Nov. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP presses F1 racing on human rights; helps free political prisoner

has kept human rights on the media agenda while covering the international Formula One auto racing series. His reporting has had impact and is now credited with helping free a political prisoner in Bahrain, site of one of the races.Paris-based Pugmire, long aware of governmental efforts at “sportswashing” in authoritarian countries hosting the series, had been one of the first journalists to press world champion Lewis Hamilton last season about jailed dissidents after discovering that Hamilton had received letters with harrowing descriptions of torture and sexual abuse by authorities in Bahrain. When an 11-year-old boy whose father is on Bahrain's death row sent Hamilton a drawing of the driver’s Mercedes race car, Pugmire had asked the driver publicly what he would do it about the case. Hamilton pledged to raise the cases with Bahraini authorities, saying the boy’s letter “really hits home.” Such questioning by reporters is rare and risky at sports events in such tightly controlled countries, but Pugmire kept at it for months.Then, this past September, an 18-year-old man was released from prison in Bahrain after being allegedly being tortured since 2019, an apparent reprisal against his family. His mother had spent more than two years in prison for criticizing the Bahrain F1 race on social media.The family’s supporters credit Pugmire’s reporting for helping lead to the release.Pugmire raised the rights issue again at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix last week, asking Hamilton about a doctor on a 138-day hunger strike. The driver, who wore a rainbow helmet in support of LGBTQ rights in Qatar, said F1 is “duty bound” to call attention to human rights.AP’s reporting emboldened other media, including the BBC and Britain’s The Times, to follow Pugmire’s lead, questioning drivers and F1’s governing body about such issues. Pugmire won praise from a Bahraini human rights advocacy group as well as AP’s news leadership.https://aplink.news/etyhttps://aplink.news/gnghttps://aplink.news/xzehttps://aplink.news/ba9

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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

Nov. 21, 2016

Best of the States

Innocent suspects face terrible choice: plead guilty or risk life in prison

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit. But as Richmond-based reporter Alanna Durkin Richer and Miami legal affairs reporter Curt Anderson found, it happens more often than you might think.

Digging through publicly available data on exonerations, they found alarming statistics: More than 300 of the roughly 1,900 people who have been exonerated in the U.S. since 1989 pleaded guilty. So Richer and Anderson set out to explain why anyone would plead guilty to a crime he or she didn’t commit ...

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Dec. 24, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Nonbelievers across Africa risk prison time, death sentences

reports the story of Mubarak Bala, an outspoken atheist who is nearing two years of detention in Nigeria. His alleged crime: Posting blasphemous statements online.The story highlights the risks of being openly faithless in African countries where religious belief pervades culture, and challenging such norms is taboo. In some countries, anti-blasphemy laws mean those accused of insulting religion face prison time and even death sentences.Published on the 600th day of Bala’s detention, the AP was the only major international news outlet calling attention to the landmark date. The story involved extensive reporting from New York and collaboration with Chinedu Asadu, AP reporter in Nigeria, to secure official comment from the attorney general whose office is prosecuting the case. Nigeria photographer Sunday Alamba delivered photos of Bala’s family.Asiedu, originally from Ghana and currently a New York-based intern on the Global Religion team, brings a unique, energized perspective to his reporting, and this story was among Saturday’s top 10 on AP News. It also received play from AP’s international customers.https://aplink.news/3ko

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Dec. 14, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation reveals torture in Yemen’s Houthi rebel prisons

AP investigative reporter Maggie Michael has done landmark reporting on Yemen’s civil war throughout the past year, revealing abuses by the Saudi-led coalition that controls much of the south of the country.

But there had been a major gap in the coverage for all media: putting the same scrutiny on the other side in the conflict, the Houthi rebels who control the north. The Houthis impose strict controls on reporters, and sources are afraid to talk, problems that have prevented journalists from reporting in-depth on abuses carried out by the Houthis during the 4-year-old civil war.

Michael found another way. She and Cairo photographer Nariman El-Mofty travelled to the coalition-controlled city of Marib, where they could meet freely with victims of the Houthis who had fled the rebels’ rule. There, former prisoners described horrifying tortures at the hands of the Houthis. Nariman’s riveting visuals encapsulated the suffering, including photos of a man recovering from horrific acid burns, draped in red bandages.

The reporting, supported partly by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, was a breakthrough, as it has been rare to see atrocities by Houthis so prominently featured. Rather than denying the story, a top Houthi figure called for an investigation into allegations of torture in the movement’s prisons.

For their investigation that exposed in raw, excruciating detail the scope of torture committed by the Houthis, Michael and El-Mofty share AP's Best of the Week award.

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Nov. 25, 2016

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Innocent suspects face terrible choice: Plead guilty or risk life in prison

for using data and shoe-leather reporting to spotlight a terrible choice faced by many innocent people in a judicial system full of overworked defense lawyers and expedient judges and prosecutors: Plead guilty or risk going to prison for life. Last year, they found, 68 of 157 exonerations were in cases in which the defendant had pleaded guilty after facing that choice. http://apne.ws/2fVEf1O

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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Aug. 06, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Deep reporting on a failed KKK murder plot reveals white supremacists working in Florida prison

Some stories just stick with a journalist. For AP investigative reporter Jason Dearen, a sparse 2015 announcement — three currrent or former Florida prison guards, identified by the FBI as Ku Klux Klansmen, had been arrested for plotting a former inmate’s murder — sparked a yearslong reporting effort.

Dearen’s big break came last summer when trial transcripts revealed an FBI informant was the star witness against the KKK members, his secret recordings providing a rare, detailed look at the inner workings of the klan cell and the domestic terrorism probe. Dearen and visual journalist David Goldman retraced the klansmen’s steps through Palatka, Florida, then producers Marshall Ritzel, Samantha Shotzbarger and Peter Hamlin stepped in to create a riveting online presentation.

The resulting all-formats package had immediate impact, with Florida papers featuring it on home pages and front pages, and prompting calls for investigations into white supremacy among prison workers. The story found 360,000 readers on AP News and kept them there for an average of more than five minutes — longer than any other AP story in memory.

For dogged reporting and an immersive all-formats narrative that exposes a salient, timely issue, Dearan, Goldman, Ritzel, Shotzbarger and Hamlin win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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April 09, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Gaza man tells AP he was tortured by Hamas, forced to divorce

reported exclusively on the imprisonment, torture and lost love of Palestinian activist Rami Aman, who spent months enduring brutal interrogations in a Hamas prison but was offered an unconventional proposition: Divorce your wife and you are free to go. Aman had recently signed a marriage contract with the daughter of a Hamas official, but the ruling Islamic militant group apparently wanted to dispel any hint that it supported Aman’s outreach to Israeli peace activists. He eventually caved to the pressure and now the love of his life has been whisked out of Gaza against her will. Akram, AP Gaza City correspondent, started reporting the all-formats exclusive a year ago when he met Aman after his release from the Hamas prison. They stayed in touch and Akram slowly learned the chilling details of the torture and forced divorce. Akram spent months persuading Aman to share his story on the record, and he spent an additional two months fact-checking the story, including a conversation with Aman’s ex-wife who confirmed the account. Aman also agreed to go on camera and share his story for AP’s video clients. https://bit.ly/3mti4SV

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July 24, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Inside the first major outbreak at an ICE detention center

The reason the warden at a large San Diego detention center gave for not wearing masks amid the pandemic was astonishing – and likely helped fuel a large outbreak.

“Well, you can’t wear the mask because we don’t want to scare the employees and we don’t want to scare the inmates and detainees,” a guard recalled being told.

That’s just the lead of the story by AP’s Elliot Spagat, who landed the first detailed interviews with employees and detainees about the situation at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. Spagat also reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents and government data to provide the most complete account yet of the first major outbreak at a U.S. immigration facility.

For giving readers a behind-the-scenes look at some of the factors that surely contributed to the virus outbreak, and for holding the warden and other officials accountable, Spagat wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 02, 2017

Best of the States

​Death row inmates' last words: Apologies, thanks, defiance

To most, inmates facing execution in America are just names, mug shots and written descriptions of their crimes.

AP was interested in going beyond that, seeking to tell their stories in creative ways that reach beyond our traditional audiences. To make that happen, a unique interactive created by Atlanta-based reporter Kate Brumback, Interactive Editor Nathan Griffiths and Interactive Producer Roque Ruiz takes people inside Georgia’s execution chamber to actually hear the last words of inmates right before they were put to death.

For their resourceful and compelling work, the team of Brumback, Griffiths and Ruiz receives this week's Best of the States award.

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Dec. 31, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

‘This is Joseph Moore’: FBI informant inside KKK reveals himself in riveting AP interview

AP investigative reporter Jason Dearen received a curious email on Dec. 1, claiming to be from Joseph Moore, a man Dearen had written about months earlier. Moore was an FBI undercover informant who had infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Florida and disrupted a murder plot by three klansmen working as prison guards.

Dearen and AP visual journalist Robert Bumsted soon found themselves in Florida interviewing Moore about his years in the klan.

Moore said he’d identified dozens of law enforcement officers who were either sympathetic to the klan, or active members, telling AP, “It is more prevalent and consequential than any of them are willing to admit.” Dearen also came away with details to further challenge Florida officials’ claims that they have no indication of wider klan or other criminal gang activity among their prison guards.

The “must read” story, accompanied by Bumsted's video, lit up online and numerous film producers inquired about film rights.

For chasing the story so long and covering it so well that it brought an underground FBI informant out of the shadows, Dearen and Bumsted earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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May 20, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Inside the 11-day search for escaped Alabama inmate and his jailer accomplice

As the search for Alabama fugitives Casey White and Vicky White captured the attention of the world, Washington-based federal law enforcement reporter Mike Balsamo reached out, working his network of sources in the Justice Department and the U.S. Marshals Service for details.

Balsamo also connected with the U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Alabama, knowing he would be the person most likely to have the inside information that would enable AP to put together a clear timeline of a messy escape saga littered with gaps and confusing accounts.

That contact turned out to be pivotal after the pursuit came to a violent end in Indiana on May 9. The marshal’s exclusive account of the 11-day search, coupled with details Balsamo picked up from other sources, gave AP a story rich with previously unreported detail and context. It also made for an exceptionally easy-to-follow narrative. The resulting story played widely, from Alabama to Australia.

For using all his resources to distinguish AP’s coverage on this extremely competitive story, Mike Balsamo is AP’s Best of the Week – First Winner.

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