Sept. 10, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Resourceful post-hurricane reporting yields exclusives on Louisiana oil spills

As Hurricane Ida slammed into Louisiana — launching strong AP coverage that would stretch from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast — Washington-based investigative reporter Michael Biesecker contacted federal and state officials who kept telling him they had no confirmed reports of oil or chemical spills along the coast.

But Biesecker’s inspection of aerial photos by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told a different story. He found a worrying miles-long oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico off the region’s main oil and gas port, and another sheen coming from a massive oil refinery along the Mississippi River.

His persistence led to a series of exclusives on the two oil spills, including the news that divers had identified a broken undersea pipeline as the apparent source of the offshore slick.

For smart reporting that put AP ahead of the competition — and even ahead of the government and energy companies themselves — on an important environmental story in the wake of Ida, Biesecker is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Dec. 31, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

‘This is Joseph Moore’: FBI informant inside KKK reveals himself in riveting AP interview

AP investigative reporter Jason Dearen received a curious email on Dec. 1, claiming to be from Joseph Moore, a man Dearen had written about months earlier. Moore was an FBI undercover informant who had infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Florida and disrupted a murder plot by three klansmen working as prison guards.

Dearen and AP visual journalist Robert Bumsted soon found themselves in Florida interviewing Moore about his years in the klan.

Moore said he’d identified dozens of law enforcement officers who were either sympathetic to the klan, or active members, telling AP, “It is more prevalent and consequential than any of them are willing to admit.” Dearen also came away with details to further challenge Florida officials’ claims that they have no indication of wider klan or other criminal gang activity among their prison guards.

The “must read” story, accompanied by Bumsted's video, lit up online and numerous film producers inquired about film rights.

For chasing the story so long and covering it so well that it brought an underground FBI informant out of the shadows, Dearen and Bumsted earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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Dec. 16, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP spotlights remarkable rise of federal prison official accused of misconduct

Mike Balsamo in Washington and Mike Sisak in New York trained a lens on a single Bureau of Prisons official, Thomas Ray Hinkle, who received promotions across four decades despite repeated allegations of abuse, misconduct and even admissions by him that he’d beaten inmates in the past as part of a gang of guards called “The Cowboys.”

After being tipped earlier this year to Hinkle’s past, Sisak and Balsamo went about securing and scrutinizing 1,600 pages of documents that provided details of the allegations and developed key sources within the prisons system who corroborated the accusations. Finally, toward the end of the reporting process, they secured comment from Hinkle and the bureau, both of which acknowledged his previous excesses but said he was a changed man.

For a dogged and impactful investigation that caps a year in which their reporting has shaken the hierarchy of the federal prison systems and forced officials to confront abuses long out of public view, Balsamo and Sisak are Best of the Week 1st Winners.

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Aug. 05, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Rare access to barrier islands reveals loss of pelican habitat

reported from the ground, the water and from the air to document the impact of climate change and land loss on the vanishing island breeding grounds of Louisiana’s brown pelicans, as well as the people and other wildlife that depend on this coastal ecosystem.After obtaining permission to visit the off-limits barrier islands, the all-formats trio revealed in words and striking visuals the effects of erosion and sea level rise on the coastal habitat and Louisiana’s saltwater marshes, and what remains to be lost: Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican, brought back over decades from the edge of extinction.Read more

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May 31, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Mind-blowing exclusive: Security troops on US nuclear base took LSD

After five years exposing the struggles of the U.S. Air Force’s nuclear missile corps – security lapses, leadership and training failures, morale problems – Bob Burns uncovered an exclusive that was mind-blowing in every sense of the word: Airmen guarding a base in Wyoming had bought, distributed and used LSD.

Burns, a Washington-based national security writer, knew from his previous reporting on the missile corps that illegal drug use was a recurring problem and that the Air Force was reluctant to discuss it.

When the court martial proceedings began in 2016 he started filing FOIA requests for the transcripts and supporting legal documents. It took the Air Force well over a year to finish responding to Burns’ requests, but by January 2018 he had the bulk of the records he needed to piece together the story, including trial transcripts and related documents, with descriptions of drug experiences of airmen, ranging from panic to euphoria.

For his extraordinary revelation that some of the nation’s most deadly weapons were in the hands of hallucinating airmen, Burns takes this week's Beat of the Week award.

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Jan. 19, 2018

Best of the States

Strong sourcing, teamwork put AP ahead on offshore drilling news

For Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout, the first day of the legislative session began with the usual pomp and circumstance, and Gov. Rick Scott’s annual state of the state speech. From there it took a quick turn.

A source in Scott’s office called Fineout at around 4 p.m. to say that Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke would be flying in from Atlanta to meet with the governor – and both would be willing to talk to the media afterward. Fineout immediately emailed Matthew Daly in Washington, who covers Interior, and who had tapped into a key political problem in the Trump administration' recently announced offshore drilling plan: Republican governors were not on board.

At around 6 p.m. Zinke and Scott strode through Tallahassee’s small airport and dropped the news that Florida would be removed from the administration’s oil drilling plan. Before the two officials stopped talking, Fineout emailed Daly in D.C. to let him know the news that would soon create a torrent of criticism from other states that oppose the oil drilling plan. By the time Fineout got back to his car in the parking lot, Daly was moving the news alert.

Daly and Fineout’s model of teamwork put AP so far ahead some in the competition didn’t bother to catch up. For their initiative and coordinated effort to give AP an important beat, Fineout and Daly share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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July 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Moving photos: Spanish nursing home adds the human touch

crafted a tender, poignant photo package of nursing home residents in Spain hugging their relatives through protective sheets of plastic, his images almost instantly resonating among audiences worldwide. “One of the most moving epidemic-era photos I have seen,” wrote one Twitter user. Another called it “an ode to love and so heartbreaking. Terrific work.” Multiple media organizations including The Guardian and CNN included Morenatti’s work in their must-see photo collections of the week. https://bit.ly/2YK0iRg

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March 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Phone tip leads to shady company linked to border wall contract

The short Associated Press story out of San Diego about the first border wall contract awarded under the Trump administration made only a brief mention of the Omaha, Nebraska, company that had won the contract. But that prompted a woman to call the AP. She made several claims to Chicago-based Central Desk editor Jeff McMurray without offering proof, but he figured it was interesting enough to pass along. Omaha breaking news staffer Margery Beck was asked to check into the company.

As Beck examined state business records and court documents, she discovered that the company, SWF Constructors, operated at the same address as another business that had been sued a dozen times, including at least three times by the federal government, for failing to pay subcontractors on government projects. That company, Coastal Environmental Group, was also the subject of an Interior Department audit questioning $2 million in billing for a Superstorm Sandy cleanup contract.

For aggressive records-based reporting that resulted in a timely story no one else had, Beck receives this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 22, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Finance reports reveal North Dakota GOP infighting

used campaign finance reports to document North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is helping bankroll a political action campaign aimed at unseating a powerful legislator and fellow Republican who had frustrated some of Burgum’s goals. Burgum was elected in 2016 as an outsider businessman, and has long clashed with the state’s Republican old guard, including House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer. https://bit.ly/2LM84CL

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Nov. 08, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Migrants risk sea crossing to Yemen; disembark in hell

for bringing to light, with dramatic words and images, the largely unseen story of Ethiopians trying to reach jobs in Saudi Arabia who instead are systematically imprisoned, tortured, raped and starved by traffickers in a remote village on Yemen’s coast. The team brought the victims to life by reaching the site and finding migrants who had escaped only hours earlier, their wounds still fresh; one man died of starvation just hours after the AP saw him.https://bit.ly/2oPBTKOhttps://bit.ly/34Ma5GPhttps://bit.ly/32nYtIr

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