May 06, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Standout coverage on rape trial of former Idaho lawmaker

delivered comprehensive gavel-to-gavel coverage from the dramatic trial of a former Idaho lawmaker charged with the rape of a 19-year-old intern. Reporting with authority and sensitivity, Boise correspondent Boone beat the competition with news of the verdict, then set about placing the case in broader context, speaking to experts who detailed the trauma of court proceedings for victims and pointed to national statistics showing very low rates of conviction in such cases.Read more

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Sept. 25, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals Walmart, Amazon donations to Q-linked lawmaker

reviewed campaign finance records and social media posts, finding that Walmart, Amazon and other corporate giants donated to the reelection campaign of a Tennessee lawmaker who had amplified and promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory. Milligan helped compile and review Federal Election Commission data for 81 current or former congressional candidates who have expressed support for or interest in QAnon. The AP analysis showed that dozens of QAnon-promoting candidates have run for federal or state offices during this election cycle. Collectively, they have raised nearly $5 million from thousands of donors. Individually, however, most of them have run poorly financed campaigns with little or no corporate or party backing. Kunzelman’s story showed up in more than 200 news outlets with strong engagement, including Hollywood director Judd Apatow, who tweeted a link to his 2.4 million followers. https://bit.ly/3j0AnfH

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July 27, 2018

Best of the States

Private messaging apps used for official business test open records laws

Smart phone private messaging apps are great for keeping secrets. The apps delete messages almost immediately and do not allow them to be saved, copied or captured with a screenshot.

But what about use of the apps by government officials and elected representatives? State Government Team reporter Ryan Foley spotted a trend of public officials increasingly using such apps for official business. It’s a trend that alarms advocates for open government, who say it undermines state laws designed to ensure transparency and access to records.

Foley’s research was based in large part on use of a new legislative tracking tool called the Sunshine Hub that was developed by AP Data Team members Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen. The tool allowed Foley to see whether bills addressing the trend were being introduced in state legislatures across the country. And indeed they were.

The resulting story won play on more than two dozen front pages and prompted several editorials, including one in The Columbus Dispatch warning that officials’ use of message-vanishing apps was the same as destroying public records.

For their efforts in exposing a potentially dangerous anti-transparency trend among government officials, and developing a unique tool to track it, Foley, Tumgoren and Rasmussen win the Best of the States award.

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May 19, 2017

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Daring escape: Dissident lawyer's family flees China with US help

for his exclusive narrative detailing how the wife and children of an imprisoned Chinese rights lawyer-activist managed to elude government security agents and escape China to reach the U.S. The gripping story revealed the lengths China's government has been increasingly willing to go in pursuit of dissidents and their families. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/...

May 10, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Lawmakers target loopholes for spouses who drug, rape their partners

for a distinctive and deeply reported legislative story on the so-called “marital rape exemption” or “spousal defense,” a legal loophole in many states that allows spouses to escape criminal prosecution for raping partners who are drugged, unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. Smyth and Karnowski reported that previous state legislative attempts to remove those exemptions have a mixed record, but that’s starting to change. https://bit.ly/2vLmScQ

March 08, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

APNewsBreak: Threat of pre-election lawsuit led to big Iowa payout

for breaking news on the unusual circumstances around $4.15 million in settlements for alleged victims of sexual harrassment by a former close ally of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. From a comprehensive records request and interviews, Foley learned that a lawyer for the women had sent a detailed “demand letter” threatening a lawsuit days before the election and a promise to dig into the governor’s association with the now-fired director of the Iowa Finance Authority. The state, Foley reported, agreed to settle immediately after receiving the letter. https://bit.ly/2EoXmxR

April 15, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: States passing tough abortion laws often have weak social programs

collaborated with a team of AP state reporters on an analysis of federal data, finding that states passing the toughest abortion restrictions are generally the most challenging places for people to have and raise children. With the U.S. Supreme Court widely expected to roll back abortion rights later this year, the data and reporting revealed a weak network of social services in many of these states for women who become pregnant and may be unable to obtain an abortion.AP’s analysis, led by data journalists Fassett and Lo, looked at seven social safety net measurements collected by the federal government; visualized in an engaging interactive by the data team’s Gorman. The reporting team, led by Utah statehouse reporter Whitehurst, interviewed parents, researchers and nonprofit groups that provide support to pregnant people, new parents, infants and young children. And while the data overwhelming showed that Republican-controlled states with strict abortion laws performed the worst on these social services, the reporting also came with the important caveat that a few Democratically controlled states with more permissive abortion laws also measured poorly in some categories.Read more

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Nov. 03, 2017

Best of the States

Georgia election server wiped clean – days after lawsuit against officials

Georgia's centralized and aging election system has been the subject of several controversies – most recently in June, when a whistleblower revealed that state contractors had failed to secure an important election server. Hackers could potentially have affected the results of both 2016 races and a special congressional election last June that drew national attention.

The Houston bureau’s Frank Bajak wrote up the initial news of Georgia’s server problem. But that didn't answer the larger question of whether the vulnerable server had actually been hacked, so Bajak developed new sources and kept pressing for more information.

His efforts paid off when a source provided him with an email disclosing that the troubled server had been wiped clean of all data. Even more interesting, this destruction of evidence happened just a few days after a lawsuit was filed seeking a forensic examination of the server in an effort invalidate the state's vulnerable election technology.

For his enterprise and dogged pursuit of the story behind the story, Bajak wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 21, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Florida has used ‘red flag’ law 3,500 times since Parkland

marked the anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. – where 17 people were killed, allegedly by a mentally disturbed man – with smart accountability journalism about a key Florida “red flag” bill passed in the massacre’s wake.

Working over several months to get county-by-county breakdowns that no other outlet had, Spencer found that the law had been used to get weapons away from people deemed dangerous no less than 3,500 times since the Parkland shooting. Even so, his analysis showed the law is applied inconsistently, with some counties and cities using it rarely and others not at all.

The story was a strong look at how red flag laws – now passed in nearly a dozen states – are playing out on the ground, and it drew widespread attention and engagement. https://bit.ly/2P7Zws2

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March 24, 2017

Best of the States

Under radar, Florida spent about $250M on private lawyers, fees

AP Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout started noticing how often Florida under Republican Gov. Rick Scott was losing court cases over its policies and was forced to pay opposing attorney fees. He decided to start a tally. But those fees would be just the tip of a quarter-billion-dollar iceberg. The money the state spent on private law firms to defend itself dwarfed that initial amount.

Getting that overall tally was the hard part. When Gary asked what was spent on outside legal counsel during Scott’s half-dozen years in office, the state attorney general told him: “We do not have that information."

So, Gary set out to search through the documents himself, revealing the true cost to taxpayers. For bringing to light a huge chunk of opaque spending and hold state leaders to account, Gary wins this week’s Best of the States.

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