July 10, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

July Fourth through the lens of a reporter’s Mexican American family

excavates pain and patriotism in his family history, in particular his great-uncle’s World War II service, to examine the meaning of Independence Day and reclaim the holiday at a time of national reckoning. Contreras’ first-person story recounts years of racism against his family. But he chooses to focus on his Mexican American great-uncle who was wounded on Iwo Jima, even as the Contreras family was subject to Jim Crow in Texas.That episode in the Contreras family history resonated through the generations, and today family members use it as a cornerstone of their Independence Day celebrations. In the process of his eloquently told tale, Contreras not only redefines the holiday for himself and his family; he makes a valuable contribution to AP’s coverage of inequality, capturing many threads of recent American history in the process. https://bit.ly/38ySUvc

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July 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scoop on US ruling to free immigrant children

scored a 90-minute beat on a closely watched federal court ruling that ordered the release of children held with their parents in U.S. immigration jails during the pandemic. Merchant was tipped earlier in the day and had much of the story written ahead of the decision. He had set the stage earlier in the week with an unmatched story on families being isolated in Texas at the largest of three family detention centers run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. https://bit.ly/3iclNlv

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June 19, 2020

Best of the States

AP teams deliver a deeply reported all-formats profile of George Floyd

The story of George Floyd’s death will likely endure as a pivotal moment in civil rights and police accountability, but his life – from a start in Houston public housing to his death in Minneapolis, where he hoped to start a new chapter – wasn’t lived in a spotlight. 

In a uniquely AP collaboration across states and disciplines, AP journalists turned to people who knew Floyd from his childhood through his adult years, weaving together his story in all formats, enhanced by existing video of the man. The result was a revealing, deeply reported profile, including Floyd’s brief turns as a football player, rapper and bouncer, time in prison and days spent trying to help mentor kids to avoid his mistakes. 

For persistent, collaborative and creative storytelling that goes to the heart of the tragedy that unfolded in Minneapolis, the multiformat team of Luis Andres Henao, Juan Lozano, Nomaan Merchant, Adam Geller, John Mone, David Phillip and Aaron Morrison shares this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 19, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP team documents extraordinary funeral for George Floyd

brilliantly chronicled George Floyd’s final journey. After six days of mourning in cities throughout the U.S., Floyd was laid to rest in a suburb of Houston, with a funeral and burial capped by a procession akin to those for heads of state. The funeral organizers originally barred reporters from the service, but eventually invited an AP reporter and photographer to attend. Other staffers representing text, photo and video held key positions outside the church and at the cemetery, delivering strong coverage throughout, including a brief, impromptu on-camera interview with actor Jamie Foxx. Staffers in Los Angeles and New York monitored live feeds and drafted the story.The funeral lasted hours longer than planned, leaving those covering the event outside in the Texas heat that jumped into the 90s. But the voices, details and images captured by AP, combined with a eulogy-turned-edifying sermon from the Rev. Al Sharpton, made for a compelling narrative that was among the most used stories of the week.https://bit.ly/2NduRbvhttps://bit.ly/3efWagZhttps://bit.ly/2zITREfhttps://bit.ly/2Neswgi

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May 08, 2020

Best of the States

Sourcing, records yield scoop: Texas AG helped donor fight Colorado lockout

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he’d sent a letter leaning on Gunnison County, Colorado, to end an order expelling non-residents during the pandemic, AP’s Paul Weber immediately wondered: Why was the top law enforcement official in Texas picking a fight with a remote county two states away in the middle of the crisis? And did Paxton have donors there? 

Weber and colleague Jake Bleiberg started combing campaign finance and property records, quickly finding that some of Paxton’s biggest donors have homes in the wealthy mountain resort town of Crested Butte, Colorado. 

Persistent reporting and extensive public records work revealed that Paxton’s push against the Gunnison health order stood to benefit an exclusive group of Texans, including campaign donors who gave the attorney general a total of nearly $2 million. AP Texas members jumped on the story, using it in print and online.

For alertly connecting the dots between a puzzling press release and a conflict of interest in the attorney general's office, Weber and Bleiberg earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 08, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis finds most states falling short on virus testing

analyzed data showing that most states are not meeting the minimum level of coronavirus testing suggested by the U.S. government. In the absence of comprehensive federal data, AP calculated the monthly testing rate for each state, along with a separate review by AP state reporters, to find that only 40% of states currently meet the Trump administration’s testing threshold. Those that don’t include several that have been moving quickly to reopen their economies. And some states with infection hot spots are not testing at a higher rate recommended by Harvard University. https://bit.ly/3fpF7ud

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April 24, 2020

Best of the States

The cost of Trump environmental rollbacks: Health woes hit minority communities hardest

With African American and Hispanic communities in the Houston region already suffering higher rates of asthma and other diseases than the nation at large, AP’s Ellen Knickmeyer decided to focus on the area for a story on ordinary Americans living through the Trump administration’s public health and environmental rollbacks. 

The administration was cutting back on rules limiting and monitoring harmful industrial pollutants, slashing enforcement and weakening an industrial-disaster rule.

Knickmeyer, a Washington-based environmental issues reporter, spent months searching out Houston residents, telling their stories along with deep reporting on the regulatory actions and their consequences.

Former EPA Director Gina McCarthy was among many retweeting the story, calling it a “must read” article.

For a rich, insightful look at the consequences of the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks on vulnerable communities, Knickmeyer wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 28, 2020

Best of the States

Be Prepared: Source work, planning deliver top coverage of Scouts’ bankruptcy

David Crary heard from his legal sources that something big was coming for the Boy Scouts of America, which has been besieged by sexual abuse lawsuits: a bankruptcy filing.

Weeks before the paperwork was filed, Crary, who has been covering the organization for 20 years, set into motion plans to ensure the AP was well-covered. When the Scouts’ filing finally came out late on a holiday, his sharply written prep had the story on the wire within minutes, explaining the gravity of the filing and the reasons behind it.

AP journalists around the country pitched in, including Brady McCombs who gathered reaction from Scouts and local councils, spinning it into an engaging follow-up, and correspondent Randall Chase who attended the Scouts’ first bankruptcy hearing in a Delaware court. Their efforts were rewarded with outstanding play.

For their careful planning and flawless execution of coverage of the Scouts’ bankruptcy filing, Crary, McCombs and Chase win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 14, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Suspected El Paso Walmart shooter charged with hate crime

for strong source work to break the news that the man accused of killing 22 people and wounding two dozen more in an El Paso Wal-Mart was going to be charged with federal hate crimes. Balsamo's scoop, enhanced with further reporting by colleagues in Texas, was exclusive to AP for nearly three hours and most outlets didn't have it until an evening press conference. https://bit.ly/3bzhyNw

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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

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

From Brazil to Boston, tracing a surge of Brazilian migrants

for tracing a little-noticed surge in Brazilians crossing into the U.S. Leveraging AP’s footprint from Brazil to Texas to Boston, the deeply reported story documented an astonishing number of Brazilians pouring through El Paso. Hundreds of them had ridden with a single cab driver who Attanasio found by canvassing taxi stands at border bridges, while in Boston, Marcelo found a recently-arrived mechanic, adding texture to the story. https://bit.ly/2PG3jh7

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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