Jan. 20, 2017

Best of the States

Lie detectors trip up border agency applicants

San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat was chatting with a longtime government source and she mentioned her son applied to Customs and Border Protection but was rejected after failing a polygraph test. She and her son were mystified by the result. Soon after, a member of Spagat’s running group – a military veteran with a stellar resume – told the same story of a failed Border Patrol test.

Intrigued, Spagat brought up the issue during a regular check-in call with an official involved in recruiting for the Border Patrol. The official told him the polygraph failure rate was very high. Spagat knew he was on to something and kept pressing, next talking to Border Patrol Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, who gave him a failure rate – 65 percent.

But Kerlikowske didn’t see the number as a negative – it meant the agency was applying tough standards to find its officers. Still, a two-thirds failure rate struck Spagat as abnormal but how could he prove it? Comparable data was hard to find.

So Spagat set about creating it.

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Aug. 29, 2019

Best of the States

Early Epstein accuser: Police could have stopped him in 1997

It’s exceedingly rare to get any details from a police report in California and even rarer to get a glimpse inside a detective’s notebook. But Jennifer Peltz and Katie Campione did just that. Peltz and Campione convinced police to finally explain how they handled one of the earliest known sex crime accusations against Jeffrey Epstein, a 1997 case that the accuser has called a massive missed opportunity to bring the financier to justice years before he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls and young women.

Their story turned out to be one of the most popular stories of the week on the AP News mobile site and was also one of the most engaging with readers. Even the Los Angeles Times had no choice but to put the AP story on its website front page.

For going the extra mile to get an explanation for a case that could have stopped Epstein from the start, Katie Campione and Jennifer Peltz win this week's Best of the States.

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Jan. 12, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

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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March 12, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Solid sourcing leads to AP’s most-used story of 2021: 6 Dr. Seuss books retired for racist images

Mark Pratt, a breaking news staffer in Boston, has written several stories exploring the complicated past of Theodor Seuss Geisel — Dr. Seuss. The company that preserves and protects the author’s legacy knew it could trust him.

So Dr. Seuss Enterprises gave Pratt early word on a story that would become a global bestseller for AP, generating off-the-charts customer use for three days and eventually becoming the single most-used AP story of 2021 to date: The company was ceasing publication and sales of six Seuss books because of their offensive imagery.

Pratt’s story instantly rocketed to the very top of a hectic news cycle, touching off a firestorm of commentary and conservative claims of “cancel culture.” The piece exceeded 2.5 million pageviews — catapulting it past the Capitol insurrection coverage in terms of customer use and clicks.

For nurturing trust with a newsmaker that yielded an AP exclusive still resonating with customers and news consumers, Pratt wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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April 05, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

Money madness: AP analyzes, how much is that NCAA berth worth?

It’s no secret that the NCAA college basketball tournament is big business. But just how big, and how has the pie been divided?

The New York-based team of college sports reporter Ralph Russo and data journalist Larry Fenn took on that reporting and accounting challenge, making AP the first news organization to document who received more than $3 billion in March Madness payouts over two decades.

Complicating their task was the fact that the NCAA referred to payments with a complex “unit” formula, while 32 different athletic conferences had their own rules for distributing the funds back to schools. Russo peppered the NCAA with questions, ultimately getting detailed numbers back to 1997. Fenn parsed tournament results to quantify wins and bids that qualified for payment under the system.

The work led to several stories by Russo and his colleagues in Sports detailing the money side of the annual tournament, including diminishing shares for smaller conferences, an explainer on the system itself and the value of the final invitations to the field. Fenn also collaborated on a data distribution for members doing their own stories focused on individual schools, as well as a robust interactive.

The AP-exclusive stories drew extensive play in the heat of March Madness, showcasing the power of AP when we think ambitiously and outside the box, even around annual events already in the glare of the media spotlight. For their outstanding work, Russo and Fenn win AP’s Best of the Week.

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April 13, 2018

Best of the States

AP tracks record number of women running for US House seats

The Women’s March shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration energized its backers with a message to get politically engaged. The emergence of the #MeToo movement later that year provided even more momentum. But would women follow through? At the start of 2018, a midterm election year, the state government and data teams decided to find out.

The goal was ambitious: Track every woman running for Congress, statewide office and state legislature in the country, get historical numbers for comparison and follow their electoral fates through Election Day to see if the movements had led to real change. That effort, which will be ongoing throughout the year, produced its first scoop last week when AP declared a record number of women running for the U.S. House of Representatives.

For breaking significant news on one of the most dominant political trends of the year, state government team reporters Christina Cassidy and Geoff Mulvihill, and data team visual journalist Maureen Linke share this week’s Best of the States.

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March 31, 2017

Best of the States

Coal ash: "Why would we be importing it?"

AP Richmond reporter Sarah Rankin learned from a state lawmaker that Chinese coal ash was being imported into Virginia, despite millions of tons of ash already stored near power plants, threatening surface and ground water with contamination by heavy metals. Like other states, Virginia is struggling with how to dispose of its existing waste.

Her story pinpointed where the overseas ash was coming from: China, India and Poland over the past two years. While the foreign shipments of the industrial byproduct were moving through Virginia to Wisconsin and Ohio, interviews with concrete producers and coal ash recyclers and sellers showed more ash was being imported into Virginia from other states.

One environmentalist raised the irony of the situation: "We have millions of tons of this sitting along our riverbanks. Why in the world would we be importing it from other states and countries?"

For exposing a problematic industry practice with statewide environmental and health implications, Rankin's story wins this week's Best of the States.

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June 22, 2018

Best of the States

Chicago gangs embrace social media – often with deadly results

Chicago legal affairs writer Michael Tarm had been anticipating the release of a 400-page report on gangs, compiled about once every six years by the Chicago Crime Commission. He touched base with the commission every few months for years, asking for advanced access to the documents.

It paid off.

Tarm obtained exclusive access to new law enforcement gang intelligence before its official release, then he spent weeks going through police and court records to find a gang-related killing to serve as a narrative of the findings. He uncovered the case of Lamanta Reese, a story illustrating how social media is transforming the city’s street-gang culture with deadly consequences. Gang member Reese, 19, had posted a smiley-face emoji on Facebook in response to an off-color joke about the mother of a rival gang member. Days later, that rival crossed the street between their gang factions, sneaked up on Reese and fatally shot him 11 times.

The story got strong play, with more than 10,000 page views on AP’s site the first day – almost 17,000 overall. The main story was published by 220 sites, including The New York Times and Washington Post, as well as the hometown Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times. The Sun-Times and Daily Herald also ran it in their papers.

For obtaining exclusive access to law enforcement gang intelligence before its official release, poring over police and court records, and drawing on in-depth sourcing to produce a multiformat, compelling narrative, Tarm wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 03, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Governor saw Greene arrest video months before prosecutors

scored their latest in a string of exclusives on the deadly 2019 arrest of Black motorist Ronald Greene, finding that Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards watched a key video of Greene taking his final breaths — a full six months before prosecutors were aware the footage even existed.While the Democrat has distanced himself from allegations of a cover-up in the explosive case by contending evidence was promptly turned over to authorities, AP’s monthslong investigation involving dozens of interviews and hundreds of pages of documents found that wasn’t the case with the 30-minute video he privately viewed in the fall of 2020.Response to the story was swift. A bipartisan legislative committee investigating the case in response to AP’s previous reporting indicated that it would move quickly to call Edwards and key members of his staff to testify under oath.Read more

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Aug. 06, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Deep reporting on a failed KKK murder plot reveals white supremacists working in Florida prison

Some stories just stick with a journalist. For AP investigative reporter Jason Dearen, a sparse 2015 announcement — three currrent or former Florida prison guards, identified by the FBI as Ku Klux Klansmen, had been arrested for plotting a former inmate’s murder — sparked a yearslong reporting effort.

Dearen’s big break came last summer when trial transcripts revealed an FBI informant was the star witness against the KKK members, his secret recordings providing a rare, detailed look at the inner workings of the klan cell and the domestic terrorism probe. Dearen and visual journalist David Goldman retraced the klansmen’s steps through Palatka, Florida, then producers Marshall Ritzel, Samantha Shotzbarger and Peter Hamlin stepped in to create a riveting online presentation.

The resulting all-formats package had immediate impact, with Florida papers featuring it on home pages and front pages, and prompting calls for investigations into white supremacy among prison workers. The story found 360,000 readers on AP News and kept them there for an average of more than five minutes — longer than any other AP story in memory.

For dogged reporting and an immersive all-formats narrative that exposes a salient, timely issue, Dearan, Goldman, Ritzel, Shotzbarger and Hamlin win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Dec. 18, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP analysis and reporting: Millions of hungry Americans turn to food banks for 1st time

Long lines of people and traffic seemed to indicate that dependency on food banks was on the rise in the U.S. as the COVID-19 pandemic hit home. But a team of AP journalists set out to know the facts and tell the stories of those relying on handouts — many accepting the aid for the first time.

Merging exclusive data analysis with in-depth personal reporting, the team delivered an accurate, powerful picture of food insecurity and economic distress in the U.S. AP’s analysis found a significant increase in food bank distribution during the pandemic, while all-formats AP journalists across the country reported from food lines and the homes of those relying on food aid.

For telling data analysis and on-the-ground coverage that harnessed AP’s national footprint to reveal the consequences of the pandemic economy, this AP team wins Best of the Week honors.

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Oct. 27, 2017

Best of the States

​APNewsBreak: Mike Pence's brother plans to run for Congress

Indiana political reporter Brian Slodysko knew Vice President Mike Pence’s older brother Greg, who for months had been eyeing a run for Congress, would soon announce that he was jumping into the race for his brother’s old seat.

Slodysko wanted to get the news out first and had been pushing Greg Pence’s advisers. But Slodysko became increasingly concerned the campaign would seek to bypass the media with an announcement directly to their supporters.

Looking for another way to get at the story, Slodysko found an IRS form submitted just days before to establish the Greg Pence for Congress political organization. Armed with that info, Slodysko was able to pull together a story, drawing not only on the IRS filing, but also his own in-depth research of the Pence family.

For finding a way to break a competitive story, Slodysko wins this week’s Best of the States prize.

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May 20, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Teamwork, sourcing put AP ahead on Buffalo mass shooting

teamed up to deliver fast, factual breaking coverage of Saturday’s racist mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket, then turned to stories of the victims and a community in mourning.In the chaotic first hours after the shooting, AP avoided the erroneous reporting of other outlets, including false reports that the gunman was dead. Sharp source work had AP accurately reporting the death toll ahead of the official news conference, and that authorities suspected the shooter was driven by racism.The all-formats coverage was AP’s top-performing story of the day, by far, widely used and credited by AP customers and drawing more than 1 million pageviews on AP News.Read more

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Dec. 11, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

In exclusive AP interview, AG Barr says no evidence of widespread election fraud, undermining Trump

Justice Department reporter Mike Balsamo has spent months cultivating sources at the Department of Justice, earning a reputation as an objective journalist who reports fairly and accurately. 

His relationships paid off with an exclusive interview of U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in which Barr said the DOJ could find no evidence of widespread voting fraud, dramatically undercutting President Donald Trump’s insistence to the contrary.

“I knew ... he had made probably the biggest news he has in his tenure as AG,” said Balsamo. His story topped the news cycle and resonated for days. No other news outlet could match it and AP was widely cited for the scoop.

For persistent, evenhanded reporting on the Justice Department beat resulting in the interview that netted one of AP’s most consequential news coups of the year, Balsamo wins AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Jan. 12, 2017

Best of the States

No family immune: A top US prosecutor talks exclusively to the AP about a heroin death: his son’s

In the course of source-building in early 2016, northeastern Pennsylvania correspondent Michael Rubinkam had lunch with a local lawyer. The lawyer mentioned that a member of the U.S. attorney's office had lost a son to heroin but had never spoken publicly about it.

Intrigued, Rubinkam asked the lawyer to approach the then-assistant prosecutor, Bruce Brandler, about an interview. Rubinkam had been looking for fresh ways to write about the scourge of heroin, and saw the prosecutor’s story as a powerful new example of how no family is immune.

But Brandler, he learned, was adamantly against going public with his family’s – and his son’s – story. It was too painful.

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Dec. 02, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Source development leads to two sharply different beats – on Henderson’s death and truck safety

The auto industry and Hollywood entertainment could hardly be more different worlds. But for AP reporters covering them, they have this in common: Building sources is essential.

Last week, Tom Krisher, a Detroit-based auto writer, and Lynn Elber, the TV writer in Los Angeles, demonstrated the value of great beat reporting. Both scored scoops that left competitors scrambling. Their stories also created a very unusual situation: A tie for Beat of the Week honors.

Krisher was the first to report the U.S. government was taking the unusual step of allowing General Motors to delay a large recall of potentially defective air bags, giving the automaker time to prove the devices are safe and possibly avoid a huge financial hit.

Elber broke the news of the death of Florence Henderson, "The Brady Bunch" star, about an hour after the beloved TV mom passed away in Los Angeles.

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Feb. 28, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

With speed and smarts, AP Germany team dominates mass shooting coverage

As news of a racially motivated café shooting started trickling out shortly before midnight on Feb. 19, the AP team in Germany burst into action with an all-hands-on-desk effort that dominated coverage of this major story. 

AP’s success included a huge win on live video coordinated by Kerstin Sopke, brisk filing of the breaking story by Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans, and Michael Probst’s photos from the scene that landed on the front pages of major publications.

Their effort was supplemented by a strong effort from other corners of the AP as journalists interviewed survivors and members of the immigrant community, wrote about the rise of far-right violence in Germany and followed the written trail left by the killer. Play for the story was phenomenal. 

For their speed, smart news judgment and superior coordination that gave AP a massive lead on a big story as it broke, Probst, Moulson, Sopke and Jordans are AP’s Best of the Week winners.

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Sept. 30, 2016

Best of the States

Lead crisis in housing project was actually no surprise

The down-at-the-heels industrial city of East Chicago, Indiana, made headlines around the world in August after the mayor ordered 1,000 people to get out of a 40-year-old public-housing complex because of lead contamination.

Many residents and observers expressed surprise: How could such a problem go overlooked for so many decades?

The Chicago bureau’s Sara Burnett and Jason Keyser teamed up for several weeks of intensive document and street reporting. What they found was as disturbing as the original news: The hazard shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone – because the housing complex had been built on the former site of a lead-products factory.

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