Aug. 11, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Cross-format reporting keeps AP ahead on coverage of Niger’s coup 

West Africa correspondent Sam Mednick was in Niamey — by chance to make use of a visa nearing expiration — when mutinous bodyguards launched a coup against their president. But her stellar, singlehanded all-formats coverage is due entirely to her extraordinary multimedia skills and perseverance.

Day after day, Mednick produced live video, photos of demonstrations, WhatsApp clips to colleagues and interviews on and off the record to show the importance of the coup in a country that has long been considered a bulwark of democracy against Islamic extremism and autocracy.

The result: A story that Mednick owned alone among international journalists.

For her tireless, astonishing multimedia coverage in a place where few of our competitors, if any, had a presence on the ground, we are honored to award Sam Mednick the Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Sept. 08, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Reporting raises questions about abortion story told during GOP debate, scores several firsts

It was among the most puzzling moments of the first Republican presidential debate: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to answer a question about supporting a national abortion ban and instead offered a story about a woman he met who had survived “multiple abortion attempts” and was saved after being “discarded in a pan.” The tale was clearly meant to curry favor with the conservative voters who decide GOP primaries, but was it true?

Dogged reporting over several days by a team of three reporters — democracy team misinformation reporters Ali Swenson and Christine Fernando, and Miami-based national political reporter Adriana Gomez Licon — found that the woman did exist but that her birth story was far more complicated than the version described by DeSantis. While other outlets also pursued DeSantis’ story, the AP team had several significant firsts: They were was the first to interview the woman and get her story first hand; the first to surface newspaper stories from the 1950s that offered a much different version of events; and the first to get historical photos from the time she was born, including one showing her as a baby being discharged from the hospital. These allowed AP to distinguish its coverage of a nationally significant moment in the GOP presidential primary.

Swenson quickly found a few old news articles about the woman and two YouTube videos that featured her telling her story for anti-abortion advocacy groups and looped in Gomez Licon, who had spent years covering DeSantis in Florida, and Fernando, who had covered the national abortion debate extensively in her previous job.

It was Fernando who reached the woman, Miriam “Penny” Hopper, and persuaded her to talk to the AP. Gomez Licon meanwhile worked with news researcher Rhonda Shafner and local libraries in central Florida to surface newspaper clippings from 1956 about the medical effort to save the baby.

For scoring significant firsts on a story that widely resonated, Swenson, Fernando and Gomez Licon win this week’s first citation for Best of the Week.

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Sept. 29, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP secures intimate access to Ukraine’s counteroffensive 

The Associated Press spent two weeks with a Ukrainian assault brigade for an intimate glimpse into the speed, direction and cost of the counteroffensive to regain Bakhmut. 

Mstyslav Chernov’s reporting was unparalleled and gathered at great risk. He spent two weeks with members of the brigade and even accompanied a commander as he raised the Ukrainian flag in a village under shelling. Using self-shot material, drone footage and helmet camera video Chernov wove together the narrative of the brigade’s struggle. Viewers were taken on their journey and exposed to the stark realities of the war — foxholes, close-quarter gun battles, trauma and death. 

Global investigations correspondent Lori Hinnant, reporting from Paris, brought this story alive in words with a gripping blow-by-blow account of what the men had to go through, while photographer Alex Babenko and producer Volodymyr Yurchuk also helped put the stunning package together. 

The story’s timing was perfect, coming just as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was trying to build support for the Ukrainian counteroffensive at the United Nations and was also among the most engaged of the entire week at a time, showing the importance of continuing to bear witness. 

For securing unparalleled access and taking great personal risk to produce an intimate picture of Ukraine’s frontline, Chernov and Hinnant are awarded Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Dec. 15, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Former career US diplomat charged with secretly spying for Cuban intelligence for decades

Relying on relentless source work and their joint years of experience, Joshua Goodman and Eric Tucker landed twin scoops on the arrest and indictment of a former career American diplomat charged with being a secret agent for communist Cuba for decades.

Manuel Rocha, who was formerly ambassador to Bolivia, was accused of engaging in “clandestine activity” on Cuba’s behalf since at least 1981, the year he joined the U.S. foreign service. While the case was short on specifics of how Rocha may have assisted the island nation, it provided a vivid case study of how Cuba and its sophisticated intelligence services seek to target, and flip, U.S. officials.

First word came to Latin America correspondent Goodman from a trusted source who called on a Friday evening to say the FBI had arrested Rocha earlier that day at his home in Miami but details were under seal. He enlisted Washington-based Tucker to see if his national security sources could help shake anything loose about the case.

Their break came Sunday — with the case still sealed — when sources gave them enough information to report that Rocha was arrested on federal charges of being an agent of the Cuban government. Their urgent story, which included extensive background on Rocha’s diplomatic stops in Bolivia, Argentina, Havana and elsewhere, staked out AP’s ownership of the case.

More details followed the next morning with another AP break, when Goodman and Tucker obtained the sealed case affidavit from highly placed sources nearly an hour before it was filed, allowing them to trounce the competition with a fast news alert and urgent series.

For putting AP far ahead in revealing what the Justice Department called one of the highest-reaching infiltrations of the U.S. government by a foreign agent, Goodman and Tucker are Best of the Week — First Winner.

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