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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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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March 01, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Despite denials, US shares terror watchlist with private sector

For years, the federal government has denied widely sharing its terrorist watchlist with the private sector. But American Muslims have long had suspicions to the contrary, as those mistakenly placed on the list faced everyday difficulties ranging from making electronic bank transfers to boarding airplanes.

Source building and careful document review by Northern Virginia correspondent Matthew Barakat finally revealed that the federal government shares its terrorist watchlist with more than 1,400 private entities, including hospitals and universities. The government’s acknowledgement of the practice, buried in a civil lawsuit, was significant because officials have repeatedly denied that the list was given to private groups. Barakat’s sources and his thorough coverage of the 2-year-old case had him ready to jump on the filing as soon as it became public.

His APNewsBreak on Feb. 19 earned wide attention, including hundreds of members using the story. Others scrambled to catch up, with The Washington Post crediting AP for breaking the story when it ran its own version in the paper.

Over the next two days Barakat was also first to report on a call for a congressional probe, and he was the only reporter in court when a federal judge berated government lawyers, ordering them to disclose the private sector entities to the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.

For his methodical document work and source-building that helped hold the federal government accountable, Barakat wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 24, 2017

Best of the States

Under radar, Florida spent about $250M on private lawyers, fees

AP Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout started noticing how often Florida under Republican Gov. Rick Scott was losing court cases over its policies and was forced to pay opposing attorney fees. He decided to start a tally. But those fees would be just the tip of a quarter-billion-dollar iceberg. The money the state spent on private law firms to defend itself dwarfed that initial amount.

Getting that overall tally was the hard part. When Gary asked what was spent on outside legal counsel during Scott’s half-dozen years in office, the state attorney general told him: “We do not have that information."

So, Gary set out to search through the documents himself, revealing the true cost to taxpayers. For bringing to light a huge chunk of opaque spending and hold state leaders to account, Gary wins this week’s Best of the States.

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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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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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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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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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Aug. 21, 2020

Best of the States

Inside the reopening debate: Local school boards face ‘impossible’ decisions

With school districts nationwide wrestling with tough decisions on reopening amid the pandemic, South Carolina reporter Jeffrey Collins wanted to show that process at work.

When several districts rebuffed his efforts at behind-the-scene access, Collins took another approach. He started reporting by watching a school board’s meetings online, taking voluminous notes. Demonstrating a thorough understanding of what the district was facing, he was finally granted in-person access to the district’s meetings and discussions for a revealing all-formats package. 

For finding a way to delve into a local school board’s deliberations, and providing insight into conversations happening nationally, Collins wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 23, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Wealth, enrollment disparities threaten smaller Black colleges

teamed up to reveal wide disparities among the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities, with many smaller private schools fighting for survival.The reporting by Hudspeth Blackburn and Amy was built on an analysis of enrollment and endowment data by data journalists Fenn and Fassett. They found that many smaller, lesser-known HBCUs are struggling with weak endowments, aging buildings and steady enrollment declines. And while HBCUs in the U.S. have received millions of dollars in federal coronavirus aid and fresh attention after last summer’s racial justice protests, not all benefit equally.The team’s comprehensive story was complemented by embeddable graphics illustrating the disparities, and advance detailed data on all 102 HBCUs for localization by AP customers. https://aplink.news/wrn

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