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 12, 2020

Best of the States

AP Analysis: After previous police killings, states slow to reform use-of-force

Calls for police reforms after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis have echoed the calls to action after a wave of killings of young black men by police in 2014. 

So what happened after those killings? 

Ohio statehouse reporter Julie Carr Smyth, working with AP colleagues around the country, found that while nearly half the states have since enacted some type of reform, only a third passed legislation limiting use of force. The reporting revealed that contributions from politically influential police unions were a key factor in stalling legislation, while a separate analysis by the data team showed that Minneapolis police disproportionately used force against blacks when compared with other racial groups. 

The day Smyth’s story moved, a number of states made proposals to limit the use of deadly force.

For quickly reporting out and leading a national look at what reforms have taken place in the last six years, Smyth wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 09, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP multiformat pair gains access to Midwest abortion clinics, documents one woman’s procedure

Two of the most challenging aspects of covering the ongoing abortion story in the U.S. are getting inside abortion clinics and telling the stories of women who have decided to end their pregnancies. So it was significant when two AP journalists gained exclusive access to a pair of abortion clinics — and to a woman who allowed them to follow her through the entire abortion process.

Medical writer Lindsey Tanner used her sources to find a clinic in Ohio sending patients to Indiana, where tighter abortion restrictions were still weeks away. She and video journalist Patrick Orsagos saw both clinics in operation, and they documented —with sensitivity and candor — patient Monica Eberhart’s experience, from her morning routine to the clinic room during her abortion. The resulting package delicately wove together Eberhart’s story with others who are navigating the ever-changing state laws on abortion.

For access and reporting that bought a rare and timely perspective to the issue of abortion, Tanner and Orsagos earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the States

Request denied? Sunshine Hub sheds light on state efforts to block public access

Beyond its dramatic effects, the audio from 911 calls can provide the kind of context that is essential to the public's understanding of what happened during a newsworthy crime or emergency. Those recordings are, with few exceptions, a matter of public record. That almost changed this year in Iowa, where the state House passed – unanimously – a bill that would end the public's ability to access many 911 calls. The bill eventually died after an outcry from the media, watchdog groups and civil rights organizations, but it was not unusual. A months-long project by AP reporters and data journalists found more than 150 bills introduced in state legislatures this year that were intended to eliminate or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings.

To help reporters find, track and provide input on those bills, Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen of the data team created a unique online tool that provided full access to AP customers.

Called the Sunshine Hub, it helps users keep track of legislative activity related to government transparency, suggest new bills, search for and categorize bills for research purposes, and discuss legislation with others. The Sunshine Hub directly complemented stories by Ryan Foley in Iowa, Andrew DeMillo in Arkansas and Laurie Kellman in Washington.

For their groundbreaking reporting and software development, Tumgoren, Rasmussen, Foley, DeMillo and Kellman win this week's Best of the States award.

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Jan. 25, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Adoptee deported by US sues South Korea

for an exclusive interview with Adam Crapser, who was deported to South Korea four decades after his adoption by an American couple. Crapser, forcibly separated from his wife, children and friends in America, described his landmark lawsuit against the Seoul government and a private adoption agency in a case that highlights the shaky legal status of possibly thousands of Korean adoptees. https://bit.ly/2FKtGP1

March 22, 2019

Best of the States

Sunshine Week investigation: Public regularly denied access to police videos

Police videos of officers shooting unarmed black men have sparked angry protests in Chicago, Sacramento and other U.S. cities. But AP’s Ryan Foley wondered: Is it the norm for departments to release footage from body-worn and dashboard cameras?

Foley, based in Iowa City, Iowa, a member of AP’s state government team, investigated and found that many departments routinely deny public access to their videos of officer-involved shootings and other uses of force.

Foley filed open records requests related to roughly 20 recent use-of-force incidents in a dozen states. His letters were met with denial after denial as police departments routinely cited a broad exemption to state open records laws: They claimed that releasing the video would undermine an ongoing investigation. But critics say the exemption is often misapplied to keep embarrassing or compromising video footage from public view.

To tell the story visually, Central Region video journalist Noreen Nasir dug through AP’s archives to highlight the moments and emotions that followed the deaths of unarmed black men, including the fatal police shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. She also interviewed a woman in North Dakota whose brother died after being shot in the back of the head during a struggle with police, adding a crucial perspective to the video.

At the same time, Panagiotis Mouzakis, multimedia animation producer in London, used the many denial letters Foley had collected to create a video graphic that was incorporated into Nasir’s video, and Beat Team visuals editor Alina Hartounian developed a social plan that helped the package find a huge audience.

For shining a light on how police departments continue to withhold visual evidence and for devising creative ways to illustrate the story, Foley, Nassir and Mouzakis share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 28, 2020

Best of the States

Be Prepared: Source work, planning deliver top coverage of Scouts’ bankruptcy

David Crary heard from his legal sources that something big was coming for the Boy Scouts of America, which has been besieged by sexual abuse lawsuits: a bankruptcy filing.

Weeks before the paperwork was filed, Crary, who has been covering the organization for 20 years, set into motion plans to ensure the AP was well-covered. When the Scouts’ filing finally came out late on a holiday, his sharply written prep had the story on the wire within minutes, explaining the gravity of the filing and the reasons behind it.

AP journalists around the country pitched in, including Brady McCombs who gathered reaction from Scouts and local councils, spinning it into an engaging follow-up, and correspondent Randall Chase who attended the Scouts’ first bankruptcy hearing in a Delaware court. Their efforts were rewarded with outstanding play.

For their careful planning and flawless execution of coverage of the Scouts’ bankruptcy filing, Crary, McCombs and Chase win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 09, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

A Super Bowl week scoop: Emails detailing Falcons' reliance on painkillers

It was just a coincidence: Emails from 2010, showing that the Atlanta Falcons were worried about the team’s reliance on painkillers, were quietly entered into the court record as the Falcons were making just their second Super Bowl appearance. But AP sports columnist Jim Litke was prepared, and the result was a Super Bowl week scoop.

Litke's story is the Beat of the Week.

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Jan. 20, 2017

Best of the States

Lie detectors trip up border agency applicants

San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat was chatting with a longtime government source and she mentioned her son applied to Customs and Border Protection but was rejected after failing a polygraph test. She and her son were mystified by the result. Soon after, a member of Spagat’s running group – a military veteran with a stellar resume – told the same story of a failed Border Patrol test.

Intrigued, Spagat brought up the issue during a regular check-in call with an official involved in recruiting for the Border Patrol. The official told him the polygraph failure rate was very high. Spagat knew he was on to something and kept pressing, next talking to Border Patrol Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, who gave him a failure rate – 65 percent.

But Kerlikowske didn’t see the number as a negative – it meant the agency was applying tough standards to find its officers. Still, a two-thirds failure rate struck Spagat as abnormal but how could he prove it? Comparable data was hard to find.

So Spagat set about creating it.

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Nov. 11, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Melania Trump modeled in US prior to getting work visa

The exclusive story's foundation was laid months ago, when questions arose about Melania Trump's immigration history and AP contacted employees at the modeling firm where she worked in the 1990s. No office records from the time were found at first. But AP's questions were asked, and one ex-worker kept searching through storage.

Finally, the documents turned up, and when the worker pointed AP to them, they became the basis of a story showing that the future wife of Donald Trump, who has taken strict stands on immigration enforcement, was paid for modeling jobs worth tens of thousands of dollars before she had permission to work in the U.S.

The AP's investigation, by Alicia Caldwell, Chad Day and Jake Pearson, earns the Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 16, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Hawaiian seafood caught by foreign crews confined on boats

AP’s Martha Mendoza, an investigative reporter based in Bangkok, and Margie Mason, medical writer in Jakarta, found that hundreds of undocumented men, many from impoverished Southeast Asian and Pacific nations, work in this U.S. fishing fleet. They have no visas and aren't protected by basic labor laws because of a loophole passed by Congress.

A story detailing the men’s plight, by Mendoza and Mason, resulted from a tip following their award-winning Seafood from Slaves investigation last year. It earns the Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 12, 2016

Best of the States

Police losing battle to get drivers to put down their phones

Who hasn’t glanced out the car window and seen another driver, head down, texting furiously? That was the genesis of a story by Boston-based reporter Denise Lavoie, who took an authoritative nationwide look at the texting-while-driving scourge and law enforcement’s losing battle to stop it.

Lavoie did spot checks with a handful of states around the country, as well as interviews with federal transportation officials and others. Her reporting – AP’s first major attempt to grasp the scope of the problem – found that police are fighting a losing battle despite adopting some pretty creative methods to catch serial texters in the act.

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