Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Breaking news of top US prison official’s ouster after Epstein death

for breaking the news that the head of the long-troubled federal prison system was being removed in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. Balsamo had been pressing sources at the Justice Department about the fate of Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons. Two guards and the warden had been disciplined, but nothing was said about the senior leadership. Balsamo worked up prep in case Hurwitz resigned or was fired.

Nine days after Epstein’s death, Balsamo heard from a source who had just met with Attorney General William Barr: Barr was going to remove Hurwitz. The decision was extremely sensitive; even Hurwitz didn't know yet. Balsamo had just a brief window to break the news before it became public, but because he had the prep in place, he was able to move quickly. AP had a 650-word story before any other outlet had even sent an alert. Hurwitz’s removal quickly became one of the top stories of the day, with Balsamo’s story receiving wide play, even by some news organizations with their own Justice Department reporters. https://bit.ly/2NBYC7k

June 08, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Global video exclusives as North Korean official travels for summit prep with Trump

The low-key, secretive trip by senior official Kim Yong Chol from North Korea to the U.S., carrying a letter for President Donald Trump, could have gone undocumented were it not for clever, enterprising work by staffers on two continents.

Senior video producer Raf Wober, based in Hong Kong, noticed high security in Beijing's airport, recognized Kim, and used his cellphone to capture video as the North Korean walked through the airport. Wober's video and his alert to the Asia Desk set off a worldwide scramble as Trump later announced that Kim was heading to the U.S. for talks about the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit.

In New York, the team of video journalists Sara Gillesby, Joseph Frederick, Luke Sheridan, Ted Shaffrey, David Martin and Robert Bumsted picked up Wober’s efforts, using technology and street smarts to get exclusive live shots that included Kim’s plane arriving at John F. Kennedy airport, Kim walking on the tarmac to a motorcade, and his arrival at a Manhattan hotel.

All of which was unmatched by the competition, resulting in strong play in the U.S. and internationally.

For their quick and creative thinking to net AP worldwide exclusives, Wober and the New York video team share the Beat of the Week award.

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June 17, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Fast, exclusive coverage after fatal vehicle attack in Berlin

put AP ahead of the competition, responding immediately to first word that a driver had plowed his vehicle into a visiting school group in a popular capital shopping district. One teacher was killed, others were seriously injured.Berlin photographer Sohn was among the first at the scene, reporting for all formats including exclusive photos and live video, while Frankfurt photographer Michael Probst jumped in to handle editing duties, quickly relaying images from Sohn’s camera onto the AP wire. The visuals were heavily used by online media and TV clients, among others.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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March 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Draining the swamp? AP reporters find at least 37 Trump administration officials with ethics waivers

It was a major catchphrase of Donald Trump’s campaign: He would “drain the swamp” in Washington.

But once Trump took office, Washington’s Michael Biesecker wasn’t seeing it. Government officials, it appeared, were working on issues they lobbied for on behalf of private clients. He set out to track the administration’s hiring and measure it against Trump’s pledge.

It did not measure up.

Biesecker and colleagues Juliet Linderman and Richard Lardner found that at least 37 appointees across the government had been granted ethics waivers, allowing them to regulate the very industries in which they had worked. For plumbing the depths of the swamp, their story is Beat of the Week.

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Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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Dec. 24, 2020

Best of the States

Joint investigation reveals ‘leadership vacuum’ after backlash against public health officials

AP reporter Michelle Smith was working on another project in June when she came up with the names of a dozen or so public health officials who had quit, retired or been fired. Sensing a trend, Smith and reporters at Kaiser Health News continued to track those departures as the pandemic worsened and the backlash against public health restrictions became more strident.

The journalists contacted officials in all 50 states and interviewed dozens of people, finding a public health leadership vacuum developing at a critical time in the pandemic. They told the stories of public servants who toiled through the pandemic only to be reviled by their neighbors — including the wrenching story of an official whose husband would not even follow her recommendation to require masks in the family store. The timely all-formats story included a data distribution, interactive graphics and a sidebar with portraits and quotes of public health officials. 

For a deeply reported package that examines a vital component of the pandemic response, Smith, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Hannah Recht and Lauren Weber earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 05, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Conspiracy, lies and social media: AP finds state, local GOP officials promoting online disinformation

After the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, investigative reporters Garance Burke, Martha Mendoza and Juliet Linderman wanted to know if local, county and state Republican officials across the country were continuing to amplify online messages similar to those that had inspired the riot, and what they hoped to accomplish by doing so.

The trio turned to data journalist Larry Fenn, AP statehouse reporters and a comprehensive archive of the Parler social media platform. A third-party algorithm matched public officials to their Parler accounts, allowing an unprecedented look at GOP officials’ unfiltered posts on the right-wing aligned site. The analysis of Parler and other alternative platforms identified a faction of lower-level Republican officials that have pushed lies, misinformation and QAnon conspiracy theories echoing those that fueled the violent U.S. Capitol siege.

For harnessing the power of social media analysis, data science and AP’s state-level expertise to reveal how lies and misinformation from the 2020 election have reached deep into the GOP’s state apparatus, Burke, Mendoza, Linderman and Fenn win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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May 08, 2020

Best of the States

Sourcing, records yield scoop: Texas AG helped donor fight Colorado lockout

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he’d sent a letter leaning on Gunnison County, Colorado, to end an order expelling non-residents during the pandemic, AP’s Paul Weber immediately wondered: Why was the top law enforcement official in Texas picking a fight with a remote county two states away in the middle of the crisis? And did Paxton have donors there? 

Weber and colleague Jake Bleiberg started combing campaign finance and property records, quickly finding that some of Paxton’s biggest donors have homes in the wealthy mountain resort town of Crested Butte, Colorado. 

Persistent reporting and extensive public records work revealed that Paxton’s push against the Gunnison health order stood to benefit an exclusive group of Texans, including campaign donors who gave the attorney general a total of nearly $2 million. AP Texas members jumped on the story, using it in print and online.

For alertly connecting the dots between a puzzling press release and a conflict of interest in the attorney general's office, Weber and Bleiberg earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 20, 2021

Best of the States

AP finds colleges concerned as some students turn to counterfeit vaccine cards

It started with a tip.

When a college student mentioned that fellow unvaccinated students were getting fake COVID-19 vaccine cards in order to attend in-person classes, AP global investigations intern Roselyn Romero remembered that she'd seen an account on Instagram offering fake cards for $25 each.

Romero began searching social media platforms and talked to college students, faculty, administrators and health officials. What she found was a cottage industry offering to accommodate people who refuse to get vaccinated but need documentation saying that they’ve had the shots.

Her deeply reported story had nearly 250,000 pageviews on AP News and was used by hundreds of news outlets, including online and print front pages. She was also interviewed by NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer responded by calling for a multiagency crackdown on the counterfeit cards.

For having a major national impact with her first AP byline, Roselyn Romero wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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