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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July 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Tough calls for US families as school year looms

turned a spotlight on the stress parents are feeling as they consider the reopening of schools and weigh competing concerns – the health of their children, the burden of extended quarantine, the need to have children cared for as parents get back to work. Exploring the impact of these factors on working parents, Loller sorted through the nuanced implications for parents from New York to Texas as they react to the pivotal decisions being made by elected officials about when kids should return to school. https://bit.ly/2ZSnqO3

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Oct. 30, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP reveals that Barrett was trustee for schools with anti-gay policies

Supreme Court nominees are scrutinized for signs of how they may vote on important issues, but Amy Coney Barrett’s jurisprudence told little about her views on gay rights.

Reporters Michelle R. Smith and Michael Biesecker knew that Barrett’s ties to People of Praise, a religious group with anti-gay views, could be an important part of her confirmation process. Through dogged reporting and source work they were able to show that Barrett was a trustee at People of Praise-run schools that had anti-gay teachings. 

Their story had an immediate impact in the run-up to her Oct. 26 Senate confirmation. For thorough and groundbreaking reporting on the tightly held views of a justice likely to sit in judgment of high-profile gay rights cases, Smith and Biesecker win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 16, 2018

Best of the States

AP analysis: NRA contributes to schools; few willing to decline the money

Major corporations were cutting ties with the National Rifle Association after the massacre at a Florida high school, but what about schools that had received grants from the gun organization? It was a natural follow to the Associated Press’ exclusive story that the alleged shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had belonged to a school JROTC program that received NRA grants.

Data journalist Meghan Hoyer dug through tax records to identify the schools that had received more than $7 million in NRA grants. Education beat team member Collin Binkley began calling recipients around the country to see if they would forgo the money. Few said they would.

For their work breaking news on a story that everyone is reporting and providing data that allowed AP members to localize the story, Binkley and Hoyer will receive this week’s Best of the States prize.

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May 17, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP examines patient consent before pelvic exams; states, med schools split on legislation

“Don’t dismiss a [story] idea just because it’s unfamiliar. Pelvic exams aren’t exactly in the wheelhouse of the State Government Team, but it turned out to be a really terrific and distinctive topic.”

That’s one editor’s takeaway from a story by Providence, Rhode Island, reporter Jennifer McDermott and Seattle medical writer Carla Johnson, both of whom, acting on a heads-up from New York photo editor Jenny Kane, found that it’s common practice for medical students to perform a pelvic exam on women under anesthesia as part of their training. Whether the patients have given consent for that exam is not clear, drawing the interest of state lawmakers.

The pair faced multiple obstacles in reporting the story, including initial reluctance by doctors and harried legislators to discuss the issue, but McDermott and Johnson succeeded in defining the conflict between medical schools and elected officials seeking to protect patient rights. Their efforts resulted in a unique story that received heavy play among major AP customers, both online and in print.

For their teamwork, execution and sensitive handling of a complex topic, McDermott, Johnson and Kane win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Sept. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Making the signature photo, discreetly, as family mourns McCain

Sometimes it takes a team. And a resourceful photographer.

Phoenix photographer Ross Franklin made a stunning image of Cindy McCain resting her head on the casket of her late husband Sen. John McCain during a family service in the Arizona state Capitol. Getting to this moment was a team effort, starting with great Washington contacts and relationships that gave the AP not one but two exclusive spots in the rotunda in Phoenix.

But given the solemnity of the event, there was no way to shoot the private ceremony using a motor drive to take bursts of frames – it would have been too loud and would have echoed throughout the rotunda. So Franklin agreed to shoot the entire event balanced on a ladder overlooking the scene from the balcony, with his camera in a noise muffling blimp – basically operating a camera that is wrapped in a big pillow.

When Cindy McCain approached the casket, Franklin had just one or two frames to capture the signature moment. He nailed it, and the photo was used everywhere, including a stunning display on the front of the Arizona Republic.

For his exceptional work, Ross Franklin wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 02, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP exposes offensive Pennsylvania police Facebook page

teamed up to reveal a private Facebook page where western Pennsylvania police officers shared distasteful and malicious posts. Lauer had heard rumors of the page and spent a year gently working sources in Pittsburgh until one finally confirmed the Pittsburgh Area Police Breakroom page existed. The source, over a few months, helped Lauer, a member of AP’s law enforcement team, acquire information found on the page, including transphobic, racist and bullying posts.

Lauer, along with news associate Beaty, took a hard look at the officers with the most egregious posts. She then went to Pittsburgh with New York video journalist Shaffrey and Pittsburgh photographer Srakocic to confront some of the officers, including a police chief listed as an administrator of the Facebook group. The result was an all-formats investigative story that appeared on numerous newspaper landing pages and generated high engagement on social media. Facebook reached out to AP not long after the story went live to say the offensive page was removed for violating company policy and to give an official comment. https://bit.ly/3wjaGhohttps://bit.ly/3ug6Dkr

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Jan. 27, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Inaugural images: Talent and tech combine in sweeping, instant photo coverage

Remember these images from the Inauguration: The new first couple dancing across a giant presidential seal at a ball? Faces in the crowd cheering or crying in the rain? The instant when Donald Trump took in the scene through an opening door before stepping onto the podium to become the 45th U.S. president?

Credit for those signature images, which appeared across the globe almost as they happened, goes to the skill and artistry of a hand-picked team of AP photographers and photo editors – and also to the cutting-edge, behind-the-scenes efforts of AP technicians working hand-in-hand with them to cover the intensely competitive event.

Their extraordinary work, a stream of 2,000 photos sent from daybreak until well after midnight, earns the Beat of the Week.

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Feb. 24, 2017

Best of the States

Utah law allows legislators to get wined and dined in secret

Michelle Price was aware of the Utah’s lax requirements for reporting on lobbying activities and had been looking for a good way to tell that story. A social media posting from a lawmaker gave her the opening she was seeking when he shared an invitation from health care industry lobbyists to legislative members of three health-related committees to dine at a stylish new restaurant.

Price confirmed that under Utah’s loose lobbying laws, neither the lobbyists nor the lawmakers were required to report their night out. Price's AP NewsBreak went on to explain that no public disclosure is required as long as lobbyists extend their largesse to all members of a committee, a task force or a caucus. For her resourceful reporting, Price wins this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

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