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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Feb. 16, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Lawmaker accused of meeting with prostitute used taxpayer money for hotel

Allegations that a lawmaker had been trysting with a prostitute while the Utah Legislature was in session rocked the state’s politics. The former lawmaker who had previously pushed for stricter laws cracking down on prostitution went into hiding. His attorney refused comment. The House speaker washed his hands of the scandal, and the prostitute was no longer talking, having sold the story to the tabloid site dailymail.com.

Political reporter Michelle Price needed another way into the story, so she started asking questions around the capitol.

She made a key discovery while looking at the screen grabs of the texts in the tabloid story: The dates lined up with the legislative session. She knew the lawmaker from southern Utah didn’t commute to the Legislature and would be staying in hotels while in Salt Lake City.

She started asking tougher questions. Was taxpayer money used to reimburse the lawmaker for hotel rooms where he met the prostitute? Now she had the attention of officials in state government.

Finally came the APNewsBreak: Price exclusively reported that the lawmaker used taxpayer money to book at least two hotel rooms he is accused of using to meet with the prostitute.

For determination and a commitment to exploring all angles even when the main characters weren’t talking, Price wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Feb. 02, 2018

Best of the Week

AP Investigation: Secret report linked Honduran national police chief to cartel coke delivery

Reporters Christopher Sherman, Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke were weeks into a deep look at police misconduct in Honduras, where public mistrust of law enforcement is among the highest in the world. So when they heard a new national police chief had been appointed, they immediately shifted gears and began asking questions about him.

What they found was explosive – a confidential government security document that detailed a troubling allegation regarding the force. It said the newly named National Police Chief Jose David Aguilar Moran had once helped a drug cartel leader pull off the delivery of nearly a ton of cocaine. The clandestine haul, worth at least $20 million on U.S. streets, was packed inside a tanker truck that, the report said, was escorted by corrupt police officers to the home of Wilter Blanco, a drug trafficker recently convicted in Florida and now serving a 20-year sentence.

For their dogged reporting, Sherman, Mendoza and Burke share the Beat of the Week.

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Jan. 19, 2018

Best of the Week

AP NewsBreak: AP scoops everyone on ICE's 7-Eleven hiring sweep, biggest raid under Trump

Associated Press reporter Elliot Spagat has spent years covering the U.S.-Mexico border, building sources within the federal agencies that enforce the nation’s immigration laws and earning the respect of senior officials.

That source work paid off when Spagat scored an exclusive ride-along as federal agents executed what officials called the largest immigration action against an employer under Donald Trump’s presidency: An early-morning sweep of nearly 100 7-Eleven stories that targeted the stores’ owners, rather than the workers.

One U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said the operation was “a harbinger of what’s to come” for employers.

For his efforts to put AP ahead of the competition (some news organizations cited AP while their own reporters rushed to confirm the story), Spagat wins this week’s Beat of the Week prize.

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Jan. 12, 2018

Best of the Week

Persistence pays: APNewsbreak on major changes in US marijuana policy

The source's message delivered by text was short and simple: "I have big news."

Sadie Gurman, a Justice Department reporter, had covered Colorado's first-in-the-nation pot experiment when she was a staffer in Denver, cultivating activists and law enforcement officials as sources. So when she transferred to Washington about a year ago, she had a burning question: When would Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a fierce opponent of decriminalization of marijuana, reverse the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to states that have legalized the drug?

The answer came last week and Gurman had the scoop – long before the competition and hours ahead of the official announcement. Her story earns the Beat of the Week.

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Oct. 13, 2017

Best of the Week

Exclusive visuals, reporting distinguish Vegas shooting coverage

It was just one of the many mysteries surrounding the Las Vegas concert shooting: How did the gunman, perched up on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort, fire off as many as 90 rounds onto thousands of concert-goers in just 10 seconds, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds?

Reporters Sadie Gurman and Mike Balsamo found the answer. Through sourcework, they learned that Stephen Paddock was able to carry out his assault in moments because he had used two “bump stocks,” devices that allow a semi-automatic rifle to repeatedly fire like a machine gun.

The scoop was part of an impressive week of coverage by staff in the Las Vegas bureau and across the AP that also included photographer John Locher’s dramatic images of police screaming for people to take cover as the gunman sprayed the crowd with bullets.

For their work in bringing critical details and images of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Gurman, Balsamo and Locher win this week’s Beat of the Week prize.

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Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the States

Request denied? Sunshine Hub sheds light on state efforts to block public access

Beyond its dramatic effects, the audio from 911 calls can provide the kind of context that is essential to the public's understanding of what happened during a newsworthy crime or emergency. Those recordings are, with few exceptions, a matter of public record. That almost changed this year in Iowa, where the state House passed – unanimously – a bill that would end the public's ability to access many 911 calls. The bill eventually died after an outcry from the media, watchdog groups and civil rights organizations, but it was not unusual. A months-long project by AP reporters and data journalists found more than 150 bills introduced in state legislatures this year that were intended to eliminate or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings.

To help reporters find, track and provide input on those bills, Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen of the data team created a unique online tool that provided full access to AP customers.

Called the Sunshine Hub, it helps users keep track of legislative activity related to government transparency, suggest new bills, search for and categorize bills for research purposes, and discuss legislation with others. The Sunshine Hub directly complemented stories by Ryan Foley in Iowa, Andrew DeMillo in Arkansas and Laurie Kellman in Washington.

For their groundbreaking reporting and software development, Tumgoren, Rasmussen, Foley, DeMillo and Kellman win this week's Best of the States award.

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