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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Jan. 11, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP traces child labor from Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields to major brands, Girl Scout cookies

For the third installment of their groundbreaking investigation into labor abuse in Asia’s palm oil industry, reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason linked child labor to the supply chains of the makers of popular cereals, candies and ice creams, including KitKats, Oreos and Cap’n Crunch. They also traced the oil to that most American treat: Girl Scout cookies. 

Joined by photographers Binsar Bakkara and Mark Humphrey, and video journalist Allen Breed, their reporting found that some tens of thousands of children toil in the palm fields, some kept from school and forced to work for free or for little pay. Some are trafficked.

The framing of the story — through the eyes of a young girl in the fields in Indonesia and a Tennessee Girl Scout campaigning to have palm oil removed from the cookies — resonated with readers; reaction on social media led the Girl Scouts to address the issue with their suppliers.

For shedding unprecedented light on the children toiling in Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields, and connecting the abusive practice to major consumer brands, McDowell, Mason, Bakkara, Breed and Humphrey share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 28.

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Sept. 01, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Massage therapists tell AP: Deshaun Watson case renews stigma

reported on an overlooked angle in the saga of NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was fined and suspended for 11 games after he was accused of sexual misconduct with a massage therapist. Walker examined the impact Watson’s case and the wave of coverage surrounding it has had on the massage therapy profession, which has long battled stigmas and misconceptions.Pro football writer Walker covered a national convention of massage therapists, coincidentally held just a block from the stadium where Watson’s Cleveland Browns will play. Convention attendees were initially reluctant to speak with her, but Walker used her familiarity with massage therapy to get them to open up about the Watson case and other challenges to the profession. She also made video and photos for the multiformat package which played widely in North America.Read more

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Feb. 01, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Secret diplomacy behind Venezuela’s self-declared interim president

The world watched enthralled on Jan. 23 as little-known Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president of the struggling South American nation and called on socialist President Nicolas Maduro to resign. More surprising still, the United States, Canada and a host of Latin American countries recognized Guaido almost immediately as the country’s rightful leader.

The timing was clearly no coincidence, but what exactly had happened?

Andean News Director Josh Goodman, Canada Bureau Chief Rob Gillies and Washington newsman Luis Alonso shared first-rate source work to scoop everyone, revealing a coordinated behind-the-scenes push to back Guaido that read like a spy novel. For weeks, a coalition of Latin American governments had launched secret diplomatic efforts, including encrypted messages and a furtive trip by Guaido to Washington, Bogota and Brasilia to build a strategy around the baby-faced Assembly president.

So far, the AP is the only media outlet to have told this story, and it has been widely used inside and outside Venezuela. Even embattled President Maduro praised the AP scoop to supporters at a rally over the weekend.

For their resourceful and consequential news break on one of the top stories in the world, Goodman, Gillies and Alonso win AP’s Best of the Week.

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Jan. 06, 2017

Best of the States

Disability and desperation

When federal prosecutors alleged that Kentucky attorney Eric Conn had funneled $600 million in fraudulent disability claims to Appalachia, Claire Galofaro saw a chance to tell a much bigger story.

Over a period of months, Galofaro, the AP’s administrative correspondent in Louisville, sat in on federal hearings and heard the anguish of Conn’s former clients, some severely disabled, others who seemed like they might be able-bodied enough to be working. She met with many who were being asked to prove their disability years after it had first been approved by the government, forced to go searching for old medical records in order to make a case they thought they had already made.

She learned about three people who killed themselves rather than face the prospect of demonstrating, once again, that they were disabled and unable to work.

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Dec. 20, 2016

Best of the States

Strong source work nets APNewsBreak in self-driving car showdown between Uber and Calif. officials

Los Angeles reporter Justin Pritchard has made the fledgling “autonomous vehicle” industry a sub-beat and has developed sourcing that has produced a number of significant beats for AP. When he heard Uber would begin picking up San Francisco passengers in its self-driving cars, he saw a confrontation brewing with California regulators and the opportunity for another scoop.

Uber had decided not to abide by a requirement to get a permit before starting its service in its hometown. Uber’s aggressive approach in San Francisco crashed a delicately crafted regulatory truce _ the 20 other companies testing prototypes on public roads applied for the permit before hitting the streets, and agreed to report crashes and other safety metrics.

The cars Uber was bringing to San Francisco seemed just the kind that would need a permit, but the leader of Uber’s self-driving program ­_ Anthony Levandowski _told Pritchard in an interview the day before the launch that they didn’t. He argued that because a person was behind the wheel to monitor the car, it was not advanced enough to need a permit.

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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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Dec. 01, 2016

Best of the States

US moves to block mining near Yellowstone

The Obama administration is racing in its final days to keep industry out of natural and environmentally sensitive areas throughout the U.S. West, where the incoming Trump administration has raised fears of loosened regulations on federal lands.

Billings, Montana Correspondent Matt Brown _ who has an acute sense of the value in reporting on land out West _ has broken news repeatedly to keep the AP ahead.

Brown is deeply sourced with federal interior officials and consistently checks in with them. He was working on a story week about officials canceling oil and gas leases on land near Glacier National Park that's considered sacred to tribes – also an APNewsBreak – when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell mentioned she was coming back to Montana in a week.

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Nov. 25, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Too quiet on the set: Filming accidents often go untold

The 2012 film “The Avengers” cemented Marvel’s dominance at the box office, but the movie had a secret: A man had died bringing the blockbuster to the big screen. John Suttles died after falling from his truck while preparing to drive it to a set, but his name was not listed in the film's credits. Outside the production and Suttles’ family, the only clue to his death and its connection to the movie was an 84-page investigative file by the workplace safety agency, Cal/OSHA.

That clue was uncovered by AP Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney, who began investigating set accidents in 2014. After diving into state and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration records, he discovered that dozens of workers had been killed and more had been seriously hurt on big-name television and film properties. Set accidents remain largely hidden, and the consequences usually amount to mere thousands of dollars in fines paid out of multimillion-dollar budgets, he reported. McCartney also catalogued numerous fatal film-set accidents internationally. His painstaking work wins Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 25, 2016

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP report: Today's energy system could blow Paris climate goals

for using scientific sources and data to reveal that the world energy system has already locked in enough carbon emissions in existing power plants and transportation to blow the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. The story, written from the site of one of Europe's dirtiest coal power plants, was accompanied by Michael Sohn photos and a video edited and scripted by Stockholm videojournalist David Keyton using footage from Germany, Sweden and California. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/current...

Oct. 20, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

An accidental shooting kills a child every other day

The tragic stories pop up frequently in local media: a curious toddler gets hold of a gun and accidentally shoots himself or someone else. But how often does that happen? Under what circumstances? And what children are most at risk?

In a new investigative partnership, a team of reporters from the AP and USA TODAY Network spent six months seeking answers to those questions and others about accidental shootings involving minors. What they discovered is horrifying: A child dies every other day of an accidental shooting in the United States. What's more, the federal government significantly undercounts the problem.

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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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Sept. 23, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Pro-painkiller echo chamber shaped policy amid drug epidemic

Combine the capabilities of The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity, and this is what you can get: A two-part blockbuster that exposed the efforts of the opioid industry and allied groups to stymie limits on the use of its powerful drugs, and detailed how they spent more than $880 million on lobbying and political contributions over the past decade.

The genesis of the project was a conversation between Tom Verdin, editor of AP’s state government team, and Geoff Mulvihill, a member of that team. Mulvihill, based in Mount Laurel, N.J., has covered the opioid crisis sweeping the nation, and the two hit upon the idea of trying to determine the extent of the pharmaceutical industry’s exerting influence in state legislatures across the country.

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