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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July 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: California rejected 100,000 botched mail-in ballots

obtained state data showing 102,000 mail ballots for California’s March presidential primary were rejected for lateness or other mistakes. In his exclusive report, Blood showed that mail-in voting can be fraught with problems at a time when the pandemic is driving many states to gear up for near-universal vote-by-mail in November, and as President Trump casts doubt on the system’s validity. The story played widely online and The New York Times flagged the story on its live election briefing. https://bit.ly/2BmTfoF

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Oct. 04, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scoop: California prisons ending program to make peace among gangs

for reporting exclusively that the California prison system was ending a controversial program in which it had attempted to get inmates who were members of rival gangs to meet and mingle in outdoor recreation areas. Thompson documented a series of fights, brawls and riots in the prison system, and officials decided to suspend the program, acknowledging that it had not worked as intended. https://bit.ly/2AFGQrX

Nov. 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

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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Oct. 23, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: PG&E lacked basic training before California blackouts

solved a central mystery of Pacific Gas & Electric’s intentional power shutoffs: why the utility was so prone to bungling the intentional blackouts.Following an earlier exclusive looking at PG&E’s blackout response last fall, Pritchard received a tip: PG&E had revealed it did not require emergency management personnel to be trained in emergency management. The pandemic interrupted that reporting, but he and Liedtke revisited it just as blackout season returned to California this year. Their central finding was startling: Among the hundreds of people who handled the 2019 blackouts from PG&E’s emergency operations center, only a handful had any training in California’s Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) – the playbook that California has used for a generation. In response to the reporters’ questions, PG&E revealed to AP that only “several” emergency operations center workers or executives had any SEMS training, something not even the executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission knew.The story rippled through the San Francisco Bay Area media market and outward from there, receiving strong play in broadcast, online and in print. https://bit.ly/2FNzlFA

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Jan. 28, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Elite California suburb clamps down on water wasters

reported exclusively on a California water district — home to Kim Kardashian and other celebrities — that may have the state’s harshest water restrictions during the current drought.The Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, just north of Los Angeles, is among districts that rely almost exclusively on state water supplies. Ronayne, Sacramento-based environment/climate reporter, learned of the district’s new penalties for water wasters while reporting that in the midst of drought, local districts may not get any of the state water supply they’d requested in 2022. She decided to find out more, reasoning that what’s being imposed in Las Virgenes may serve as a model for other water districts as the drought continues.When Las Virgenes officials explained they would slow water flow to a trickle for households that keep wasting, Ronayne knew she had a story. With further reporting, she confirmed that the district's conservation tactics went further than others.Ronayne’s exclusive on the district’s approach hooked AP customers and readers, partly because Las Virgenes serves celebrity-filled neighborhoods. District officials said many rich residents don't bother to cut back when fined; water isn't an expensive commodity for them and the penalties aren’t significant — until the water slows to a trickle. https://aplink.news/1dv

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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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Aug. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

California wildfire footage tops the field on a heavy news week

delivered impressive video of the raging California wildfires, grabbing AP’s top spots for video downloads – on a week when the Democratic convention was expected to dominate news cycles. Ranen and Chea captured powerful live shots, including homes ablaze with no firefighters in sight, as well as character-driven pieces about those who had evacuated and some who lost their homes. Fluty produced multiple video edits, spending hours scouring affiliate footage for the best shots, merged with AP’s own footage for compelling pieces that were heavily used by clients.https://bit.ly/3jj3Ilohttps://bit.ly/32zExEvhttps://bit.ly/2D33aR4https://bit.ly/34FLVk8https://bit.ly/3b5xAi4

Wildfires Video

Sept. 13, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scores series of beats on California boat fire that killed 34

for excellent source reporting and coordination that allowed AP to scoop other news outlets, often by hours, on several aspects of the aftermath of a diving boat fire, including: the recovery of 25 bodies, that the boat’s owners had preemptively sued to limit victims’ lawsuits, and that search warrants in a criminal inquiry were being served.https://bit.ly/2kB4XDPhttps://bit.ly/2kDNY3Bhttps://bit.ly/2lL2Mhihttps://bit.ly/2kE9Vjd

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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March 13, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Decision Desk caps stellar Super Tuesday with instant call: California for Sanders

On Super Tuesday afternoon, AP’s Stephen Ohlemacher and Emily Swanson were locked away in a conference room – isolated from their colleagues in the Washington bureau – reviewing incoming results from AP VoteCast. AP’s survey – developed to be more accurate than traditional exit polling – was already revealing what was about to happen on the biggest night of the Democratic presidential primary campaign.

The VoteCast data revealed trends in absentee voting and shifting preferences as Democratic candidates dropped out of the race, giving AP the evidence it needed to call California for Bernie Sanders as the state’s polls closed at 11:00 Eastern. News outlets relying on exit polls would not make that call for more than a week. 

Meanwhile, Seth Borenstein was crunching the numbers on the all-important delegate count, a task that required days of painstaking analysis of incomplete data to reach this conclusion: Joe Biden won more delegates on Super Tuesday than did Sanders.

Like the Caliofornia race call, news of Biden’s delegate victory rocketed around the world. 

For completing in-depth, accurate analysis of election data on deadline, enabling AP to tell the complete story of Super Tuesday before all others, Swanson, Ohlemacher and Borenstein win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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