Aug. 31, 2018

Best of the States

Tibbetts murder suspect lived, worked on land linked to GOP fundraiser

Within hours of the news that the man charged with killing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts was a Mexican citizen believed to be in the United States illegally, Republican leaders from President Donald Trump to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds injected the case into the political debate, blaming lax immigration policies for allowing the man into the community.

Amid such comments, Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley got a tip from two longtime Republican Party sources: The suspect lived on land partly owned by Nicole Schlinger, one of the party’s most prolific national fundraisers, the sources said.

Foley was determined to discover whether that was true. He obtained property records showing Schlinger and her husband owned the farm trailer where Rivera had lived, and her husband was president of the farm. Foley then got confirmation from Schlinger, who had avoided his questions for days.

Further, Schlinger’s fundraising client list included anti-illegal-immigration hard-liners, including Reynolds, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and even the Stop Sanctuary Cities PAC.

The story was used extensively by Iowa newspapers and was a big online hit, with hundreds of postings and 40,000 Facebook interactions.

For scooping local and national competitors on a high-interest topic even as he reported on spot developments, Ryan Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 24, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP reporting reveals nonstop chaos in overburdened immigration courtrooms

Led by reporters Amy Taxin and Deepti Hajela, the AP harnessed its vast geographic reach and expertise on the topic of immigration to deliver a striking, all-formats examination of the nation’s beleaguered immigration court system. 

AP journalists fanned out to courtrooms across the U.S. to vividly illustrate chaos in the nation’s immigration courts, plagued by a 1 million case backlog. 

The reporting uncovered personal stories of immigrants entangled in the system, including an in-depth package from rural Georgia by reporter Kate Brumback and photographer David Goldman, and video by producer Noreen Nasir.

For a revealing look at a legal system struggling to cope with the influx of immigrants, and families caught up in the grinding legal process, Taxin, Hajela, Brumback, Goldman and Nasir share AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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July 26, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP team leads media fight for photo access at OJ Simpson parole hearing

What happens when the state of Nevada announces it intends to use its own photographer to cover the parole hearing of O.J. Simpson, and exclude all others?

The Associated Press steps up, rallies the media and forces the state to backtrack. For their efforts to ensure news photo access to a high-profile story, the team of Stephanie Mullen, Ken Ritter and Tom Tait is awarded Beat of the Week.

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Dec. 01, 2016

Best of the States

US moves to block mining near Yellowstone

The Obama administration is racing in its final days to keep industry out of natural and environmentally sensitive areas throughout the U.S. West, where the incoming Trump administration has raised fears of loosened regulations on federal lands.

Billings, Montana Correspondent Matt Brown _ who has an acute sense of the value in reporting on land out West _ has broken news repeatedly to keep the AP ahead.

Brown is deeply sourced with federal interior officials and consistently checks in with them. He was working on a story week about officials canceling oil and gas leases on land near Glacier National Park that's considered sacred to tribes – also an APNewsBreak – when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell mentioned she was coming back to Montana in a week.

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April 19, 2019

Best of the States

FOIA checklist enables reporter to break news in case of missing boy’s impostor

Knowing what information can be obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIAs) from various public agencies is critical to breaking news. And keeping a checklist of those information gold mines is key to accessing that knowledge, Columbus, Ohio-based reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins has found.

Welsh-Huggins used those skills to great effect in the case of the man accused of pulling a cruel hoax by pretending to be a long-missing Illinois boy. The story captured the nation’s attention and set reporters in motion trying to flesh out the background of a 23-year-old ex-con who Ohio authorities say faked being Timmothy Pitzen. Pitzen was 6 years old when he disappeared in 2011.

Welsh-Huggins’ checklist for enterprise off the news includes FOIAs to all agencies a suspect has had contact with. He filed a FOIA with the Ohio corrections department to obtain access to the disciplinary records of suspect Brian Rini, knowing from experience that the agency would release them.

A few days later the agency handed him 15 disciplinary reports showing that Rini was someone who liked to fabricate stories – including things as mundane as being short of toilet paper and as serious as being raped by a guard.

The AP was alone with the story, which got strong play in Ohio and across the country.

For using his knowledge of FOIA to break news on this highly competitive story, Welsh-Huggins wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Oct. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP traces source of Pope’s comment on same-sex civil unions

teamed up to trace the elusive origin of Pope Francis’ bombshell comment on same-sex civil unions in a three-day run of stories that broke news.After Winfield reported that Pope Francis had endorsed civil unions in a new documentary, she discovered that the origin of the quote in the film was not clear. When Winfield asked the director whether he had understood at the time that the civil union comment was news, his longwinded and indirect answer was the first hint that something was off – triggering a 36-hour reporting effort.Thomas, who was covering the premiere of “Francesco” in Rome, got a top papal communications aide on camera insisting that the quote didn’t come from an interview for the film, but a 2019 interview Francis granted Mexican broadcaster Televisa. After three days of contradictory claims, the reporters nailed down that the comments were made during a May 2019 Televisa interview that was never broadcast in its entirety. Verza pressed and elicited a sourced confirmation that the Vatican had cut the quote out of the raw interview footage it provided to Televisa.AP’s story with the information from Mexico moved three hours before major newspapers reported the story. The Vatican, meanwhile, has refused all comment.https://bit.ly/3kBGZlyhttps://bit.ly/31R6VCq

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Feb. 28, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

With speed and smarts, AP Germany team dominates mass shooting coverage

As news of a racially motivated café shooting started trickling out shortly before midnight on Feb. 19, the AP team in Germany burst into action with an all-hands-on-desk effort that dominated coverage of this major story. 

AP’s success included a huge win on live video coordinated by Kerstin Sopke, brisk filing of the breaking story by Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans, and Michael Probst’s photos from the scene that landed on the front pages of major publications.

Their effort was supplemented by a strong effort from other corners of the AP as journalists interviewed survivors and members of the immigrant community, wrote about the rise of far-right violence in Germany and followed the written trail left by the killer. Play for the story was phenomenal. 

For their speed, smart news judgment and superior coordination that gave AP a massive lead on a big story as it broke, Probst, Moulson, Sopke and Jordans are AP’s Best of the Week winners.

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May 28, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats team puts AP ahead on Spain-Morocco migrant crisis

alertly put AP out front of a burgeoning migration crisis on both sides of the Spain-Morocco border.While much of the world focused on the conflict in Gaza, Parra noticed something unusual on May 17: Dozens of migrants had entered Ceuta, Spain, that morning by swimming from Morocco. Usually, migrants seeking to enter Ceuta — in Spanish territory in North Africa — do so by climbing the border fence in small groups, evading the Moroccan security forces that keep would-be migrants away from the frontier. Parra filed a brief story and flagged it to other formats. Additional reporting confirmed something bigger was brewing, with the Moroccan authorities relaxing border security amid a diplomatic dispute. The all-formats team quickly responded, capturing riveting images of migrants swimming ashore by the thousands as Spain deployed troops and armored personnel carriers. Video coverage, both live and edited, showed migrants, including children, being rounded up on the beach and immediately returned to Morocco through a border gate by baton-wielding Spanish soldiers. There were also dramatic photos from the Moroccan side of the border, giving AP comprehensive coverage from both sides of the humanitarian crisis.Play for the story was tremendous. The video edits scored heavily and Armangue’s photos landed on news sites and in newspapers around the world, including in Spain, where the top papers used his photos on the front page two days in a row. His photo of a young migrant hugging a Red Cross volunteer on the beach went viral in social media and became perhaps the most iconic image of the crisis.https://aplink.news/mefhttps://aplink.news/vqihttps://aplink.photos/emahttps://aplink.video/j7whttps://aplink.video/zxuhttps://aplink.news/h8zhttps://aplink.photos/f8x

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May 28, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Investigative reporter obtains bodycam video of Ronald Greene’s deadly arrest

When Ronald Greene died in 2019, Louisiana State Police troopers initially blamed the Black man’s death on injuries from a crash at the end of a high-speed chase, then later said Greene became unresponsive in a struggle with troopers and died on his way to the hospital.

For the most part, that was all the public would know about the case, until AP’s Jim Mustian took up the story. Since he began reporting nine months ago, he’s broken a string of stories revealing there was more to the story. But Mustian always knew he needed to get his hands on one crucial piece of evidence: video.

This past week, Mustian did just that. In the most explosive break yet in the case, Mustian obtained body camera footage that showed Greene repeatedly apologizing and pleading for mercy as troopers jolted him with stun guns, put him in a choke hold, punched him and dragged him by his ankle shackles. The story led national newscasts and websites, and fronted newspapers across the country, with credit to AP’s reporting and the video, again and again.

This scoop was the work of one dogged investigative reporter who never stopped believing that the world should know what really happened to Ronald Greene. For that we honor Jim Mustian with AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Oct. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Most arrested in US protests aren’t leftist radicals

set out to determine who had actually been arrested in the protests that have rocked the U.S. since the killing of George Floyd in May. They scrutinized the arrest records of every person charged in federal court with protest-related crimes, delivering an important accountability story that showed the Trump administration’s claims of leftist-incited violence during racial unrest were overblown. The trio read through thousands of pages of court documents and sifted through 286 federal cases where people were charged with federal crimes of violence. They found only one mention of antifa and very few cases of organized extremism.They also called dozens of lawyers, activists and sources to determine what was going on behind the numbers, finding an effort by the Department of Justice to pursue cases that normally would be handled in the state systems, and exaggeration by the president of the danger posed to the public. The team’s reporting undercut claims that left-wing extremists were running rampant in American cities. On a busy news day, the story received outstanding play online and in print. https://bit.ly/2HMltwl

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July 17, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

Houston team vividly documents the grim reality playing out inside a Texas hospital

With coronavirus cases surging in Texas and other states, AP journalists David J. Phillip, John Mone and Nomaan Merchant went beyond the daily numbers to show the reality inside a small Houston hospital. In a gut-punch story that landed in newspapers and on nightly newscasts, the trio’s work included the last moments of a woman’s losing battle with the coronavirus.

But the package – Phillip’s photos, Mone’s video and Merchant’s text story – captured more than just a moment. It showed, with sensitivity, the grim realities almost certainly facing frontline workers in hospitals around the country.

Reaction to the story was massive. It was widely used in all formats by broadcast, print and online outlets in the U.S. and beyond. The video alone was the most-used U.S. story of the day – to a degree rarely seen.

For compelling, empathetic and revelatory storytelling from the frontline of the coronavirus fight, Phillip, Mone and Merchant win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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June 08, 2018

Best of the States

Only on AP: No justice for patients of sex-abusing Philadelphia physician

Police in New York City and New Jersey had already charged Dr. Ricardo Cruciani with rape and other serious sex offenses that could put him away for decades.

But in Philadelphia, where the allegations first surfaced? Some officials wouldn’t even return phone calls, according to the women who say they were victimized by the prominent neurologist.

Alarm bells went off for northeastern Pennsylvania correspondent Michael Rubinkam when police in Philadelphia did not pursue a felony case, even though some of the accusers in New York and New Jersey cases said they had been assaulted in Philadelphia, too. He interviewed six women who described what they viewed as a shocking lack of care and concern on the part of city police and prosecutors. The women said they felt like they’d been victimized twice – first by the doctor, then by law enforcement.

Rubinkam’s artfully written Only on AP story was widely used, and was displayed prominently on the homepage of Philadelphia's two major newspapers.

For enterprising work on a story of intense regional interest, Rubinkam wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 01, 2019

Best of the States

Trump rollbacks benefit fossil fuel industry but carry steep cost

Over the past two years, the Trump administration has relentlessly moved to relax or repeal major environmental and safety rules for the fossil fuels industry to further its energy goals. Each change was reported by news outlets, including the AP. But Billings, Montana, correspondent and environment team member Matthew Brown decided to look more deeply into the highly touted savings to industry as well as the societal costs.

Brown painstakingly examined 11 major rules targeted by Trump’s administration, wading through many thousands of pages of government documents. Brown identified $11.6 billion in potential savings for companies that produce, use and transport fossil fuels, with billions more expected from a freeze of vehicle fuel efficiency standards that will hike fuel consumption.

But Brown also discovered that those savings will come at a steep cost, including more premature deaths and illnesses from air pollution, increased greenhouse gas emissions and additional derailments of trains carrying explosive fuels.

His Only on AP story ran on front pages of at least 16 newspapers and on numerous web sites. The Washington Post displayed both the main-bar the accompanying glance.

For in-depth reporting and comprehensive accounting of the administration’s actions on important environmental and safety issues, Brown wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Aug. 09, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigative team reveals how Michigan-based group quietly helped abusive priests

It was a piece of investigative journalism that yielded stunning revelations about the role of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a small nonprofit in Michigan that has been quietly providing money, shelter and legal help to hundreds of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse.

Investigative reporters Martha Mendoza, Garance Burke and Juliet Linderman launched an aggressive effort using shoe leather and Freedom of Information requests to unravel the story behind the organization. Photographer Paul Sancya told the story through a powerful set of images, while videographer Mike Householder produced his own compelling piece.

The riveting story received prominent play and gathered growing interest as it was translated and published in predominantly Catholic countries around the world.

For a story that revealed a startling but little-known group in the shadows of the church’s sexual abuse scandals, Mendoza, Linderman, Burke, Householder and Sancya win AP’s Best of the Week.

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April 12, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

With immigration leading the news cycle, AP team scores three impressive scoops

Homeland Security reporter Colleen Long and White House reporter Jill Colvin have repeatedly put the AP ahead on immigration coverage, but they outdid themselves during an intensely competitive week on the topic.

With President Donald Trump stepping up his threats to shut down the border amid a record surge of migrant families coming to the country, the pair dove into their source reporting, scoring three major scoops by the end of the week:

– Long and Colvin were first to report that Trump was contemplating naming a “border czar” to oversee immigration issues at the border. – They broke the news that the White House had withdrawn the nomination of its pick to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one day before he was scheduled to travel to the border with Trump. The scoop was so far ahead, and the news so perplexing, some in the Trump administration assumed it was a mistake. – A few days later, they delivered a smart piece pulling together the various actions surrounding Trump’s border troubles, suggesting that more personnel shakeups were expected. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned the next day.

The stories all received wide play by major outlets, and the weekender on Trump’s growing problem on the border scored in newspapers around the country, landing on the front page of Sunday papers in 20 states.

For their outstanding work to break multiple stories on a subject that dominated the news cycle, Long and Colvin win AP’s Best of the Week.

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Oct. 27, 2017

Best of the States

​APNewsBreak: Mike Pence's brother plans to run for Congress

Indiana political reporter Brian Slodysko knew Vice President Mike Pence’s older brother Greg, who for months had been eyeing a run for Congress, would soon announce that he was jumping into the race for his brother’s old seat.

Slodysko wanted to get the news out first and had been pushing Greg Pence’s advisers. But Slodysko became increasingly concerned the campaign would seek to bypass the media with an announcement directly to their supporters.

Looking for another way to get at the story, Slodysko found an IRS form submitted just days before to establish the Greg Pence for Congress political organization. Armed with that info, Slodysko was able to pull together a story, drawing not only on the IRS filing, but also his own in-depth research of the Pence family.

For finding a way to break a competitive story, Slodysko wins this week’s Best of the States prize.

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July 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: US Catholic Church lobbies, gets windfall in federal PPP funds

Based on a tip following AP’s previous reporting on the Paycheck Protection Program, AP anticipated that the Roman Catholic Church might be one of the program’s biggest winners. 

Investigative reporters Reese Dunklin and Michael Rezendes started digging, first showing how the church had successfully lobbied for special treatment under the program, then, when the federal data dropped, the full extent of the church’s windfall. An analysis on deadline revealed $1.4 billion to $3.5 billion in forgivable loans, with many millions going to dioceses that paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy because of sexual abuse claims.

The story had an immediate impact with strong play and engagement in digital, print and broadcast outlets.

For being both first and authoritative on this highly competitive story, and for holding a remarkably powerful institution accountable, Dunklin and Rezendes share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 12, 2017

Best of the States

No family immune: A top US prosecutor talks exclusively to the AP about a heroin death: his son’s

In the course of source-building in early 2016, northeastern Pennsylvania correspondent Michael Rubinkam had lunch with a local lawyer. The lawyer mentioned that a member of the U.S. attorney's office had lost a son to heroin but had never spoken publicly about it.

Intrigued, Rubinkam asked the lawyer to approach the then-assistant prosecutor, Bruce Brandler, about an interview. Rubinkam had been looking for fresh ways to write about the scourge of heroin, and saw the prosecutor’s story as a powerful new example of how no family is immune.

But Brandler, he learned, was adamantly against going public with his family’s – and his son’s – story. It was too painful.

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Nov. 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Iowa diocese covered up priest’s abuse of 50 boys

A source called Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley with a tip: He had a shocking letter that he couldn’t share in which the Catholic Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, acknowledged a priest admitted to abuse of 50 boys in Iowa over 20 years.

Foley eventually tracked down a copy of the letter, and it was stunning: The diocese admitted the Rev. Jerome Coyle reported his pedophilia in 1986 but was simply shuffled to New Mexico for treatment. The diocese also offered to pay Coyle to stay in New Mexico, warning that his desired return to Iowa would retraumatize his victims, now grown men.

Yet sources said he returned to Fort Dodge, Iowa, which is where Foley and photographer Charlie Neibergall found him. The priest wouldn’t talk, but the diocese confirmed Foley’s story and acknowledged two victims had come forward in recent weeks with allegations against Coyle that would now be turned over to police. The 32-year coverup was over.

Reaction to Foley’s story – the lead story in newspapers across the state – was quick, with Coyle removed from the home, the Iowa attorney general’s office launching an inquiry, and the diocese promising to identify all priests who have faced credible allegations.

The diocese said it was taking this action due to the continuing investigations of “the AP reporter.”

For breaking a story in vivid detail that had been kept hidden for decades, Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 27, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Divided America: Seeing options shrinking, white men ask why

As the bitter election season winds down, a recurring theme has been the conviction among many white men that they have been losing ground in society. National writer Matt Sedensky wanted to find a way to tell their story for a concluding installment in the series Divided America.

The yearlong assessment of America’s national disunity comprised more than two dozen deeply reported, multi-format stories exploring splits along racial, religious and socio-economic lines, as well as clashing attitudes on issues ranging from gun regulation to immigration.

Sedensky focused on the views of white men turning toward Republican nominee Donald Trump and rejecting Democrat Hillary Clinton. He listened to the voices on a call-in radio show in Texas _ both host and callers revealing their angst _ and then, through backgrounding interviews with them and reporting on research, showed why these men feel as they do.

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