powerful all-formats package that received tremendous play. https://bit.ly/2EU7ekq

March 29, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Public records reveal social spending by New Mexico’s governor

for using the state’s public records laws to obtain an accounting of social spending by New Mexico’s newly elected governor that revealed a $3,600 brunch and receipts for dry cleaning, Perrier and prosciutto.The records are an early indication that Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is making good on promises be open and candid about her administration, in keeping with new disclosure rules that went into effect Jan. 1. https://bit.ly/2UV8B8l

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. 18, 2019

Best of the Week

Multiformat exclusive: Thousands of child and adolescent brides enter US – legally

You know your scoop has touched a nerve when it gets tweeted by both Ann Coulter and Chelsea Clinton.

Such was the case with Colleen Long’s multiplatform APNewsBreak that the U.S. approved thousands of requests by men to have their child or adolescent brides admitted to the United States. The story not only pointed to problems in immigration law, but also lax state laws that make immigration by child brides possible.

The story started with a tip from Ron Nixon, AP’s new international investigations editor, who had been told by a source that data requested by the Senate Homeland Security Committee would be startling.

Nixon passed the information to Long, the Washington-based homeland security reporter, who persuaded committee staff to give her the story exclusively. She also went beyond the striking data to give readers a sense of how the issue affects women’s lives, speaking with women who had been married as children. A compelling video accompanied the piece.

On a busy news day, the story was one of AP’s most widely used, fronting many news websites and posted to Facebook by multiple news organizations. The video piece also had a strong showing, receiving thousands of YouTube streams and 27 customer downloads.

For revealing a little-known loophole in immigration policy that raises concerns over security and exploitation, and for connecting the data to women victimized by the policy, Colleen Long wins this week’s Best of the AP.

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Jan. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Au pairs win $65.5M in suit over US pay

The Au Pair cultural exchange program provides U.S. families with low-cost child care, but former au pairs said they were also asked to feed chickens, help families move and do gardening – all while working at below minimum wage. That prompted a judge to grant class-action status to 11 former au pairs last February and drew the attention of Denver breaking news staffer Colleen Slevin, who spent the next 11 months learning all about the world of au pairs and conducting interviews, such as one with a former au pair who said she felt like a slave.

Slevin also built a relationship with the attorneys for the au pairs and negotiated with them for exclusive notice when the $65.5 million settlement was filed last week.

The result was an APNewsBreak on the settlement that went unmatched for hours and received play around the world.

For her perseverance in building sources and tracking a story of international interest while covering breaking news over a three-state region, Slevin wins the week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 31, 2018

Best of the States

Tibbetts murder suspect lived, worked on land linked to GOP fundraiser

Within hours of the news that the man charged with killing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts was a Mexican citizen believed to be in the United States illegally, Republican leaders from President Donald Trump to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds injected the case into the political debate, blaming lax immigration policies for allowing the man into the community.

Amid such comments, Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley got a tip from two longtime Republican Party sources: The suspect lived on land partly owned by Nicole Schlinger, one of the party’s most prolific national fundraisers, the sources said.

Foley was determined to discover whether that was true. He obtained property records showing Schlinger and her husband owned the farm trailer where Rivera had lived, and her husband was president of the farm. Foley then got confirmation from Schlinger, who had avoided his questions for days.

Further, Schlinger’s fundraising client list included anti-illegal-immigration hard-liners, including Reynolds, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and even the Stop Sanctuary Cities PAC.

The story was used extensively by Iowa newspapers and was a big online hit, with hundreds of postings and 40,000 Facebook interactions.

For scooping local and national competitors on a high-interest topic even as he reported on spot developments, Ryan Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 09, 2018

Best of the Week

Of Peacock and Gypsy: New Australian law helps unite sperm donors and offspring

The best stories sometimes present themselves not in the newsroom but in our personal lives, in the most random of ways. We just have to be paying attention – and thinking like reporters – to notice them.

That’s what Sydney-based enterprise writer Kristen Gelineau was doing when a friend mentioned he’d found out through an Ancestry.com DNA test that his biological father was a sperm donor. The friend then told Gelineau about a new law in the Australian state of Victoria, which gave offspring of long-anonymous sperm and egg donors the right to know who the donors were. Gelineau had missed the news of the law, but immediately started researching it and thought “Wow. Now THIS is a story!!”

She was right – and her multi-format account of one such unique reunion, told in ways both comic and moving, wins Beat of the Week for Gelineau, enterprise photographer Maye-E Wong, NY-based digital storytelling producer Natalie Castañeda and New Delhi-based videojournalist Shonal Ganguly.

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July 27, 2018

Best of the States

Private messaging apps used for official business test open records laws

Smart phone private messaging apps are great for keeping secrets. The apps delete messages almost immediately and do not allow them to be saved, copied or captured with a screenshot.

But what about use of the apps by government officials and elected representatives? State Government Team reporter Ryan Foley spotted a trend of public officials increasingly using such apps for official business. It’s a trend that alarms advocates for open government, who say it undermines state laws designed to ensure transparency and access to records.

Foley’s research was based in large part on use of a new legislative tracking tool called the Sunshine Hub that was developed by AP Data Team members Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen. The tool allowed Foley to see whether bills addressing the trend were being introduced in state legislatures across the country. And indeed they were.

The resulting story won play on more than two dozen front pages and prompted several editorials, including one in The Columbus Dispatch warning that officials’ use of message-vanishing apps was the same as destroying public records.

For their efforts in exposing a potentially dangerous anti-transparency trend among government officials, and developing a unique tool to track it, Foley, Tumgoren and Rasmussen win the Best of the States award.

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