Nov. 08, 2019

Best of the Week

Dodging flames, AP team delivers extraordinary all-formats coverage of raging California wildfires

When two burning tree limbs crashed in flames on the exact spot where Marcio Sanchez had been standing just moments earlier, the shaken AP Los Angeles photographer called two colleagues to check that they both had his wife’s phone number, figuring that “if something happened to me, they could tell her.” He then plunged back to work, capturing vivid images of the furious wildfires tearing across swaths of California.

That incident captured the commitment of AP journalists during a frenetic week documenting the wind-whipped wildfires and accompanying blackouts. Sanchez was joined in the riveting coverage by photographers Noah Berger and Greg Bull, reporters Janie Har and Don Thompson, and more than a dozen others on the ground and in AP bureaus.

The engrossing, all-formats coverage was among the most popular on AP all week.

For their extraordinary work during a hectic and dangerous week, Sanchez, Berger, Bull, Thompson and Har share AP’s Best of the Week.  

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Aug. 23, 2019

Best of the Week

Chance encounter, tenacious reporting reveal harassment allegations against Placido Domingo

Jocelyn Gecker’s bombshell investigation of sexual harassment allegations against opera superstar Placido Domingo started with a song.

San Francisco-based Gecker was at a party about 18 months ago when she noticed the beautiful voice of the woman next to her singing “Happy Birthday,” and complimented her. The woman was a former opera singer who confided that the industry had a dark underbelly, offering her assessment that “Placido Domingo is the Bill Cosby of the opera world.”

The discussion sparked months of work by Gecker to publicly reveal what many said had been an open secret in the opera world. In all, Gecker would find nine women who accused Domingo of sexual harassment and a half-dozen more who said the star made them uncomfortable. Getting people to go on the record proved challenging, but a breakthrough came when one of Domingo’s accusers agreed to tell her story on camera. The resulting 5,200-word story – and Domingo’s response – commanded instant attention and heavy engagement in global media.

For finding a major international story in an unlikely setting, and her care in dealing with sources while reporting tenaciously on a sensitive topic, Gecker earns AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Aug. 23, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Fighting fire with fire: Prescribed burns can prevent catastrophic wildfires

for an all-formats look at prescribed burns, one of the most controversial efforts to head off wildfires. After the devastating California wildfires of the last two years, Melley was assigned to find out how prescribed burns, considered one of the more effective ways to stop or slow fires, were being used to clear brush and other fuel. Melley eventually joined a burn in King’s Canyon National Park where he shot photos and video for a story that outlined the firefighting technique and the issues around it. His cross-format package received wide play in California and the West.https://bit.ly/33qc5ENhttps://bit.ly/33OjzBxhttps://bit.ly/2KNVIJm

July 05, 2019

Best of the States

AP: Smoke from US wildfires boosting health risk for millions

After last year's deadly wildfires in California brought weeks of sooty skies to cities along the West Coast, the AP decided to take a closer look into the broader impacts of the massive smoke plumes.

Billings, Montana, correspondent and environment team member Matthew Brown teamed with Denver video journalist P. Solomon Banda to produce an all-formats report on the growing public health threat from wildfire smoke. Their work grew from a body of research that points to where smoke impacts will be worst – a broad swath of the West that includes more than 300 counties with tens of millions of people.

For diligent reporting that provided a deeper look into how wildfires affect communities throughout the region, Brown and Banda earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 03, 2019

Best of the States

‘Destined to Burn’: AP, media organizations join forces to expose California wildfire risks

A groundbreaking collaboration among California newspapers and The Associated Press started with a tweet.

Northern California News Editor Juliet Williams saw on Twitter that the editor of The Sacramento Bee, a McClatchy paper, was driving to meet with the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record, a MediaNews paper, to talk about wildfire coverage. Williams reached out, offered the AP’s help, and a partnership was born, with the goal of illuminating problems and pointing to potential solutions to California’s increasingly deadly wildfires.

The results: nearly a dozen stories, including an analysis of data by McClatchy and AP Los Angeles-based data journalist Angeliki Kastanis revealing that more than 350,000 Californians live in towns and cities almost entirely within zones of very high wildfire risk. An analysis also found that a 2008 building code for California’s fire-prone regions can make the difference in whether homes burn or not, but there’s little retrofitting of older homes.

The partnership’s next installment was focused on evacuation planning, revealing that many communities wouldn’t share the information or didn’t have an adequate plan, or any plan at all. Data analysis by USA TODAY Network-California showed many communities had too few roads to get everyone out.

We heavily publicized the package and play was impressive, with hundreds of downloads of the first two installments. Many outlets used the data to report their own stories about local fire risks. And this isn’t the end of the partnership: The next phase will focus on legislative action on wildfire coverage.

When AP engages in collaborations like these we become more than just a content provider to our customers; we’re helping them produce high-impact local coverage that wouldn’t exist otherwise. In this case, the “Destined to Burn” partnership was managed at every level by West Deputy Director of Newsgathering Anna Jo Bratton, who worked for six months with people throughout the AP and the collaborators to make the partnership a success.

For putting the AP at the center of an important collaboration, driving important journalism in a state ravaged by wildfires, and forging a stronger relationship with members, Williams, Kastanis and Bratton win this AP’s Best of the States.

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Feb. 22, 2019

Best of the States

Victims of the Paradise wildfire; stunning portraits of how they lived and died

The wildfire that consumed Paradise, California, claimed 85 lives while virtually burning the town off the map. But beyond those facts lay a rich narrative of the individuals who perished while calling Paradise home.

AP San Francisco reporters Janie Har and Jocelyn Gecker set out to tell the stories of the victims of the deadly Paradise fire far more comprehensively than was possible in the immediate aftermath: Who were they? Where and when did they die? Did they even have a chance to flee?

To paint a picture of how the tragedy unfolded, the pair spent months tracking down family members – many of whom were wary – to talk about their loved ones, assuring them that AP’s coverage would be more than a recitation of the grim facts. Interviews with California fire officials, a newly available simulation of the fire’s movement on the fateful morning and public records requests enabled AP to produce an interactive graphic giving the exact locations where people died and their approximate times of death.

The result was a riveting package that coupled intimate portraits of the victims with the circumstances of their death. Most never had a chance to flee their homes as the fast-moving fire barreled through.

The moving package was well-received by members throughout California and from coast-to-coast.

For carrying the Paradise story forward with enterprising, sensitive work that focused on the victims’ narratives, Har and Gecker share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Only on AP: Many of those ‘missing’ after wildfire are just fine

As the AP reported on the chaos and confusion surrounding the ever-changing list of missing people in the wake of California wildfire that killed at least 85 people, our reporters set out to try to track down more of those people and to show that they were findable, even though they continued to appear on the list of missing, and to show that hundreds were likely not really missing at all.

Dixie Singh, No. 158 on the list, was surprised to get a call from the AP, saying she was “very much alive,” and all her friends and family knew it. San Francisco reporter Jocelyn Gecker tracked her down through a public records search by AP News and Information Center researcher Jennifer Farrar.

Meanwhile, Sacramento correspondent Kathleen Ronayne and Washington, D.C., reporter Juliet Linderman, who was in town for the week assisting on fire coverage, tracked down other stories of people who were findable – just not by the sheriff’s department.

The team’s research and reporting laid out how easy it was to find some of the people and highlighted lapses in the sheriff’s record-keeping.

For their collaborative exclusive on a key lingering aspect of the deadly Camp Fire, the team of Gecker, Ronayne, Linderman and Farrar wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 23, 2018

Best of the States

Requiem for Paradise: Remembering the sweet life of a town wiped out by wildfire

It’s not often you have to write an obituary for a town. Yet that’s what Martha Mendoza and Jocelyn Gecker did, with Gillian Flaccus producing a compelling video component. Their tribute to Paradise, California – leveled by a devastating wildfire that killed so many residents – painted a picture of all that was lost. Paradise was a gold prospector’s town, then a lumber town, and until two weeks ago was the home of 27,000 people “who lived and loved here; they built homes and businesses, schools and houses of worship, parks and museums that proudly honored Paradise's place in American history.”

Mendoza worked from the field, in the ashes of the town, with Gecker in San Francisco tracking down leads, helping to write the finished piece and finding photographs to illustrate “the town’s history and spirit.” Their nuanced reporting, along with that of many colleagues, drew forth tales of town holidays, and residents ruminating whether those staples of small-town America would continue.

The accompanying video by Gillian Flaccus, recorded during a ride-along with a long-time resident, complemented the text piece by showing street after street of utter devastation over the man’s narration.

Paradise is gone, and until it rebuilds in some fashion, Mendoza, Gecker and Flaccus have given the world the definitive piece on what it represented. For their deft depiction of the town behind the headlines, the trio wins AP's Best of the States.

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Nov. 16, 2018

Best of the Week

Cataclysmic fires cap off week of momentous and devastating news in California

California’s news staff still was in the midst of reporting the tragic night-spot shooting in Thousand Oaks when news reached the AP that a wildfire in Northern California was spreading quickly, sending thousands fleeing.

Bay Area freelance photographer Noah Berger, as good a fire chaser as there is anywhere, tipped the office off that the Northern California fire looked explosive. By 11 a.m. Sacramento reporter Don Thompson was hitting the road, and a first AP NewsAlert moved saying people fleeing for their lives had abandoned vehicles as the fire swept in.

AP’s all-formats coverage went into high gear, with staffers pouring in from the region. In addition to Thompson, who stayed at the scene with fire crews for several days straight, Portland, Ore., all-formats reporter Gilly Flaccus arrived, producing unmatched interviews in text and video of survivors and of crews searching for the remains of those killed. San Francisco reporter Paul Elias gathered information on the dramatic rescues and chaotic evacuation, while Las Vegas photographer John Locher and Denver videographer Peter Banda provided gripping visuals from the scene.

AP was first to report thousands of homes destroyed, first to report a named victim, and we were alone in accompanying a search and recovery crew in all formats as they went to a victim’s home and found her remains.

The coverage was nuanced and emotional. California News Editor Frank Baker says there was no one on the California staff who didn’t contribute, working unrelentingly from last week’s elections and mass shooting straight into the wildfire.

For outstanding work, bolstered and supported by California’s all-formats reporting staff and editors, Thompson, Flaccus, Elias, Berger, Locher and Banda share this AP's Best of the Week.

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Aug. 03, 2018

Best of the States

Aggressive photo coverage, sharp reporting on devastating California wildfire

San Francisco-based freelance photographer Noah Berger is one of the foremost wildfire photographers in California.

His experience helped put him in the right place to shoot stunning images as the Carr Fire swept into Redding and threatened to devour much of the Northern California city of 92,000. It also made AP the first major news outlet to have boots on the ground in the city, a competitive advantage that produced details other didn’t have, and enabled managers to quickly get Sacramento reporter Jonathan J. Cooper headed to the scene.

Berger described the Carr Fire as one of the most intense fire fights he has ever witnessed. His dramatic images put the AP ahead of key competitors by more than a day.

Cooper's reporting included a key measurement of a wildfire’s destructive force: the number of homes lost. When authorities kept saying 65 structures had been destroyed, Cooper went back to two neighborhoods he had visited and counted all the homes burned to the ground. He found 60 in one and 66 in the other. AP’s figure, and the context that the number would ultimately be much higher, quickly became the headline on the story.

A wildfire is among the toughest assignments for any photographer but Berger gave the AP a significant competitive advantage. Cooper’s savvy gave AP a figure others didn’t have. For their work, they share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 15, 2017

Best of the States

AP photo team owns Southern California wildfire coverage

Late in the evening on Dec. 4, West Region photo editor Stephanie Mullen was monitoring a fire that broke out in Ventura County, about 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Mullen knew that if the notorious Santa Ana winds really picked up the flames could start burning homes.

She hired Northern California freelance photographer Noah Berger, an expert at shooting wildfires, and partnered him with Los Angeles-based staff photographer Jae Hong. Berger and Hong were in place as daylight broke and the fire surged into the city of Ventura, where it burned hundreds of homes. They rapidly shot and filed, allowing AP to deliver striking imagery before our competitors had even started their day.

The AP owned the coverage in those important early hours with impressive play globally.

Later that morning, Orange County-based photographer Chris Carlson worked his way through road closures to make images of horses being rescued and flames overwhelming homes in Los Angeles County. And as the week wore on, photographer Greg Bull snaked his way through roadblocks and heavy traffic to capture nighttime images of fires in San Diego County, then slept in his car and got haunting daybreak photos of the destruction.

For providing a photo package no competitor could rival, Hong, Carlson, Bull and Berger share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Oct. 20, 2017

Best of the States

AP shines with cross format coverage of deadliest wildfires in California history

California is used to devastating wildfires but the firestorm that swept through wine country north of San Francisco was unlike any other. The devastation was staggering – at least 42 killed and more than 5,700 homes and other structures burned to the ground.

The series of fires broke out nearly simultaneously late at night and quickly stretched across 100 miles. AP quickly mobilized staffers throughout California and beyond.

San Francisco reporter Ellen Knickmeyer, concerned her Napa County home could fall victim to the flames (it did not, fortunately), never stopped reporting. Her experience living with the flames while reporting on them was turned into a compelling first-person narrative.

Every staffer in the field contributed in multiple formats. Phoenix-based videojournalist Brian Skoloff, and photographers Jae Hong (Los Angeles) and Marcio Sanchez (San Francisco) put themselves in harm’s way to ensure AP could show the fires and their heart-wrenching impact on people and property. Meanwhile, Sacramento photographer Rich Pedroncelli shot stills and video in Napa Valley where two sons returned to the home where their parents – 100-year-old Charles Rippey, and his wife, Sara, 98 – were killed.

For their work in the initial days documenting how the flames devastated people and property, Knickmeyer, Skoloff, Sanchez, Hong and Pedroncelli win this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

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