April 10, 2020

Best of the States

Only on AP: The delicate subject of funerals, now held at a distance

When a South Carolina Army veteran died last month, his family decided to invite The Associated Press to take one of the few spots the funeral home would allow for people at the service. His loved ones knew this funeral and their mourning would look different from the usual rituals, and they wanted to share that with other families faced with grief in the coronavirus outbreak. 

North Carolina-based journalist Sarah Blake Morgan took on the delicate task. She shot photos and video from an appropriate social distance, not only to stay safe but out of respect for the family. In her images and words, she painted a picture of a ritual that once brought people comfort but now brings new tension and challenges. 

For her sensitive work delivering a moving Only on AP package on a human angle of the virus outbreak, Morgan wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 14, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP staff works through injuries and destroyed homes to cover Beirut blast

The deafening Tuesday afternoon explosion tore through Beirut and shattered everything in a few terrifying seconds, badly damaging the AP bureau and the homes of several AP employees in the Lebanese capital. Three employees were injured in their homes by broken glass.

But despite the mayhem and injuries, the AP team sprang into action to deliver standout all-formats coverage of an event that killed more than 170 people and injured some 6,000, sending a mushroom cloud over the city.

The remarkable work was magnified by the fact that a large majority of broadcasters and other news organizations didn’t have a journalist in Beirut, relying mainly on the AP and again affirming the value of the agency’s global footprint.

For their stunning coverage and selfless efforts, the Beirut staff wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 19, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Latest on New York COVID policy: State sent more than 9,000 virus patients to nursing homes

For nine months, AP has led all media on the story of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial directive to return recovering coronavirus patients from hospitals to nursing homes during the pandemic.

Last week, reporters Bernard Condon and Jennifer Peltz added to that record. Using data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, they reported exclusively that more than 9,000 patients in New York were released under the state’s policy, amid criticism that it accelerated nursing home outbreaks. The latest AP scoop has helped put Cuomo and his administration on the defensive at home and nationally.

For keeping AP at the forefront of this accountability story for the better part of a year — including their latest break documenting the release of COVID patients into nursing homes — Condon and Peltz earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Sept. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Making the signature photo, discreetly, as family mourns McCain

Sometimes it takes a team. And a resourceful photographer.

Phoenix photographer Ross Franklin made a stunning image of Cindy McCain resting her head on the casket of her late husband Sen. John McCain during a family service in the Arizona state Capitol. Getting to this moment was a team effort, starting with great Washington contacts and relationships that gave the AP not one but two exclusive spots in the rotunda in Phoenix.

But given the solemnity of the event, there was no way to shoot the private ceremony using a motor drive to take bursts of frames – it would have been too loud and would have echoed throughout the rotunda. So Franklin agreed to shoot the entire event balanced on a ladder overlooking the scene from the balcony, with his camera in a noise muffling blimp – basically operating a camera that is wrapped in a big pillow.

When Cindy McCain approached the casket, Franklin had just one or two frames to capture the signature moment. He nailed it, and the photo was used everywhere, including a stunning display on the front of the Arizona Republic.

For his exceptional work, Ross Franklin wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 29, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

Stories of lives lost, told with photos: 2 remarkable projects share Best of the Week

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged across the world last week, and the confirmed U.S. death toll approached 100,000, AP photographers on two continents found unusual and meaningful ways to bring home the tragedy of lives lost. They were:

– Photographer David Goldman, who met with the families of COVID-19 victims at a Massachusetts soldiers’ home, literally projecting veterans’ images onto the exterior of the families’ homes for a series of arresting, ghostly and emotion-laden scenes.

– And Rodrigo Abd, who spent weeks with Venezuelan migrants collecting bodies in a poor area of Lima, Peru, showing the abject desperation of that city’s victims. Also honored is Lima reporter Franklin Briceño who accompanied Abd, documenting for text and video the funeral home workers on their grueling rounds.

Both projects had immense impact online and in print, drawing praise from readers and editors. For intrepid and creative multiformat storytelling emphasized by unforgettable images, Goldman, Abd and Briceño share AP’s Best of the Week honors. 

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Dec. 08, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Investigation uncovers private school selling diplomas, no classes required

In a package featuring multiple scoops and exclusives, an AP team investigating Louisiana’s rise in unapproved private schools stumbled on a school selling diplomas to anyone whose parents said they had completed their education — even years later. That revelation rocked the state and reverberated across the nation.

Education data reporter Sharon Lurye partnered with Charles Lussier of The (Louisiana) Advocate to secure stunning interviews with an operator of the school defending the practice as an extension of parents’ rights and also met multiple graduates who had gained their diplomas. On the other side of the investigation Lurye and Lussier demonstrated the depth of the risks in sending a child to such a school, landing a rare interview with a mom who says a teacher offered her teen daughter money for sexually explicit photos and wanted to warn others against enrolling their kids in an unapproved school.

Lurye and Lussier were the first to quantify the rise in popularity among Louisiana’s unapproved schools — over 21,000 students, nearly double the number before the pandemic. Many of the families using unapproved schools are homeschooling. But 30 of the schools have more than 50 students.

The project ran on the front page in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Arcadiana. Lurye did radio interviews on WWL in New Orleans and for the “Louisiana Considered” program on the public radio stations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Prominent pickups included Fox News, Newser and ABC News. The project was named one of the best stories of the week by “The Grade,” a well-read education blog.

For a strong investigation, securing multiple exclusives while providing a public service to the people of Louisiana, Lurye wins this week’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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July 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Only on AP: Families take legal action over nursing home deaths

gained the trust of French families mourning their loved ones to deliver a heart-rending, intimate and powerful character-driven Only on AP exclusive. With weeks of reporting, including reams of documents and dozens of interviews, the pair told in gripping detail of the growing legal battle being fought by grieving relatives to find how and why their elderly family members died behind the sealed doors of nursing homes in lockdown.https://bit.ly/3gfK2xmhttps://bit.ly/3dPI2tW

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Sept. 28, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP dominates multiformat coverage of attack on Iran military parade

A Sept. 22 assault on a military parade in Iran was the country’s deadliest terror attack in nearly a decade. AP's entire team of journalists in Tehran drew on its vast expertise to convey key details and the broader context of the shootings that killed at least 25 people and wounded 60 others.

Staffers swung into action soon after gunmen disguised as soldiers suddenly opened fire on the annual military celebration in Ahvaz, in southwestern Iran. The attack sent parade viewers fleeing in panic, the scenes of chaos and fear broadcast live across the country.

For their dominating work in covering the breaking news, the Tehran-based team of Nasser Karimi, Ami Vahdat, Vahid Salemi, Ebrahim Noroozi, Mehdi Fattahi, Mohammad Nasiri, Mohsen Ganji, Saeed Sarmadi share the Best of the Week award.

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Sept. 07, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP team parlays Aretha Franklin pool coverage into exclusives

The farewell to the Queen of Soul promised to be an extravaganza – days of tributes, musical performances and a marathon funeral.

The AP team diligently prepared for the events and when the time came, the combined efforts of Detroit-based photographer Paul Sancya and Miami-based visual journalist Josh Replogle turned a pair of pool opportunities into two exclusives during the week of mourning for Aretha Franklin in Detroit.

Among the highlights: Sancya’s shot of Franklin lying in her casket with red heels clearly visible, video and photos of the singer in her final resting place and an exclusive interview with a controversial pastor.

Their work earns the Beat of the Week.

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May 11, 2018

Best of the States

Illinois coroner to poor: Pay $1000 or county keeps remains

The tip that led to an exclusive by Chicago reporter Sara Burnett seemed outlandish: When poor people couldn't afford to bury their loved ones, a western Illinois coroner was cremating the bodies and keeping the ashes until the family paid $1,000. He’s continued the policy even though the state has resumed a program to pay for the funerals.

Burnett reported on a woman whose ex-husband and father of their three children died. They were both on disability and she couldn’t come up with the money, leaving the family to hold a memorial service with just a photograph and an empty container. Wendy Smith said she felt the policy was unfair. "I just think they pick on the people that are poor."

The coroner told Burnett that the policy started after the state, which for years has faced billion-dollar deficits, announced it was too broke to pay for indigent funerals and burials – shifting the cost to funeral homes and county coroners. Further, the coroner claimed only one woman was unhappy. But Burnett tracked down other families, and had a back-and-forth with the state about how much money was appropriated for the burial program

Within days, the state comptroller, citing The Associated Press story, weighed in that the coroner's practice was "disgusting behavior" and called for a ramped-up campaign to alert local officials that state-funded burial is again available.

For illuminating a questionable practice and how the state’s budget crisis continues to cause pain for the poor and vulnerable, Burnett earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 04, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

A nightmare in South Sudan

The scene was nightmarish. Women and girls fleeing fighting in South Sudan had taken refuge in a United Nations camp. As fighting subsided, they ventured out in search of food, but just outside the camp, they were dragged off by soldiers and raped. Two died of their injuries. At least one attack was said to have occurred within sight of U.N. peacekeepers.

The details in Jason Patinkin’s only-on-AP story could not have been reported without getting into the camp – but the U.N. at first blocked journalists from entering. Demanding access along with other journalists – and winning – in the midst of already challenging coverage allowed Patinkin to produce an exclusive that prompted outrage around the world. It earns Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 24, 2016

Best of the States

Historic flooding in Louisiana

Many media were slow to respond to the historic flooding in Louisiana this month, but not The Associated Press. AP journalists provided timely, perceptive and poignant spot and enterprise stories from the very first hours of the torrential rains.

Aggressive cross-format coverage by a staff focused on stories of real people were key to covering the disaster. In text, the reporters included New Orleans administrative correspondent Rebecca Santana; Baton Rouge correspondent Melinda Deslatte; and newsmen Mike Kunzelman in Baton Rouge and Kevin McGill in New Orleans. Freelance photographer Max Becherer and video journalists John Mone of Houston, and Josh Replogle of Miami rounded out AP's team on the ground.

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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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May 19, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Where’s Comey? Sleuthing skills locate him, leading to exclusive AP photos

When major news breaks – such as President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey – journalism 101 dictates: Find the principals. We knew where the president was. Locating Comey, on the other hand, was more difficult.

The determined, diligent sleuthing efforts of news researcher Monika Mathur tracked Comey, allowing The Associated Press to get exclusive and widely used photos of him. Those efforts earn the Beat of the Week.

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May 24, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Placing a value – $24 billion – on 'golden visas'

They’re called “golden visas” – legal permission for non-citizens to reside in the U.S. or other countries in exchange for investment. But how much are such investments worth, and who is making them?

These were questions that AP’s Nomaan Merchant set out to answer, encouraged by Greater China news director Gillian Wong.

After months of searching out data from 20-plus countries, analyzing it and interviewing investors, Merchant could report that more than 100,000 Chinese have poured $24 billion in the last decade into "golden visa" programs across the world, and notably in the U.S. – an exclusive AP analysis that earns the Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 08, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Toxic waste sites flooded; AP on the scene ahead of EPA

Hurricane Harvey inundated homes, flooded freeways and swamped entire neighborhoods. Florida-based reporter Jason Dearen, who was deployed to Houston to help cover the disaster, knew there might be something else submerged beneath the turbid floodwaters. Superfund sites, some of the nation’s most contaminated places, are scattered along the low-lying Gulf coastline, including in the Houston area.

Dearen had been trying to obtain a copy of a federal study about the risks of flooding at those sites from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but had been stonewalled for two weeks. Harvey’s destruction provided new urgency to his request. For help, he reached out to Washington investigative reporter Michael Biesecker, a fellow member of the AP’s environmental beat team.

Through creative reporting that relied on data, collaboration and Dearen’s newfound skills as a boat man, they became the first journalists to report on the extent of flooding at contaminated waste sites in and around Houston. The on-site observations by Dearen and freelance 360-video producer Claudia Prat raised concerns that some of the decades-old toxic stew left over from the oil, gas and chemical industries may have mixed with floodwaters. They also were on the ground – and on the water – before the EPA’s own inspectors. For their efforts, Dearen, Biesecker and Prat win Beat of the Week.

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