Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the States

Request denied? Sunshine Hub sheds light on state efforts to block public access

Beyond its dramatic effects, the audio from 911 calls can provide the kind of context that is essential to the public's understanding of what happened during a newsworthy crime or emergency. Those recordings are, with few exceptions, a matter of public record. That almost changed this year in Iowa, where the state House passed – unanimously – a bill that would end the public's ability to access many 911 calls. The bill eventually died after an outcry from the media, watchdog groups and civil rights organizations, but it was not unusual. A months-long project by AP reporters and data journalists found more than 150 bills introduced in state legislatures this year that were intended to eliminate or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings.

To help reporters find, track and provide input on those bills, Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen of the data team created a unique online tool that provided full access to AP customers.

Called the Sunshine Hub, it helps users keep track of legislative activity related to government transparency, suggest new bills, search for and categorize bills for research purposes, and discuss legislation with others. The Sunshine Hub directly complemented stories by Ryan Foley in Iowa, Andrew DeMillo in Arkansas and Laurie Kellman in Washington.

For their groundbreaking reporting and software development, Tumgoren, Rasmussen, Foley, DeMillo and Kellman win this week's Best of the States award.

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May 24, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Military prosecutors sent tracking software to defense team, reporter

Los Angeles courts reporter Brian Melley was enjoying a Sunday afternoon when a longtime legal source reached out with a remarkable tip in the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL facing a court martial on charges he murdered a teenage Islamic State fighter in Iraq in 2017.

The source told Melley that military prosecutors, frustrated by leaks in the case, planted tracking software in emails sent to defense lawyers and a reporter. The unsophisticated software was quickly discovered by the recipients.

Melley worked up the story, including an interview with a military law expert who thought the tactic was ethically, legally and intellectually dubious. His story hit the wire the next morning, quickly gaining traction online. AP was widely credited everywhere it appeared and no major media outlet matched it.

For giving AP an exclusive on an important military justice story, Melley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 11, 2020

Best of the States

AP examines troubling trend of women dropping out of the workforce

As parents scramble to manage their own work and their kids’ remote learning during the pandemic, AP business reporters Alexandra Olson and Cathy Bussewitz wanted to know how that shift impacted the careers of mothers and fathers. 

They dug into the data, finding that in order to tend to their children, working mothers were giving up their careers more so than working fathers. And they tapped into parenting networks to find families in this situation. What emerged was evidence of a trend that threatens decades of hard-fought gains by working women, who are still far from achieving labor force parity with men.

For timely reporting that documents a disturbing social and economic trend brought on by the pandemic, Olson and Bussewitz win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 11, 2016

Best of the States

Was California's $350 million experiment to replace lawns amid drought worth the cost?

In drought-stricken California, the state and dozens of water agencies embarked upon a unique social experiment: try to break the love affair with the lawn by paying residents to rip out their turf and replace it with less thirsty landscaping. San Francisco-based environment reporter Ellen Knickmeyer, who has been covering the state’s historic five-year drought, decided to dig into the water-saving strategy and determine whether it was worth the cost.

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April 24, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP gets ‘blockbuster’ scoop on China’s delay in warning of the coronavirus

What and when did authorities in China know about the coronavirus’ initial spread and did they react fast enough? Those have become burning questions as COVID-19 tears a deadly and destructive path across the globe.

Among the toughest to answer, too. 

The Associated Press cracked open China’s lockdown on information with an exclusive story – based on internal documents and expert testimony – revealing that top officials in Beijing knew about a likely pandemic, but held off on warning the public for at least six days – while tens of thousands attended a banquet in Wuhan and millions more travelled for Lunar New Year festivities.

The story’s byline – “By The Associated Press” – testified to the risks run by the reporter who secured and developed the major scoop.

For breaking through China’s tightly policed walls of information control about the critical first days of the pandemic, with a scoop secured in one of the world’s toughest media environments, the unnamed but not unsung AP reporter is this week’s Best of the Week laureate.

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June 28, 2019

Best of the States

AP Analysis: EPA data says US air quality is slipping; EPA regulation could make it worse

Washington science writer Seth Borenstein knew the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was not going to notify anyone when it posted new data on the nation’s air quality for 2018, but he knew where it would be posted. He also knew that the Trump administration was poised to replace an Obama-era clean-air rule with a new regulation that was friendlier to coal-fired power plants, so he kept checking for the agency’s data.

When the data finally showed up, Borenstein teamed with New York-based Health and Science data journalist Nicky Forster to evaluate the data, put it in context and run it by scientists. Forster even pointed out errors that the EPA was forced to correct.

Their persistence made AP the first to report that the annual number of days of poor air quality in the U.S. had increased for the second year in a row, after decades of improvement. The story ran on the eve of the EPA’s announcement of its loosened regulation, undermining the rationale for the new standards with the government’s own numbers. Trump’s new rule, experts told the AP, could turn what is so far a modest backslide into a deadly trend.

For diligent reporting and sophisticated analysis to hold a federal agency accountable for its data and regulatory policy, Borenstein and Forster earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 10, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Intimate AP package explores the burdens borne by young children providing essential care for parents

Health writer Tom Murphy was talking with an advocacy group for patients with Lou Gehrig’s disease about obstacles in caregiving, when he heard something arresting: Often, it’s children who provide the care.

With that spark, Murphy dug into the research and found that millions of school-aged children across the country are doing heavy-duty caregiving tasks. He and video journalist Shelby Lum then worked for weeks to ensure they could fully show what a family goes through every day. They discovered a family that was not only cooperative but compelling: The Kotiya/Pandya family welcomed Murphy, Lum and photographer Mat Otero into their Texas home where the team shadowed the family’s two young caregivers.

With that access, the trio produced a remarkably rich, engaging all-formats package that hooked readers and viewers.

For shining a delicate but bright light on the heart-wrenching reality of grade schoolers having to be as adept with a breathing machine as with Legos, the team of Murphy, Lum and Otero is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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May 11, 2017

Best of the States

Fenway incident prompts a deeper look at racial issues in Boston sports

When Baltimore Orioles' outfielder Adam Jones was the target of racial slurs at Fenway Park, the story resonated beyond sports, and required reporting that provided deeper context and meaning.

Philadelphia reporter Errin Whack has written previously about the intersection of sports, culture and race as a member of AP's Race & Ethnicity reporting team. She was tasked with explaining why Boston is perceived, particularly among blacks, as a racist sports town – a perception that also is challenged by many others as unfair and outdated. She had to figure out a way to plainly and objectively lay out for readers where this perception came from, and the lasting effect it has on both the city and its sports teams.

And she had to get this done on a tight deadline. For her timely, layered look at this racially-charged issue, Whack receives this week's Best of States award.

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March 27, 2020

Best of the States

Fast, definitive work on US price gouging complaints amid coronavirus crisis

When reporters Justin Pritchard and Reese Dunklin were asked to look into price gouging and profiteering off the coronavirus crisis, they  sought to go deeper by employing a key part of their investigative reporting toolkit: a systematic reporting strategy.

The pair quickly executed a plan to question attorneys general in all 50 states, resulting in the most comprehensive look yet at the problem across the nation. In just two days of reporting, Pritchard and Dunklin uncovered more than 5,000 reports of everything from price gouging on toilet paper and masks, to scams offering tests and even cures for the illness. 

Their brightly written story won strong play on a busy day of coronavirus news, hitting the wire hours before Attorney General William Barr announced new actions against such crimes.

For fast, aggressive work that tapped into a topic on the public’s mind, AP recognizes Pritchard and Dunklin with this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 27, 2018

Best of the States

Private messaging apps used for official business test open records laws

Smart phone private messaging apps are great for keeping secrets. The apps delete messages almost immediately and do not allow them to be saved, copied or captured with a screenshot.

But what about use of the apps by government officials and elected representatives? State Government Team reporter Ryan Foley spotted a trend of public officials increasingly using such apps for official business. It’s a trend that alarms advocates for open government, who say it undermines state laws designed to ensure transparency and access to records.

Foley’s research was based in large part on use of a new legislative tracking tool called the Sunshine Hub that was developed by AP Data Team members Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen. The tool allowed Foley to see whether bills addressing the trend were being introduced in state legislatures across the country. And indeed they were.

The resulting story won play on more than two dozen front pages and prompted several editorials, including one in The Columbus Dispatch warning that officials’ use of message-vanishing apps was the same as destroying public records.

For their efforts in exposing a potentially dangerous anti-transparency trend among government officials, and developing a unique tool to track it, Foley, Tumgoren and Rasmussen win the Best of the States award.

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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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March 05, 2021

Best of the States

AP journalists deliver outstanding all-formats coverage to mark 500,000 COVID deaths in US

The U.S. surpassed a solemn milestone on Feb. 22 with 500,000 COVID-19 deaths — a moment in the pandemic that required thoughtful planning and storytelling, and precise execution across the AP for the coverage to stand out.

Editors began planning weeks in advance. They wanted impactful photo and video packages, lightning-fast spot coverage of the milestone being reached, and a text story to anchor the report that was different from AP’s previous recognition of 100,000, 250,000 and 400,000 deaths. 

The result was a package that resonated in all formats.

For meeting the grim milestone with compelling, comprehensive coverage, the team of Adam Geller, Jocelyn Gecker, Alyssa Goodman, Pete Brown, Eugene Garcia, Manuel Valdes and Krysta Fauria wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 13, 2020

Best of the States

Tennessee team does double duty when tornadoes strike on Super Tuesday

When tornadoes tore through Middle Tennessee in the early-morning hours of Super Tuesday, AP’s staff deftly pivoted from preparing for the state’s primary to covering a natural disaster. 

From first light on Tuesday and throughout the day, Nashville and Memphis staffers delivered compelling all-formats coverage of the devastation that left at least 24 dead statewide. The team also connected the disaster to the primary, monitoring the impact on voting.

Strong aftermath coverage followed, including a presidential visit on Friday and well-received pieces on recovery efforts and a worship service at a damaged church. With out-of-state staffers and the entire South Desk contributing to the coverage, the sustained effort showed the AP at its best.

For proving nimble, responsive and collaborative coverage on a major breaking news story under chaotic conditions, the multiformat Tennessee team of Travis Loller, Kristin Hall, Kimberlee Kruesi, Mark Humphrey, Jonathan Mattise, Adrian Sainz and Teresa Walker shares this week’s Best of the States award. 

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Dec. 17, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP responds to US tornadoes with sweeping, distinctive all-formats coverage

When a tornado warning sounded Friday night, AP’s Appalachian staffers scrambled to find whatever information they could in the dead of night. By early Saturday morning it had become clear Kentucky was going to be the epicenter of one of the most powerful tornadoes to hit the region in recent memory.Staffers responded quickly in all formats, including the first live video from the devastated town of Mayfield. Coverage included residents’ wrenching accounts of survival and loss, and powerful visuals, but there was also an important pause in AP’s coverage: Many news outlets breathlessly reported the governor’s grim prediction that as many as 70 people may have died in the collapse of a candle factory. AP was more cautious, preserving its reputation for accuracy when the actual toll came in much lower.AP’s mainbar text stories, photos and video — live and edited — all earned heavy play.

For smart, fast, determined coverage in the days immediately following the storm, the team of Bruce Schreiner, Claire Galofaro, Dylan Lovan, John Raby, Travis Loller, Mark Humphrey, Gerald Herbert, Kristin Hall and Robert Bumsted is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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July 13, 2018

Best of the States

Two stories focus on young victims impacted by US immigration policy

In two moving pieces of journalism in the last week, Associated Press journalists cast a powerful spotlight on the toll of White House immigration policies on young children.

One story started with a question posed by immigration beat team reporter Nomaan Merchant: Could we profile a single block or community where multiple immigrants had been picked up, and explore the impact of those arrests?

Merchant, joined by video journalist Manuel Valdes and photographer Greg Bull, zeroed in on a community in Kentucky that was the site of a two-day Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid last December.

Their reporting turned up examples of people who were arrested by happenstance, and with no criminal records – despite the administration’s mantra that the raids are for public safety. Perhaps the most poignant reporting and images focused on a 4-year-old boy whose father was arrested.

Meanwhile, Arizona immigration reporter Astrid Galvan was looking for ways to tell the stories of children separated from their parents at the border. She found a juvenile docket in Phoenix immigration court and camped out there for the day.

What she found was a major story that affected the national debate on immigration – a 1-year-old boy who had a court appearance with a lawyer. Galvan described in vivid detail how he nursed from his bottle, asked his care giver for “agua” and cried when the care giver retrieved his diaper bag. And she captured the money quote as a judge expressed his bafflement at having to advise a defendant of his rights when the defendant was a 1-year-old boy in diapers.

For exclusive, compelling stories that drove the narrative on a subject of prevailing interest, Galvan, Merchant, Valdes and Bull win this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 09, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Reporter’s instincts, deep preparation break stunning news of Cosby case reversal and prison release

Comedian Bill Cosby had been in a Pennsylvania prison for more than two years last December when the state’s high court took on his appeal of his sexual assault conviction.

As seven months went by without a decision, Philadelphia-based legal affairs reporter Maryclaire Dale — who had been instrumental in breaking the original Cosby story — thought there might be something newsy in the works. Her instincts led to deep preparation that put AP ahead on one of the biggest news stories of the summer, one that almost no one but Dale had anticipated.

When the court tweeted out its opinion Wednesday, AP’s news alert moved within minutes, followed less than one minute later with a short breaking news story that Cosby's conviction was overturned, and that he would be released from prison. Both alerts beat all the competition; a full story moved less than two minutes later. Dale and colleagues followed up with full coverage throughout the day, with Cosby later appearing before cameras at his home, as the original news story drew heavy engagement online and maintained the top spot in Google’s news carousel.

For sharp anticipation and flawless execution that put AP ahead on a story that dominated the news cycle, Dale earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 11, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Accountability reporting uncovers taxpayer-funded anti-abortion centers, racial disparities in access

With the continued weakening of state laws protecting women’s rights to abortion in the U.S., the AP’s strong coverage of abortion continues with two stories earning Best of the Week for impressive state accountability reporting and analysis.

A story that surfaced in Tennessee, finding federal dollars being spent on nonprofits aligned with the anti-abortion movement, revealed that legislatures in about a dozen U.S. states were funneling millions of taxpayer dollars to so-called crisis pregnancy centers that are typically unlicensed and have been accused of engaging in misinformation campaigns targeting pregnant women.

A second story focused on racial inequities in access to abortion, an idea sparked by an observation during a visit to the Shreveport, La., abortion clinic where almost every woman in the waiting room was Black. The all-formats package showed how minority women in states where abortion is under attack have the most to lose if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Both stories drew strong play on AP News and customer platforms.

For revelatory state stories on two elements in the pitched national debate over abortion rights, Kruesi, Willingham, Wagster Pettus, Nasir, Solis and Lo earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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Feb. 21, 2020

Best of the States

AP crew expertly covers a wild and constantly shifting Daytona 500

In any year, coverage of the Daytona 500 is a major undertaking that presents challenges. NASCAR’s biggest event stretches nearly two weeks and story planning begins a month in advance. 

But this year the AP crew had to adjust on the fly as the story veered in multiple directions. First, President Donald Trump finalized a visit just 48 hours in advance. Then rain fell early in the race, eventually postponing the event until the following day. And finally, a lurid crash just short of the checkered flag resulted in a stunning finish followed by an agonizing wait for news on the condition of driver Ryan Newman.

The AP team never faltered, deftly handling everything Daytona threw at them with informed, precise reporting and outstanding images.

For constantly keeping the AP ahead during a wild weekend, writers Jenna Fryer, Dan Gelston and Mark Long, and photographers John Raoux and Chris O’Meara share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 14, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP: 'Apprentice' cast and crew say Trump was lewd and sexist

Donald Trump's public comments about women have been a familiar theme in the tumultuous presidential campaign. But what had he said behind the scenes on "The Apprentice," the TV show that made him a household name?

That's the question AP’s Garance Burke set out to answer. Combining shoe-leather reporting with an adept use of social media, the San Francisco-based national investigative reporter tracked down more than 20 people willing to talk about the Republican nominee's language on the set. They recalled Trump making demeaning, crude and sexist comments toward and about female cast and crew members, and that he discussed which contestants he would like to have sex with.

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