Aug. 09, 2019

Best of the States

AP mobilizes cross-formats response to deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio

AP’s U.S. staff has a lot of practice in responding to mass shootings. But two major events in 24 hours tested even the most experienced staff.

They rose to the challenge.

Soon after noon Central time on Saturday, Aug. 3, reports began to surface about an active shooter at an El Paso, Texas, mall. A local news station initially reported that 18 people were shot inside a Walmart – a number which by Monday would rise to 22 dead and two dozen injured.

The quick reaction of AP staff around the country and beyond – in the office, at home and even on vacation – ensured the AP was fast, accurate and leading the way on what would become one of the biggest stories of the year. Text, photo and video staffers converged on El Paso, while colleagues around the country worked sources, contributed to the stories and managed the coverage.

Among the standout reporting was an early interview with a woman who told the heartbreaking story of her sister who died while shielding her 2-month-old son – just a small part of the terrific cross-format continuing coverage.

As the Texas team was just catching its breath, reports of another massacre emerged overnight, this time in Ohio. AP’s initial alert was followed four minutes later by the alert that a shooter killed nine people, including his own sister, before police shot him dead. The East Desk immediately dispatched Ohio staff and others to Dayton.

AP beat competitive agencies with photos and numerous live shots, as well as an incredibly compelling interview with a man who watched his father die in his arms. Elsewhere, many of the same supporting cast already working the El Paso story from afar stepped in on Ohio as well, complementing the coverage on the ground.

For its quick, nimble response, precise reporting and robust, cross-format content on two highly competitive breaking stories, the U.S. staff is recognized with this week’s Best of the States award.

Ap 19215796477670 1024

Aug. 02, 2019

Best of the States

A century after hundreds of black killings, AP explores the enduring impact of ‘Red Summer’

While conducting research for another potential project, Jesse J. Holland, race and ethnicity reporter based in Washington, read about the upcoming anniversary of the “Red Summer” of 1919 and noticed a startling fact: Few people seemed to know that more than 200 African Americans died at the hands of white rioters across the country 100 years ago. The stream of violence that stretched from February to October that year, most of it in the U.S. South and Northeast, eluded history books and was largely forgotten.

Holland presented the information to the larger team, and the project took flight. The all-formats series ultimately included work by staffers Cedar Attanasio, El Paso, Texas; Russell Contreras, Albuquerque, New Mexico; Noreen Nasir, Chicago; and Rodrique Ngowi, Boston. AP was largely alone in its coverage and the team’s efforts were rewarded with prominent use by national outlets and strong engagement.

For taking a little-known event and turning it into a dynamic project with powerful historic and present-day context that no other news outlet could match, Attanasio, Contreras, Holland, Nasir and Ngowi win this week’s Best of the States award.

Ap 19189700774013 1024

July 19, 2019

Best of the Week

One face of immigration policy: 9-year-old in Texas still separated from Guatemalan family

Houston-based immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant uncovered a heartbreaking tale in his coverage of the lingering toll of President Donald Trump’s family separation policy: a 9-year-old boy, Byron Xol, who is still separated from his parents. The boy eventually landed in the home of a Texas family who took custody of the child, while his parents were deported to Guatemala.

Merchant had been looking for an opportunity to write a detailed narrative that would illustrate the stress that separations have on families. When he learned on short notice of Byron’s upcoming birthday, he decided it was the perfect time to tell the tale.

Merchant and his Houston colleagues – video journalist John Mone and photographer David Phillip – went to the boy’s current foster home outside Austin. Meanwhile, photographer Santiago Billy, reporter Sonny Figueroa and video stringer Sergio Alfaro went to the Guatemalan village of the Xol family. Together they captured the emotion of the day and the sharp contrast between the two worlds, as the dad phoned Byron on his birthday.

The story they produced was gripping, used by more than 400 AP members in the U.S. It was just one of a series of strong pieces that have put names, faces and personal narratives to the immigration story, keeping AP’s coverage ahead.

For recognizing the moment and mobilizing quickly across formats and borders, Alfaro, Billy, Figueroa, Merchant, Mone and Phillip share AP’s Best of the Week.

Ap 19191703069471 1024

July 05, 2019

Best of the Week

Searing photo of migrant drownings launches all-formats AP coverage across borders

When New York photo editor Pablo Salinas alerted colleagues to the image of a drowned father and daughter from El Salvador lying face-down in the Rio Grande after they tried to cross into Texas, it was clear it captured, like few other images, the dangers faced by migrants and asylum-seekers trying to make it to the United States.

AP’s much-applauded decision to acquire and publish that image by freelance reporter Julia Le Duc, showing the stark and often-hidden reality of migrants dying by the hundreds each year along the U.S. border, showcased AP’s significant role in shaping the news agenda.

It also stands as a lesson for AP staff with several important takeaways, highlighting the role of editors to find, gather and acquire important images for AP’s global audience, the role of AP’s Top Stories Hub to coordinate and amplify news stories, and the value of rapid response by journalists in the region to verify, report and provide context for any news-making picture.

Finally, it showed how the thoughtful implementation of AP’s standards across all platforms and social media can allow AP to stand out.

For an exceptional multinational effort in finding, recognizing and acquiring Le Duc’s tragic and important image, and presenting it to AP’s worldwide audience with context and sensitivity, the team of Pablo Salinas, Marcos Alemán, Eduardo Verdugo, Rebecca Blackwell, Chris Sherman, Gerardo Carrillo and Peter Orsi shares AP’s Best of the Week award.

Ap 19176683200060 1024

June 28, 2019

Best of the Week

AP team exposes perilous conditions and spurs action for 250 kids at Border Patrol lockup

First word came from a trusted source cultivated by AP investigative reporter Garance Burke – Customs and Border Protection was holding 250 migrant infants and children at a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, without enough food, water or basic sanitation. “Are you available today?” the source asked, and AP swung into action.

El Paso, Texas, correspondent Cedar Attanasio met with attorneys who had just interviewed the children, while investigative reporter Martha Mendoza set to work contacting lawmakers and government officials. Burke, with the help of attorneys, found parents of the young children who were locked inside and inconsolable. The trio worked through the night, drafting a story focused on the fact that girls as young as 10 were caring for a toddler handed to them by a guard.

The story had enormous impact almost immediately. National outlets scrambled to match the story, citing AP extensively. The reporters’ next-day story was about lawmakers’ calls for change, and on Monday Mendoza and Burke again broke news: The Trump administration was moving most of the children out of Clint.

For a highly significant scoop that dominated the news cycle on multiple days and returned world attention to the border crisis, Mendoza, Burke and Attanasio win AP’s Best of the Week award.

Ap 19175632040530 1024

June 21, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Team coverage of African migrants at US-Mexican border

for impressive teamwork and collaboration, using AP’s footprint to tell the story of African immigrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in record numbers. When the migrants started showing up in remote areas of Texas, the immigration beat team deployed Selsky, a former Africa bureau chief. He found many of the African migrants being put on buses to Maine, where Whittle and Amendola picked up the story, covering Congolese and Angolan asylum seekers at a Portland gymnasium converted into a shelter. Selsky also coordinated relevant reporting from Europe, Africa and Latin America. https://bit.ly/2XVjbhc

Ap 19164832260899 Efa Hm

June 14, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Top US cardinal accused of mishandling abuse allegations against deputy

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s five-month investigation revealed the stunning allegations: A high-ranking Catholic priest had a sexual relationship with a Houston woman for more than a year, counseled her husband on their marital problems, pressed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the couple and continued to hear her confession.

But the cardinal overseeing the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations in the United States approved the priest’s transfer to a church two hours away.

The fallout from Winfield’s revelations was swift: The priest was suspended and church officials reopened their inquiry into the handling of parishioner Laura Pontikes’ accusations.

To tell the sensitive story, Winfield – and a team that included Raleigh-based national writer/video journalist Allen Breed, New York global enterprise photographer Wong Maye-E and Houston correspondent Nomaan Merchant – meticulously planned coverage in each format, including on-camera interviews with Pontikes and her husband, and photos and video of the cardinal and the accused priest.

For an investigation that cast doubt on a top church official’s handling of a case involving startling allegations of abuse, Winfield, Breed, Wong and Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

Ap 19143733807597 1024

June 14, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source work leads to scoop on new mass facility for immigrant children

for breaking news that the U.S. government is opening a mass facility for migrant children in Texas and considering detaining hundreds more youth at three military bases, adding up to 3,000 beds to the overtaxed system. Acting on a tip from a key source, Burke left other news organizations scrambling, and she had details no one could match, including the number of beds planned for each new facility amid a wave of new arrivals, and context about the two deaths of children inside the system. https://bit.ly/2K8NJc4

Ap 19157788208013 Cbp

May 17, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Loophole preventing federal charges against minors in terrorism cases

for discovering that a 2018 Supreme Court case had impeded the Justice Department’s ability to charge minors with supporting terrorist groups. Bleiberg was curious why an FBI investigation of a teen plotting an Islamic State-inspired shooting was prosecuted by local Texas officials. He and Balsamo exposed the loophole created by a SCOTUS ruling in a non-terrorism case that could prevent minors from facing federal charges for supporting international terrorism. https://bit.ly/2JlSqiw

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.

Ap 19067756987913 1024

March 15, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Twin Texas scoops: UT fires former football star; GOP governor packing courts

for breaking two completely unrelated Texas scoops: that the University of Texas had fired former star quarterback Vince Young from his part-time job as an ambassador and development officer for the school, and for reporting that after barely three months after Democrats showed signs of cracking Republican dominance in state elections, Gov. Greg Abbott used the power of his office to appoint GOP judges who had been rejected by voters to new positions on the bench.https://bit.ly/2J6ZNe3https://bit.ly/2TB5fe3

March 08, 2019

Best of the States

Only on AP: Death of ‘hood CNN’ video pioneer exposes gangland reporting risks

There’s always a better story behind a statistic.

Chicago’s homicide rate is one of the worst in the United States. By digging into one drive-by shooting, Chicago-based legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm and Houston-based video journalist John Mone found out how one victim’s life had inspired a generation of gang territory storytellers.

Telling it took a lot of sourcework.

Tarm had already been working on a story about social media and gangs, and he’d watched a few of Zack Stoner’s reports on Chicago street gangs and rappers on his ZackTV1 YouTube channel. When reports surfaced that Stoner was gunned down, Tarm began to look deeper, stumbling across a wider story – about a new brand of gutsy gangland reporters in Chicago and elsewhere who have avid followers on YouTube.

Getting access to the storytellers was tough, but eventually the name of Texas-based reporter Shawn Cotton emerged. Cotton was eager to discuss Stoner, his impact on the genre and the effect his killing had on him and others. Mone rode along with Cotton to the Meadow Brook subdivision in Fort Worth, dubbed “Murder Brook” by some of the kids on the street where Cotton filmed.

The multi-platform work played prominently with impressive reader engagement.

For relentless sourcework to show how a generation of storytellers is impacting its communities, Tarm and Mone win this week’s Best of the States.

Ap 19063012394182 1024

Feb. 01, 2019

Best of the States

Trump rollbacks benefit fossil fuel industry but carry steep cost

Over the past two years, the Trump administration has relentlessly moved to relax or repeal major environmental and safety rules for the fossil fuels industry to further its energy goals. Each change was reported by news outlets, including the AP. But Billings, Montana, correspondent and environment team member Matthew Brown decided to look more deeply into the highly touted savings to industry as well as the societal costs.

Brown painstakingly examined 11 major rules targeted by Trump’s administration, wading through many thousands of pages of government documents. Brown identified $11.6 billion in potential savings for companies that produce, use and transport fossil fuels, with billions more expected from a freeze of vehicle fuel efficiency standards that will hike fuel consumption.

But Brown also discovered that those savings will come at a steep cost, including more premature deaths and illnesses from air pollution, increased greenhouse gas emissions and additional derailments of trains carrying explosive fuels.

His Only on AP story ran on front pages of at least 16 newspapers and on numerous web sites. The Washington Post displayed both the main-bar the accompanying glance.

For in-depth reporting and comprehensive accounting of the administration’s actions on important environmental and safety issues, Brown wins this week’s Best of the States.

Ap 19023814163567 1024

Jan. 04, 2019

Best of the Week

Two AP exclusives: China’s forced labor and US detention of migrant youths

Welcome to the first Best of the Week of 2019. Among a series of very strong end-of-the-year nominations, the judges have selected two winners from opposite sides of the world.

A sweeping AP investigation by California-based investigative reporters Garance “Poppy” Burke and Martha Mendoza found that the U.S. is once again institutionalizing thousands of migrant children in crowded shelters, despite warnings that the experience could lead to lifelong trauma. Their national story, complemented with a comprehensive data package by Washington-based data editor Meghan Hoyer and NY-based data journalist Larry Fenn, was the first to provide shelter-by-shelter detention statistics, numbers the government had been withholding all year.

Our other winner comes from an equally impactful AP investigation by Beijing-based video journalist Dake Kang, newsperson Yanan Wang and Mendoza, again, which showed that clothing made inside a Chinese internment camp housing Muslim Uighurs is being shipped to a U.S. company that supplies sportswear to American schools and universities.

To do this, they cross-referenced satellite imagery, Chinese state media reports and the address of a Chinese supplier on bills of lading destined for Badger Sportswear in North Carolina. Kang then travelled to Kazakhstan to get multiple on-camera accounts of forced labor in the Chinese camps.

For enterprising, important work, the team of Burke, Mendoza, Hoyer and Fenn, and the team of Kang, Wang and Mendoza share AP’s Best of the Week.

Ap 18347656735617 1024

Dec. 21, 2018

Best of the States

Sourcework pays off with scoop on Julian Castro presidential bid

Getting a source to give AP a major scoop over competitors can take weeks or months of building credibility and trust. Sometimes that payoff takes years – as Austin, Texas, newsman Paul Weber discovered while breaking the news that former Obama Cabinet member Julian Castro was becoming the first Democrat in the 2020 field to launch an exploratory committee for president.

Weber’s relationship with Castro goes back nearly a decade. Weber moved to AP’s San Antonio bureau in 2009, covering the 34-year-old mayor as a national political figure, including regular source meetings and face time with his family.

When Castro returned to Texas after two years as the nation’s housing secretary, Weber ran into him, stumping for other Democrats on the 2018 campaign trail. Months later Weber received a call from the number he had plugged into his phone eight years earlier: It was Castro calling to say he was “likely” to run for president.

The APNewsBreak immediately trended as a top story on social media and put AP hours ahead of major competitors, including The New York Times, which cited AP and quoted from Weber’s exclusive all-formats interview.

For exceptional source development and for negotiating an AP exclusive, Weber wins this week’s Best of the States.

Ap 18345833319893 1024

Dec. 14, 2018

Best of the States

Years of planning pay off in ‘picture perfect’ coverage of Bush funeral events

For more than a decade, Washington photo editor Jon Elswick has negotiated with the Department of Defense over coverage plans for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, while Houston photojournalist David Phillip fostered a relationship with the Bush family and their spokesman to secure AP’s shooting positions for the eventual funeral events.

Those relationships were crucial to arranging and executing coverage, paving the way for more than two dozen staffers to parachute into Washington, Houston and College Station, Texas, where they produced outstanding photos in real time and for the history books.

Among the highlights: Photographer Morry Gash fired a remote-controlled camera that captured a stunning bird’s-eye view of the U.S. Capitol rotunda during visitation and services, and David Phillip negotiated to shoot inside the railroad car carrying the coffin as the funeral train passed through Texas. Phillip called it “the most incredible event I have ever covered.”

The photo coverage was part of an impressive dayslong cross-format effort by scores of AP staff across the country and globe that included hours of live video and spot and breaking text, video, audio and graphics coverage that explored Bush’s life and presidency from every angle.

For exceptional planning and execution on one of the largest news events of the year, this week’s Best of the States goes to the team of photo staff covering the Bush funeral.

Ap 18340730145612 1024

Sept. 21, 2018

Best of the States

Abuse scandal hits Texas diocese as cardinal meets with pope

Houston-based reporter Nomaan Merchant broke important news about the role of an influential American cardinal in an abuse scandal in his home diocese, just as the cardinal was meeting with Pope Francis to discuss reforms to address clergy abuse.

Merchant exclusively tracked down two accusers who allege a priest in the Houston archdiocese had abused them – and that church leaders, including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, subsequently did little to nothing to keep him out of the ministry and away from children.

The allegations were significant on their own given the current abuse crisis roiling the Catholic church. But they were made even more newsworthy in that they implicated DiNardo just as he met with the pope to discuss the church’s handling of sex abuse cases. The accusers said they personally complained to DiNardo about the priest and believed they were brushed off.

Merchant's reporting made an immediate splash in Houston-area media and religion news sources. It was also the talk of the Vatican gathering in Rome.

For his efforts, Merchant wins this week's Best of States.

Ap 17165795908358 1024

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.

Ap 18234643310807 1024