Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP’s Texas staff steps up for coverage of historic storm

pushed through last week’s winter storm coverage with top-notch storytelling even as many suffered hardship of their own.When deadly subfreezing temperatures, snow and ice smacked much of the southern U.S., it knocked out the power grid in Texas, the nation’s energy capital — and that was only the beginning. The bursting pipes, boil water advisories and accusations of price gouging that followed would only exacerbate the suffering for millions left shivering while nearly 80 people died.AP reporters showed in spot and enterprise stories that everything came down to a failure of government, particularly in Texas and neighboring Deep South states where infrastructure breakdowns revealed how unprepared much of the nation is for extreme weather.All this happened as many Texas staffers suffered along with their neighbors, with no power, heat or water. But they got creative and kept up the effort for a fully multiformat report, writing stories on phones when WiFi didn’t work, calling in feeds or charging electronics at colleagues’ homes. One Dallas reporter relocated to the home of an AP retiree when her own power was knocked out.https://bit.ly/2ZMQANFhttps://bit.ly/3dIKS7Dhttps://bit.ly/3r4YEWhhttps://bit.ly/3bAFQHBhttps://bit.ly/3bFHasKhttps://bit.ly/3uuAarl

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Feb. 19, 2021

Best of the States

AP team finds diversity of politics and religion among West Virginia evangelicals

A tweet was the seed for this illuminating story. “Most people in my rural, Appalachian hometown are being radicalized at church by their pastor, which is the person they trust the most,” it read. AP’s Global Religion team ran with it.

Reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski visited the parishioners of three churches in Bluefield, West Virginia, including one pastor who had attended the Jan. 6 Washington rally that degenerated into a riot. The AP pair spent weeks convincing him to sit down for an interview. The result was an all-formats package of diverse congregations seeking common ground, even as they are divided on the role of evangelical Christianity in American politics. 

For applying gentle persuasion and balanced reporting to produce a nuanced look at religion and politics in one West Virginia town, Henao and Wardarski win this week’s Best of the States award. 

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Feb. 12, 2021

Best of the States

AP analysis: In the US, a centuries-old race war continues to rage against people of color

As AP race and ethnicity writer Aaron Morrison covered the protests that grew out of the 2020 killings of George Floyd and others, he also saw President Donald Trump on TV, trying to undermine the racial reckoning at every turn.

Fast forward to Jan. 6, when a mob of mostly white rioters, upset that Trump wasn't reelected, violently breached the U.S. Capitol. Morrison connected the dots of what he described as a war of white aggression. “A war rages on in America,” Morrison wrote in this analysis piece, “It started with slavery and never ended ...” 

With powerful video by Noreen Nasir, portraits by Chris Carlson and presentation by Alyssa Goodman, the package received prominent play and sparked discussion both online and within the AP.

For a timely, compelling package that looks at the state of race relations with historical context and thoughtful analysis, the team of Morrison, Nasir, Carlson and Goodman earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 05, 2021

Best of the States

AP months ahead of New York state in identifying undercount of nursing home deaths

When AP reported exclusively last August that New York state was undercounting its COVID nursing home death toll by thousands, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ripped the story as part of a politically motivated “blame game.”

But the state’s own investigation, announced last week, reached a nearly identical conclusion, affirming AP’s reporting.

AP’s 2020 investigation had seized on the fact that New York counts just residents who died at nursing homes, not those who were transported to hospitals and died there. AP’s analysis of federal data indicated that the state’s official toll was undercounted by 65%, or well over 4,000 deaths. 

For sharp reporting that led the media pack, withstood criticism from the governor and months later was vindicated, this week’s Best of the States award goes to Bernard Condon, Matt Sedensky and Meghan Hoyer (now data director at The Washington Post).

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Data analysis exposes racial inequity in vaccinations

collaborated on a piece that exposed racial disparities in the early rollout of the vaccine, with African Americans lagging behind the rest of the country in getting shots. The team was initially stymied by a lack of comprehensive national data and scattered figures from state to state and city to city. But they were able to piece together data from 17 states and two cities to make a powerful, data-driven statement on the issue.The story showed that Black Americans were getting shots at rates dramatically below their share of the population, a disturbing development considering how much of a role race has played in disproportionately affecting people of color in the pandemic. The analysis put the AP out front on a critical issue, two days before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out its own analysis of the issue. https://bit.ly/39OwuIQ

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Jan. 29, 2021

Best of the States

AP team finds exhausted chaplains comforting families, COVID patients in their final moments

Eugene Garcia, just two weeks into his job as the AP’s newest full-time video journalist, and photographer Jae Hong joined forces to tell the deeply touching and heartbreaking story of often unseen and unsung heroes of the pandemic — the clergy.

The pair approached the story with sensitivity and care, maintaining distance to give the families, patients and chaplains space, but close enough to bring the story to life even as their subjects drew their last breaths. The package, complemented by John Rogers’ moving text, shed light on exhausted and emotionally drained chaplains working in situations they had never experienced before. As one put it, “We weren’t trained for this.”

For an arresting package that explores the compassionate yet crushing work of front-line chaplains, Garcia, Hong and Rogers earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 29, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Standout coverage of historic Biden-Harris inauguration

in Washington for the 59th Presidential Inauguration excelled in all-formats despite COVID restrictions and unprecedented security just two weeks after the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol. Video was a particular standout — hundreds of millions of viewers around the world received AP’s live coverage, and video edits were ahead of the competition by an astonishing average of 15-20 minutes. Text and photo coverage was no less impressive, vividly capturing history in the making.https://bit.ly/2MzmTfwhttps://bit.ly/2Mdq0tVhttps://bit.ly/3otR5WGhttps://bit.ly/2KXbFkFhttps://bit.ly/3psgRMvhttps://bit.ly/39pm6qyhttps://apnews.com/hub/biden-inauguration

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Jan. 22, 2021

Best of the States

AP investigation: Capitol rioters included highly trained ex-military, law enforcement

AP reporters Michael Biesecker Jake Bleiberg and James LaPorta joined with colleagues across the country to reveal the influence of current and former members of the military or law enforcement on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The AP team surveyed public records, social media posts and videos, and the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies, finding at least 22 current or former members of the U.S. military or law enforcement have been identified as part of Capitol riot, with more under investigation. The story gave specific examples of how such training played out in rioters’ tactics and equipment during the attack.

The all-formats package received prominent play from AP customers and was the top offering on the AP News app on a busy news day. 

For timely and insightful reporting that sheds light on the backgrounds and capabilities of Capitol Hill rioters, Biesecker, Bleiberg and LaPorta win AP’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 22, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Determined reporting exposes severe hunger in Tigray region

revealed for the first time the full extent of severe, widespread hunger and the threat of starvation in Ethiopia’s defiant Tigray region, which has been under attack by government forces for more than two months.With Tigray virtually cut off from the rest of the world and our local journalist under extreme pressure from the Ethiopian government, Anna, AP’s East Africa correspondent, set out to report from Nairobi. She reached out to the few aid organizations able to operate in Tigray and to refugees who had fled the conflict to neighboring Sudan; they described acute malnutrition bordering on famine. Building on these contacts, Anna obtained minutes of Ethiopian government meetings in which the government’s own officials warned of imminent, widespread starvation threatening hundreds of thousands of civilians. She also sourced satellite images that showed aid warehouses in the region destroyed during the conflict.Her fact-based, compelling description of the desperate situation in Tigray was the first comprehensive reporting by any news organization to pull all these elements together. The story won prominent play in major news outlets and was hailed as an important exposé by international agencies and authorities, including the United Nations.https://bit.ly/39KJ4HD

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Jan. 15, 2021

Best of the States

AP reporting reveals some front-line health care workers balking at COVID vaccine

The AP team of Bernard Condon, Matt Sedensky and Carla K. Johnson assembled the most detailed national look yet at one of the most vexing snags in the coronavirus vaccine rollout: Surprising numbers of health care workers — who have seen firsthand the misery inflicted by COVID-19 — are refusing the shots.

The deep reporting, with contributions from colleagues across the country, found the paradox occurring in nursing homes and hospitals, with some individual facilities seeing a refusal rate as high as 80%. The story, one of AP’s most-read on an extremely busy news week, quoted both health workers expressing fears of vaccine side effects and frustrated facility administrators.

For bringing to light an important part of the stumbling early rollout of the much-anticipated vaccine, Condon, Sedensky and Johnson win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 11, 2021

Best of the States

He’s a ‘Soul Man’: AP profiles Steve Cropper, a low-key musical legend

Correspondent Adrian Sainz drew on his deep knowledge of Memphis’ musical history to tell the fascinating but sometimes overlooked story of Steve Cropper, the 79-year-old guitarist who worked at Stax Records alongside Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and others, leaving an indelible imprint on the American songbook.

Complemented by Kristin Hall’s engaging video and Mark Humphrey’s striking portraits, Sainz lays Cropper's story out in rich detail, from the birth of Redding’s “(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay” to his work with the Blues Brothers and current projects.

For an illuminating, unexpected holiday offering that reveals the low-key man whose music everyone celebrates, Sainz earns AP’s Best of the States award for the week of Dec. 28.

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Jan. 11, 2021

Best of the Week

AP traces child labor from Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields to major brands, Girl Scout cookies

For the third installment of their groundbreaking investigation into labor abuse in Asia’s palm oil industry, reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason linked child labor to the supply chains of the makers of popular cereals, candies and ice creams, including KitKats, Oreos and Cap’n Crunch. They also traced the oil to that most American treat: Girl Scout cookies. 

Joined by photographers Binsar Bakkara and Mark Humphrey, and video journalist Allen Breed, their reporting found that some tens of thousands of children toil in the palm fields, some kept from school and forced to work for free or for little pay. Some are trafficked.

The framing of the story — through the eyes of a young girl in the fields in Indonesia and a Tennessee Girl Scout campaigning to have palm oil removed from the cookies — resonated with readers; reaction on social media led the Girl Scouts to address the issue with their suppliers.

For shedding unprecedented light on the children toiling in Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields, and connecting the abusive practice to major consumer brands, McDowell, Mason, Bakkara, Breed and Humphrey share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 28.

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Jan. 01, 2021

Best of the States

AP finds hurricane-battered Louisiana residents struggling, enduring months later

Ever since Hurricane Laura hit southwest Louisiana in August, correspondent Rebecca Santana and photographer Gerald Herbert wanted to follow up with the region’s residents. But in a busy hurricane season, it wasn’t until December that plans finally came together. 

Santana researched for weeks, finding subjects and learning about recovery efforts. The pair then spent two days in the Lake Charles area where they saw the devastation firsthand and met storm victims, including a couple whose postponed wedding was finally happening. Herbert, who also shot the video for the stories, went back to Lake Charles eight times, even sleeping in a gutted house on Christmas Eve.

The result was two print stories, three video packages and a photo essay, all of which received prominent play. For uncovering the compelling stories of hurricane victims months after the storms faded from the headlines, Santana and Herbert earn AP’s Best of the States award for the week of Dec. 21.

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Dec. 24, 2020

Best of the States

Joint investigation reveals ‘leadership vacuum’ after backlash against public health officials

AP reporter Michelle Smith was working on another project in June when she came up with the names of a dozen or so public health officials who had quit, retired or been fired. Sensing a trend, Smith and reporters at Kaiser Health News continued to track those departures as the pandemic worsened and the backlash against public health restrictions became more strident.

The journalists contacted officials in all 50 states and interviewed dozens of people, finding a public health leadership vacuum developing at a critical time in the pandemic. They told the stories of public servants who toiled through the pandemic only to be reviled by their neighbors — including the wrenching story of an official whose husband would not even follow her recommendation to require masks in the family store. The timely all-formats story included a data distribution, interactive graphics and a sidebar with portraits and quotes of public health officials. 

For a deeply reported package that examines a vital component of the pandemic response, Smith, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Hannah Recht and Lauren Weber earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 24, 2020

Best of the Week

The Pandemic Atlas: AP’s comprehensive global look at how the virus upended 2020

In the year since COVID-19 surfaced, journalists for The Associated Press have produced an impressive array of stories documenting its grim march around the world. Conveying the extent of disruption and death wrought by the virus in 2020 warranted a marshaling of AP’s global resources for a one-of-a-kind project: the Pandemic Atlas.      

The collaborative effort included a compendium of how 13 countries responded to the crisis, six character-driven videos and compelling photos. Deeply reported text stories were translated into Spanish, while the videos received Arabic and Spanish edits. All made possible by the dogged and authoritative work of AP’s field journalists, editors and producers around the world.

For an outstanding display of planning, teamwork, ingenuity, storytelling and presentation on the story that shaped 2020, the Pandemic Atlas — and the scores of AP journalists around the world who contributed — are recognized with AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Dec. 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation: States spent billions on medical supplies

took the lead in obtaining and analyzing public records that disclosed state coronavirus-related spending that had largely been kept from the public. The reporters filed Freedom of Information Act requests in all 50 states seeking purchase order records to determine how much was being spent on what items, which suppliers the states were using and how the spending compared across the states.The findings revealed that overall the states spent at least $7 billion on medical gear in the first few months of the pandemic, a massive amount that had not been reported until AP’s investigation. Even lawmakers in most states did not know the scope of spending, much of which was inflated by competition between states and huge price markups for routine items.The project reflected a signature goal of the AP news department this year: to “connect the dots” across the states for our U.S. customers in a way that only AP can. After months spent analyzing the state-by-state information, the data team made all the information available in an easy-to-use format for AP members and for our own state reporters. In addition to the national stories, more than a dozen AP reporters wrote state sidebars, receiving prominent play online and in print. https://bit.ly/37HJS07

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Dec. 18, 2020

Best of the States

All-formats team tells the shared story of rural Missouri churches, immigrants, adversity and faith

It’s a story of two churches in rural Missouri, only 30 miles apart — and worlds apart. 

One congregation is mostly white, while the other offers services in five languages with members from around the world. The pandemic has united them, with pastors meeting to support each other, share ideas and figure out how to continue ministering to this region hit disproportionately by the coronavirus.

The team of national writer David Crary, youth and religion reporter Luis Andres Henao and video journalist Jessie Wardarski earned the trust of residents to produce an intimate all-formats story, revealing diverse Midwestern communities that aren't famous but are integral to the nation’s identity.

For compelling coverage of communities united in adversity and navigating with faith, the team of Crary, Henao and Wardarski wins this week’s Best of the States award. 

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Dec. 11, 2020

Best of the States

True West: Enterprise reporting reveals lurid story that led to Idaho cold case arrest

An arrest in a decades-old Idaho cold case started Boise correspondent Rebecca Boone digging, aiming to tell a broader story about the victim, the suspect and the colorful — and at times shady — pro rodeo and gambling circuit. 

Forty years ago, Dan Woolley was shot in the parking lot of a small-town bar in the Idaho mountains. The shooter crossed the street to the only other bar in town, ordered a drink and declared, “I just killed a man.” Then he disappeared. But late last year an 87-year-old man was arrested in Texas for the slaying — a former pro rodeo rider.

Boone spent months building trust with Woolley’s son and other sources, talking to long-time central Idaho residents and historians. All while juggling her state coverage of breaking news, the pandemic and the 2020 election.

The result of her efforts, an engaging 1,900-word Saturday piece, was among AP’s top stories for the weekend. For an absorbing read that is a textbook example of a general assignment reporter chipping away at a challenging enterprise piece, Boone earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 04, 2020

Best of the Week

AP coverage of refugees in Sudan opens a window into Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict

The thousands of refugees spilling over the border into Sudan from Ethiopia’s Tigray region are some of the only firsthand witnesses to a worsening conflict that remains out of reach for most of the world’s media. Crossing a remote desert area, they recount ethnic-targeted killings, many fleeing at a moment’s notice and leaving loved ones behind amid an offensive by the Ethiopian government against Tigray separatists. 

Video journalist Fay Abuelgasim and photographer Nariman el-Mofty have put individual faces on the complex story since arriving at the Sudan-Ethiopia border area nearly two weeks ago. Along with reporters Sam Magdy in Cairo and Cara Anna in Nairobi, their work has revealed the human toll of a conflict to which access remains tightly restricted, even as the United Nations warns of possible war crimes. AP clients have recognized the work with strong play.

For their determined, resourceful and revealing work to document the individual struggles of an escalating refugee crisis, Abuelgasim, el-Mofty, Anna and Magdy earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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