Feb. 08, 2019

Best of the States

The ‘Left Behind’; AP profiles the other victims of opioids

As the opioid epidemic barrels into its third decade, it’s increasingly hard to find fresh ways to report on the problem. One group that has always been present, usually in the background of stories, are the parents, hundreds of thousands of them who desperately tried to save their children, then buried them anyway. Louisville, Kentucky-based national writer Claire Galofaro chose to focus on them, the survivors who have lost the most to the epidemic.

The project involved journalists across formats throughout the country – Jae Hong, Steven Senne, Pat Semansky, Jeff Roberson, Mark Humphrey, Rodrique Ngowi, Krysta Fauria, Dario Lopez, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Carla Johnson – teaming with Galofaro and enterprise editors Pauline Arrillaga, Jeannie Ohm, Raghu Vadarevu and Enric Marti to think creatively about how text, video, multimedia and photos could work together.

The result was two beautifully written narratives paired with photographs, an extensive Q&A about the epidemic, a full video story and three digital videos in which we hear three different mothers talking about the extreme lengths they went to to try and save their children.

The series struck a raw nerve – engagement was extraordinary: The main story was No. 1 on apnews.com the day it ran, and it appeared on newspaper front pages nationwide. A week later, news outlets were still using it. Hundreds of readers sent emails and tweets. More than one person said that they felt like they were sitting with these families in their living rooms.

For a cross-format effort so intimate, so devastating, it recaptured the attention of a nation that had been exhausted by stories about the opioid epidemic, the team that produced the Left Behind package wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 30, 2020

Best of the States

AP breaks news on the opioid epidemic and Purdue Pharma, with focus on victims

AP reporters from three different teams broke distinctive, significant stories on the continuing drug overdose crisis in the U.S., which has been overshadowed this year by the coronavirus pandemic:

— A state-level report showing that overdose deaths are on pace to reach an all-time high this year, and that overdoses increased after the virus began spreading in the U.S.— An accountability story on President Donald Trump’s handling of the opioid crisis, and how the issue has been overlooked in the presidential race.— A major scoop on a settlement between the federal government and Purdue Pharma, complete with details of criminal charges and the $8 billion settlement. 

But the depth of coverage didn’t end with the major news beats. All three stories put victims at the center of the reporting. 

For revealing stories that broke news and provided a powerful reminder of an ongoing epidemic that has contributed to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans, Mike Stobbe, Adrian Sainz, Farnoush Amiri, Geoff Mulvihill, Meghan Hoyer and Michael Balsamo win this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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June 14, 2018

Best of the States

Lobbyists – including House speaker’s brother – influence Florida’s payments to victims

In Florida, the Legislature has to approve court awards – beyond a capped amount – for lawsuits alleging wrongdoing by a state or local agency.

So when Florida Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout began hearing about a surge in payouts to victims and families harmed by government actions, he began digging into public and legislative records. What he found confirmed the influence of lobbyists, and of one lobbyist in particular: the House speaker’s brother.

Fineout found that claims lobbied by the speaker’s brother had a substantial rate of success. Of the $37.5 million in claims bills approved over the past two years, nearly half was awarded to victims represented by Michael Corcoran, brother of Florida’s House speaker.

One state lawmaker, a candidate for attorney general, said the process needs fixing, and said that Florida should have a codified, egalitarian process for awarding payments, one that doesn’t rely on who has the best lobbyist.

Fineout's story received extensive play, including a rare banner headline atop A1 in the state's largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. The Sun-Sentinel newspaper said in an editorial that “Florida owes thanks to Gary Fineout ... for shedding light on a dark side of Florida government.”

For work that South News Director Ravi Nessman called a “perfect example of the kind of tough, accountability reporting that we prize so much from our statehouses,” Fineout wins this week's Best of the States award.

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June 11, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Daring AP team crosses front lines to report on Ethiopia’s Tigray rebels and war’s civilian victims

Since the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia broke out seven months ago, news coverage has necessarily focused on those who fled the region. And AP journalists have delivered that coverage since November. But few journalists could reach areas under the control of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the party of Tigray’s now-fugitive leaders. Access was refused by the Ethiopian military. Until now.

AP’s Kampala, Uganda, correspondent Rodney Muhumuza and the Nairobi, Kenya-based team of Khaled Kazziha, Ben Curtis and Desmond Tiro made it through to the town of Hawzen with determination, teamwork and skill. 

Once there, and knowing the risks, the all-formats team limited themselves to less than an hour in the town, during which they reported exclusively on the TPLF fighters then occupying it. Hours after the journalists left, government troops shelled the town and recaptured it. The team later interviewed displaced victims of the conflict, including child amputees. The resulting multiformat story used the Hawzen as an example of the challenges facing Ethiopian authorities in the region. 

For smart, careful and courageous reporting to become the first outside journalists since the conflict started to interview fighters loyal to the TPLF, Muhumuza, Curtis, Kazziha and Tiro earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 02, 2018

Best of the States

Texas effort to streamline hurricane recovery backfires

As the six-month mark approached of Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas, Austin Administrative Correspondent Will Weissert and Fort Worth Correspondent Emily Schmall teamed up to report exclusively that the state’s decision to lead housing recovery – meant to be faster and better than anything the federal government could muster – was actually resulting in backlogs that made the chaotic response after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina look good by comparison.

Acting on a tip, the duo dug into federal records and added field reporting to produce a multi-format report showing that delay by the governor, and the state land office’s steep learning curve, meant temporary shelter and quick-fix home repair programs were rolling out at a startlingly slow pace.

For excellent sourcing and taking a deeper look at Texas’ hurricane recovery process, Weissert and Schmall share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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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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Nov. 23, 2018

Best of the States

Requiem for Paradise: Remembering the sweet life of a town wiped out by wildfire

It’s not often you have to write an obituary for a town. Yet that’s what Martha Mendoza and Jocelyn Gecker did, with Gillian Flaccus producing a compelling video component. Their tribute to Paradise, California – leveled by a devastating wildfire that killed so many residents – painted a picture of all that was lost. Paradise was a gold prospector’s town, then a lumber town, and until two weeks ago was the home of 27,000 people “who lived and loved here; they built homes and businesses, schools and houses of worship, parks and museums that proudly honored Paradise's place in American history.”

Mendoza worked from the field, in the ashes of the town, with Gecker in San Francisco tracking down leads, helping to write the finished piece and finding photographs to illustrate “the town’s history and spirit.” Their nuanced reporting, along with that of many colleagues, drew forth tales of town holidays, and residents ruminating whether those staples of small-town America would continue.

The accompanying video by Gillian Flaccus, recorded during a ride-along with a long-time resident, complemented the text piece by showing street after street of utter devastation over the man’s narration.

Paradise is gone, and until it rebuilds in some fashion, Mendoza, Gecker and Flaccus have given the world the definitive piece on what it represented. For their deft depiction of the town behind the headlines, the trio wins AP's Best of the States.

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June 15, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

All-formats coverage of deadly Guatemala volcano dominates play

After Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire erupted June 3, sending a fast-moving flow of superheated ash, rock and debris into villages, AP staffers sprang into action. Over the next week, they worked around the clock in difficult and often-perilous conditions to produce all-formats dispatches from the scene and from shelters and funerals. They told the stories of people who had lost dozens of family members in the explosion, authorities’ search for survivors and victims, and relatives’ own return to homes buried up to the rooftops in ash to dig, in many cases with their own hands.

For scoring numerous exclusives that included highly detailed drone video of the disaster and spectacular photos and video, Guatemala-based journalist Sonia Perez, Mexico City-based reporter Mark Stevenson, Bogota camera operator Marko Alvarez, Guatemala photographer Moises Castillo, Peru-based senior photographer Rodrigo Abd, and stringer photographer Luis Soto have earned the Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 04, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

10 years after Sandy, AP looks ahead to the next superstorm

teamed up for enterprising coverage to mark the 10th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, looking at the recovery from Sandy and how the nation prepares for major storms to come.The all-formats coverage included an examination of what remains to be done in the Northeast and the across the nation as sea levels rise and severe storms become more common; survivors’ post-storm experiences — not just after Sandy — revealing that the nation’s disaster response system is broken and needs reform to get money into victims’ hands more quickly; and an in-depth look at inequity in the distribution of post-storm aid and resources.Read more

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Jan. 01, 2021

Best of the States

AP finds hurricane-battered Louisiana residents struggling, enduring months later

Ever since Hurricane Laura hit southwest Louisiana in August, correspondent Rebecca Santana and photographer Gerald Herbert wanted to follow up with the region’s residents. But in a busy hurricane season, it wasn’t until December that plans finally came together. 

Santana researched for weeks, finding subjects and learning about recovery efforts. The pair then spent two days in the Lake Charles area where they saw the devastation firsthand and met storm victims, including a couple whose postponed wedding was finally happening. Herbert, who also shot the video for the stories, went back to Lake Charles eight times, even sleeping in a gutted house on Christmas Eve.

The result was two print stories, three video packages and a photo essay, all of which received prominent play. For uncovering the compelling stories of hurricane victims months after the storms faded from the headlines, Santana and Herbert earn AP’s Best of the States award for the week of Dec. 21.

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May 31, 2019

Best of the States

The one that got away: Survivor of serial killer adds emotion, depth to execution coverage

Execution coverage often focuses on the condemned inmate or the manner of death. So, faced with covering his eighth execution – a Florida serial killer – Tallahassee correspondent Brendan Farrington told the extraordinary personal story of a victim who escaped and helped police find the man after he raped her decades ago. That woman had chosen to witness the man’s execution.

Farrington doggedly tracked down the woman, now a sheriff’s deputy, who finally agreed to an interview on the eve of the execution. Her compelling story resonated with readers everywhere.

For his persistence and sensitivity in telling a personal and emotional victim’s story in what could have been a rote story on a serial killer’s execution, Farrington wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 31, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Image of Hurricane Harvey rescue tells story of tenderness and unity, dominates front pages

Young Aiden Pham wasn't even awake for his brief moment in the spotlight. But Houston photographer David Phillip was there to capture the toddler in what would become an iconic image of Hurricane Harvey and the historic floods.

The photo of the sleeping 13-month-old, swaddled in a blanket and held in his mother's arms as they're carried to safety, was among the many dramatic rescues of the floods that have inundated southeast Texas.

The image – which appeared on the web and front pages across the country, including the Wall Street Journal – along with others taken by Phillip earn him the Beat of the Week.

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Dec. 06, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP all-formats crew provides unmatched coverage of Albania earthquake

Jolted out of bed by the 6.4-magnitude earthquake just before 4 a.m., correspondent Llazar Semini in Tirana knew immediately he was dealing with a major story. Communications networks were shaky, but he managed to reach colleagues in other formats by phone, triggering what would become a virtual sweep of the disaster coverage.

The quick decisions made in the early hours resulted in a compelling all-formats report and gave AP the clear advantage over competitive agencies. Nowhere was that advantage more evident than in live video – AP picked up live video within an hour of the quake, and several hours before any of the competition. 

Coverage was just as impressive in text, photo and video edits. AP’s dominance continued with drone video, and all-formats coverage of dramatic rescue efforts and anguished survivors. 

For resourceful work that powerfully conveyed the human toll and devastation while delivering a dominant competitive performance, the multinational all-formats team of Llazar Semini, Visar Kryeziu, Hektor Pustina, Amer Cohadzic, Erion Xhiabati, Florent Bajrami, Sylejman Klokkoqi and Petros Giannakouris shares AP’s Best of the Week.

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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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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. 26, 2018

Best of the States

Post-hurricane teamwork produces compelling story of newborn’s night in parking lot

Amid the chaos and broken lives after Hurricane Michael, photographer David Goldman was combing for images of how people were coping when he discovered a heartbreaking story in a Walmart parking lot: A newborn baby was spending one of his first nights in the back of a pickup with his parents.

Goldman knew he had a great visual story. And he knew there was a great story to write. Not being in a position to write the story himself, he turned to colleague Jay Reeves, also working in the hurricane zone.

Reeves wouldn’t be able to meet with the family, but Goldman knew the elements Reeves would need to write the text piece. He sent Reeves all his notes and an audio interview via email. From those pieces, Reeves crafted the narrative.

The moving words and compelling photo package resonated. Goldman’s Twitter lit up with responses, and readers hoping to find a way to help “baby Luke” reached out to the AP by email, phone and web. The story was carried by Time Magazine, USA Today, The New York Times and NPR, among others.

For their collaboration and unmatched story that reminded the world that the story of Hurricane Michael is far from over, Reeves and Goldman win this week’s Best of the States.

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