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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April 27, 2018

Best of the States

AP lands elusive first interview with two black men arrested at Starbucks

The arrest of two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia for sitting without ordering anything turned into a major crisis for the coffee chain and sparked a national conversation on unconscious bias and overt racism.

But the two men at the center of the controversy sought to maintain their privacy as they tried to make sense of the ordeal. They even moved to a hotel to hide out as the scandal unfolded with numerous interview requests to tell their story.

Knowing the sit-down with the men was essential, Pennsylvania Editor Larry Rosenthal pressed for an interview, noting that one conversation with AP would relieve the pressure they were feeling from so many outlets. Errin Haines Whack, the AP’s national race and ethnicity writer, followed up with a written pitch. She noted she was based in Philly and wanted to hear both their version of events and what they hoped to see moving forward. In the end, that sealed the deal.

For landing the critical interview and delivering it in multiple formats, Whack is this week’s winner of Best of the States.

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Nov. 02, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Staffers respond to synagogue shooting with coordinated multiformat coverage

News of a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue broke on a Saturday morning with first word of the attack reaching AP at around 10:30 a.m., just as many staffers were still covering the spate of pipe bomb attacks against prominent critics of President Trump.

Within minutes Pittsburgh photographers Gene Puskar and Keith Srakokic rushed to the scene, providing some of the first images and text feeds.

Meanwhile, with spotty early reports on the extent of casualties – and competitors reporting various numbers – Washington law enforcement reporter Eric Tucker and Harrisburg reporter Marc Levy worked sources. Between them, they enabled the AP to break word that at least 10 had died – the final toll would be 11 – in what would become the worst attack on Jews on American soil.

It was just one highlight of a seamless and extraordinary effort by colleagues around the country, resulting in impressive customer engagement with AP text, photos and video. Though the shooting happened on a Saturday, it accounted for three of the top dozen video downloads of the week, highlighted by a chilling interview by New York videographer Robert Bumsted and Philadelphia newswoman Maryclaire Dale with a survivor who hid in a closet.

Photos received wide use as well, including a poignant series of images by Philadelphia photographer Matt Rourke who raced to cover the first vigil for victims that night, while AP’s strong relationship with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ensured the hometown paper shared its strongest images from the scene.

For headlining an extraordinary multiformat collaboration that kept the AP in a commanding position on a second straight major breaking story, Puskar, Srakokic, Rourke, Tucker, Levy, Dale and Bumsted share Best of the Week honors.

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July 09, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Reporter’s instincts, deep preparation break stunning news of Cosby case reversal and prison release

Comedian Bill Cosby had been in a Pennsylvania prison for more than two years last December when the state’s high court took on his appeal of his sexual assault conviction.

As seven months went by without a decision, Philadelphia-based legal affairs reporter Maryclaire Dale — who had been instrumental in breaking the original Cosby story — thought there might be something newsy in the works. Her instincts led to deep preparation that put AP ahead on one of the biggest news stories of the summer, one that almost no one but Dale had anticipated.

When the court tweeted out its opinion Wednesday, AP’s news alert moved within minutes, followed less than one minute later with a short breaking news story that Cosby's conviction was overturned, and that he would be released from prison. Both alerts beat all the competition; a full story moved less than two minutes later. Dale and colleagues followed up with full coverage throughout the day, with Cosby later appearing before cameras at his home, as the original news story drew heavy engagement online and maintained the top spot in Google’s news carousel.

For sharp anticipation and flawless execution that put AP ahead on a story that dominated the news cycle, Dale earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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April 16, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Catholic nuns share their loss and pain of the pandemic

gave voice to the intense emotion within communities of Catholic nuns that have experienced devastating losses from outbreaks of the coronavirus. The Felician Sisters alone lost 21 of their own from four U.S. convents, a remarkable blow for a community of about 450 women. This intimate look within the cloister showed the lasting effects of what the pandemic wrought — in this case, the most reverent found themselves questioning faith and how one might continue living when so many nuns didn’t.After initial difficulty connecting with receptive sources, national writer Sedensky found Sister Mary Jeanine Morozowich in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, who had a level of introspection and eloquence that would help drive this story. That opened the doors to St. Anne Home in Greensburg. Sedensky and video journalist Wardarski, both compassionate listeners, encouraged the openness of the sisters, helping introduce the pair to others at the ministry. “By the time Jessie and I paid a visit there, we were able to share moments and conversations with all of them,” Sedensky said. Along the way, a couple of sisters told him that they felt better after their conversations.The package, including Wardarski’s poignant visuals, found a receptive audience. The AP pair received innumerable emails expressing how much the story moved readers. One was headlined: “My tears flowed as I read your article.” Another said: “Your article about the loss of these beautiful women will stay with me always. ... You wrote it so beautifully and with such respect.”https://bit.ly/3g8vYsGhttps://bit.ly/3gdjJeh

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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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Jan. 11, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Documenting the US surge in identifying molester Catholic priests

In the months after a shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report on sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests, scattered dioceses across the country started putting out their own lists of molester priests. Some state and local authorities also announced they would investigate the church.

News outlets began reporting the varied efforts piecemeal. But no one was capturing the big picture – including the sudden urgency being shown by the church to open its books on past abuse.

Reporter Claudia Lauer in the Philadelphia bureau set out to fix that. Starting in November, she began systematically documenting every investigation taking place around the country and every instance of a diocese naming abusive priests in the wake of the Pennsylvania report.

With the number of US dioceses totaling 187, it was a time-consuming task. But that work paid off with her Jan. 3 exclusive. Lauer tallied more than 1,000 names publicized by 50 or so dioceses and established that over 50 more dioceses were committed to naming names. She also identified nearly 20 outside investigations taking place across the country, both criminal and civil.

The story won phenomenal play online and in print and generated huge interest on social media. Some Catholic publications used her story to provide an update on developments in the church.

For her painstaking and dogged work to document what has been happening in the church nationally in the wake of the Pennsylvania report, Lauer wins this week’s Best of the States.

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March 27, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Chronicling the flood of US jobless claims

and a network of statehouse reporters anticipated the flood of jobless claims that were inundating state unemployment offices, aggressively reporting on astronomical increases in unemployment, including examples like Pennsylvania’s 70,000 new claims in one day. This did not sit well with the Labor Department, which a day later issued a memo to state unemployment offices saying they should not release their jobless numbers unilaterally, but rather wait for the weekly federal report to be released. https://bit.ly/33MUt6w

Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP pauses to get story of ‘discarded’ Trump ballots right

resisted competitive pressure, holding off on a Department of Justice press release on an investigation into “discarded” military ballots for President Donald Trump, instead taking the time to do a more deeply reported story.Most media rushed to publish when a U.S. attorney in the battleground state of Pennsylvania took the unusual step of announcing the ongoing investigation, saying nine mail-in ballots for the president had been “cast aside” in a county elections office. The county manager later blamed the incident on confusion over the appearance of the envelopes, but conservative social media quickly seized on the initial announcement while the Trump campaign blamed Democrats for “trying to steal the election.”The original press release, however, was short on details and no one, federal or local, was talking. Pennsylvania news editor Christina Paciolla brought the story to the attention of AP’s voting team, and a deeper examination began.The AP drew on expertise across the organization to produce a far more well-informed story the following day, providing essential context and new information, including the U.S. attorney defending his announcement of the votes for Trump, and that Attorney General William Barr had previously briefed the president on the case. https://bit.ly/3if2LJZ

Sept. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Collaboration reveals racial divide in US schools reopening plans

collaborated with Chalkbeat, a non-profit that reports on U.S. education, to reveal that schools serving primarily students of color were far more likely to start the year online than schools serving mostly white students – a divide that threatens to further exacerbate inequities in education.Fenn and Hoyer gathered and analyzed the data from hundreds of school districts, while Rubinkam and Vertuno interviewed school administrators, parents and educators to learn about the pressures that shaped districts’ choices. The all-formats story was co-reported and co-written with Chalkbeat. https://bit.ly/2Rwwxirhttps://bit.ly/2FHfNCwhttps://bit.ly/3iAuaa8https://bit.ly/3iF2KQo

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May 06, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Algorithm screening for child neglect raises bias concerns

teamed up on an exclusive package that revealed concerns over racial disparity in an algorithm used by one child welfare agency to help decide if a family should be investigated by child protective services.Long-term source work allowed the reporters to obtain research on the impact of the tool used to support social workers in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, who make split-second decisions meant to protect children from neglect. The research showed the algorithm flagging a disproportionate number of Black children for a “mandatory” neglect investigation when compared with white children, and that social workers disagreed with the risk scores the tool produced about one-third of the time.Read more

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP data analysis finds poor mail delivery in battleground states

revealed that Postal Service districts across the nation are missing the agency’s own standards for on-time delivery as tens of millions of Americans prepare to vote by mail – and the lag times are especially pronounced in key regions of some battleground states.Postal Service delivery times, some of them obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, indicate that the district covering Detroit and the eastern third of Michigan, the part of the state that is being most heavily contested politically, has the worst on-time delivery in the nation. Regions of Ohio and Pennsylvania show similar underperformance. In fact, the data showed that no Postal Service region is meeting the agency’s target of delivering more than 95% of first-class mail within five days. https://bit.ly/2GecGlX

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Aug. 09, 2018

Best of the States

Jobs boom favors Democratic counties over Trump strongholds; social issues motivate GOP base

President Donald Trump has long asserted that his tax cuts and other policies would accelerate job growth, which, in turn, would serve the “forgotten” men and women who had helped propel him to the White House in the 2016 election.

Washington, D.C.-based economics reporter Josh Boak wondered: Had that actually occurred so far? And how much was job growth a motivating force for Trump supporters?

Boak hit on a possible way to hold the president’s claims to a fair test. He turned to a relatively obscure report issued by the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, then merged those economic figures with the AP’s 2016 election returns, broken down by county.

The result, under multiple calculations, was clear: The bulk of U.S. hiring under Trump had so far occurred in Democratic counties.

Boak then spent three days in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, an area that had voted decisively for Trump and had lost jobs in the past 12 months. He reported that Republican voters appeared to be motivated more by social issues – opposition to gun control, for example. “Our No. 1 motivating factor,” the county Republican chairman told Boak, “is Second Amendment issues.”

For exclusively documenting how job growth under Trump has disproportionately underserved his geographic base and for illustrating that trend in a community that reflects it, Boak earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 06, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP takes a revealing look at fallout for Jan. 6 defendants

spent weeks gaining the trust of a U.S. Capitol riot defendant, resulting in an exclusive look at how the aftermath of Jan. 6 has affected her and her business.Kunzelman is an integral part of the AP team across the country reporting on the Capitol riot criminal cases, looking thematic stories beyond the daily court proceedings. He arranged to meet Pauline Bauer after a court hearing in Washington, and after a brief interview she agreed to meet him at her restaurant in Kane, Pennsylvania, a town of fewer than 4,000 residents in a county where nearly three-quarters of voters cast ballots for Trump in November. In Kane he interviewed Bauer and a fellow Capitol riot defendant, the mayor and residents both loyal and hostile to Bauer. Bauer’s arrest and that of a longtime friend have rekindled partisan bickering, mostly on social media some residents say, as many in Kane struggle to comprehend how two of their neighbors could be among the hundreds of Trump loyalists bent on overturning the election that day.Kunzelman also delivered photos with the piece, which was the second most-read story of the week on AP News, second only to Simone Biles sitting out Olympic competition. https://aplink.news/be9

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April 09, 2021

Best of the States

Exclusive data analysis, reporting on child abuse reveal worrying pandemic trend, heartbreaking tale

A true multiformat team of AP journalists produced this Only on AP piece by tracking down data on child abuse from every state to reveal a worrying trend: Reports of abuse are down while signs of severity are up. The team complemented that dogged data work and hard news with the tragic story of one girl who fell through the cracks during the pandemic. 

Acting on information sourced by video journalist Manuel Valdes, Seattle reporter Sally Ho coordinated the 50-state data survey and an ambitious analysis with data journalist Camille Fassett. Ho also read through hundreds of child abuse reports to find the case of 9-year-old Ava Lerario, killed by her father in a small Pennsylvania town. Ho worked with Philadelphia photojournalists Matt Rourke and Matt Slocum, and New York video journalist David Martin, to tell the story of about how the system failed Ava. 

The team’s deeply reported package drew remarkably high reader engagement, and many news outlets localized the work using AP’s data distribution.

For exposing another disturbing inequality stemming from the pandemic, Ho and colleagues Valdes, Fassett, Rourke, Slocum and Martin share this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 24, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP analysis of GOP health care plan finds older people in Trump country hit hardest

The Republican health care bill landed with projections that millions of people would lose their insurance coverage. Among the key questions: Who would be hurt most by the new plan?

AP data journalist Meghan Hoyer, based in Washington, set out to explore the impact of the GOP plan by gathering and analyzing data from several government and private entities. She found that Americans 55 and older who buy private health insurance will pay more than they do under Obamacare _and many of those who'd be hit hardest live in counties nationwide that gave President Donald Trump his strongest support.

Using those findings, reporters Michael Rubinkam in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, searched for people — both Trump backers and Hillary Clinton supporters — to discuss how the plan would affect their finances. The work of these three reporters, blending careful data crunching and compelling shoe-leather reporting, earns the Beat of the Week.

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