Oct. 22, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

In the wake of Texas’ abortion ban, AP gives voice to women now going to out-of-state clinics

In America’s pitched debate over abortion, the voices of the people most affected by the slew of new laws restricting access to abortion are seldom heard.

Allowing patients to tell their stories of seeking to end their pregnancies has been a priority in AP’s coverage of Texas’ new law banning most abortions. Oklahoma City-based reporter Sean Murphy and Miami-based photographer Rebecca Blackwell delivered impressively on that goal with a sensitively written, visually compelling all-formats package.

The pair carefully negotiated access to a clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana, and earned the trust of Texas patients whose voices were vividly brought to life in text, photo, video and audio. They also met with anti-abortion protesters outside the clinic.

For gaining access and handling a delicate and polarizing story with professionalism, grace and accuracy while providing AP’s worldwide audience a greater understanding of the real-life impacts of the Texas law, Murphy and Blackwell are AP’s Best of the Week — First Winners.

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Sept. 21, 2018

Best of the States

Abuse scandal hits Texas diocese as cardinal meets with pope

Houston-based reporter Nomaan Merchant broke important news about the role of an influential American cardinal in an abuse scandal in his home diocese, just as the cardinal was meeting with Pope Francis to discuss reforms to address clergy abuse.

Merchant exclusively tracked down two accusers who allege a priest in the Houston archdiocese had abused them – and that church leaders, including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, subsequently did little to nothing to keep him out of the ministry and away from children.

The allegations were significant on their own given the current abuse crisis roiling the Catholic church. But they were made even more newsworthy in that they implicated DiNardo just as he met with the pope to discuss the church’s handling of sex abuse cases. The accusers said they personally complained to DiNardo about the priest and believed they were brushed off.

Merchant's reporting made an immediate splash in Houston-area media and religion news sources. It was also the talk of the Vatican gathering in Rome.

For his efforts, Merchant wins this week's Best of States.

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Aug. 09, 2019

Best of the States

AP mobilizes cross-formats response to deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio

AP’s U.S. staff has a lot of practice in responding to mass shootings. But two major events in 24 hours tested even the most experienced staff.

They rose to the challenge.

Soon after noon Central time on Saturday, Aug. 3, reports began to surface about an active shooter at an El Paso, Texas, mall. A local news station initially reported that 18 people were shot inside a Walmart – a number which by Monday would rise to 22 dead and two dozen injured.

The quick reaction of AP staff around the country and beyond – in the office, at home and even on vacation – ensured the AP was fast, accurate and leading the way on what would become one of the biggest stories of the year. Text, photo and video staffers converged on El Paso, while colleagues around the country worked sources, contributed to the stories and managed the coverage.

Among the standout reporting was an early interview with a woman who told the heartbreaking story of her sister who died while shielding her 2-month-old son – just a small part of the terrific cross-format continuing coverage.

As the Texas team was just catching its breath, reports of another massacre emerged overnight, this time in Ohio. AP’s initial alert was followed four minutes later by the alert that a shooter killed nine people, including his own sister, before police shot him dead. The East Desk immediately dispatched Ohio staff and others to Dayton.

AP beat competitive agencies with photos and numerous live shots, as well as an incredibly compelling interview with a man who watched his father die in his arms. Elsewhere, many of the same supporting cast already working the El Paso story from afar stepped in on Ohio as well, complementing the coverage on the ground.

For its quick, nimble response, precise reporting and robust, cross-format content on two highly competitive breaking stories, the U.S. staff is recognized with this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 17, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

Houston team vividly documents the grim reality playing out inside a Texas hospital

With coronavirus cases surging in Texas and other states, AP journalists David J. Phillip, John Mone and Nomaan Merchant went beyond the daily numbers to show the reality inside a small Houston hospital. In a gut-punch story that landed in newspapers and on nightly newscasts, the trio’s work included the last moments of a woman’s losing battle with the coronavirus.

But the package – Phillip’s photos, Mone’s video and Merchant’s text story – captured more than just a moment. It showed, with sensitivity, the grim realities almost certainly facing frontline workers in hospitals around the country.

Reaction to the story was massive. It was widely used in all formats by broadcast, print and online outlets in the U.S. and beyond. The video alone was the most-used U.S. story of the day – to a degree rarely seen.

For compelling, empathetic and revelatory storytelling from the frontline of the coronavirus fight, Phillip, Mone and Merchant win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Jan. 21, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Teamwork delivers sharp coverage of synagogue hostage standoff

responded quickly Saturday, both in-person and remotely, to reports of a hostage standoff at a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue. Well-sourced reporting and old-fashioned door-knocking led to revelatory journalism as the story unfolded. The standoff ended with the hostage-taker’s death as an FBI SWAT team rushed the building.Dallas reporter Bleiberg was the first staffer on the ground, staying on-scene for more than eight hours, working in official updates and sourcing information that moved the story forward.Washington-based federal law enforcement reporters Tucker and Balsamo quickly jumped in, using their own sources for updates on the hostages, the gunman and the Pakistani neuroscientist he was demanding be freed from a federal prison. In what proved to be a smart decision, the AP used restraint when the gunman referred himself as a “brother” to federal inmate Aafia Siddiqui; other news organizations had to backpedal as that story began to unravel. But AP did produce a first day explainer on Siddiqui and her case.Dallas staffer Jaime Stengle and Austin-based colleague Paul J. Weber made significant contributions to the coverage, and New York photo editor Don King wasted no time picking up early photos from member photographers at the scene, even as Dallas staff photographer Tony Gutierrez hurried to Colleyville.The morning after the final three hostages escaped, Bleiberg knocked on the most important door of the weekend, and it paid off, as he was able to speak briefly with Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who has been praised by other congregants, security specialists and law enforcement with his handling of the ordeal.From Saturday onward, AP reporters around the U.S. and overseas helped to deliver more tips, interviews and sourced information, producing stories that stayed in the AP News top 10 for the three-day weekend.https://aplink.news/ofmhttps://aplink.news/1iwhttps://aplink.news/k5whttps://aplink.news/s07https://aplink.news/gquhttps://aplink.video/oiy

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Aug. 06, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reports rare behind-the-scenes account of ransomware strike

delivered a rare and compelling multiformat account of what it’s like to experience a ransomware attack, telling the behind-the-scenes story of a 2019 Texas breach that was a harbinger of what has since exploded into a major national security threat.Reporters Bleiberg and Tucker broke news with their account of the attack on cities and towns by the same gang that two years later would target the world’s largest meat processor. They reviewed thousands of pages of documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests to nearly two dozen Texas communities and conducted exhaustive interviews with about 20 current and former officials, seeking to paint a picture of the precise moment government officials learned of the attack and exactly how they responded. They reported previously unknown details of the attacks, revealing that one city had to operate its water system manually and that an Air Force base endured disruptions in its access to a state database that facilitates background checks on visitors. Ransomware stories are difficult to tell visually, but video journalist Ellgren worked with colleagues to track down material for a widely seen video piece. The package received stellar play in Texas and beyond, with remarkable scores for reader engagement and pageviews.https://aplink.news/0bbhttps://aplink.video/653

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Aug. 04, 2017

Best of the States

​ONLY ON AP: Tractor-trailer trafficking survivor says people cried for air, begged for water

Houston newsman Frank Bajak headed to San Antonio with an overriding goal: Get an interview with a survivor of the immigrant-smuggling nightmare that claimed the lives of 10 people in the suffocating heat of a nearly sealed tractor-trailer.

The challenge was daunting. Survivors had been distributed among seven hospitals in the pre-dawn hours on the Sunday they were discovered in the truck outside a Walmart, with immigration and border patrol guards standing vigil outside their rooms.

Bajak's persistent, resourceful and ultimately successful effort to a secure that exclusive interview is recognized with this week's Best of the States prize.

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Dec. 21, 2018

Best of the States

Sourcework pays off with scoop on Julian Castro presidential bid

Getting a source to give AP a major scoop over competitors can take weeks or months of building credibility and trust. Sometimes that payoff takes years – as Austin, Texas, newsman Paul Weber discovered while breaking the news that former Obama Cabinet member Julian Castro was becoming the first Democrat in the 2020 field to launch an exploratory committee for president.

Weber’s relationship with Castro goes back nearly a decade. Weber moved to AP’s San Antonio bureau in 2009, covering the 34-year-old mayor as a national political figure, including regular source meetings and face time with his family.

When Castro returned to Texas after two years as the nation’s housing secretary, Weber ran into him, stumping for other Democrats on the 2018 campaign trail. Months later Weber received a call from the number he had plugged into his phone eight years earlier: It was Castro calling to say he was “likely” to run for president.

The APNewsBreak immediately trended as a top story on social media and put AP hours ahead of major competitors, including The New York Times, which cited AP and quoted from Weber’s exclusive all-formats interview.

For exceptional source development and for negotiating an AP exclusive, Weber wins this week’s Best of the States.

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March 30, 2018

Best of the States

Multi-format team dominates coverage of Austin serial bombing

Three previous bombings had put Austin on edge for weeks, triggering a manhunt involving 500-plus federal agents and prompting residents to flood 911 operators with calls about suspicious-looking packages. Reporters soon inundated Texas’ capital.

When emergency personnel reported another explosion late on a Sunday night, Austin correspondent Will Weissert quickly called sources and reported that the blast was a bomb. Newsman Paul J. Weber rushed to the scene and soon confirmed the same bomber had struck a fourth time.

In the days that followed, Weber and Houston video journalist John Mone drove continuous coverage across all formats as another bomb exploded inside a FedEx processing center, and Weber broke the news that authorities were predicting an imminent arrest. As authorities closed in, the suspected bomber blew himself up around 2 a.m. the following day. A coordinated effort by Weissert, Weber and Mone, joined by Austin newsman Jim Vertuno, San Antonio photographer Eric Gay, Fort Worth correspondent Emily Schmall and Iowa City's Ryan J. Foley continued to break news and dominate play.

Throughout the week, AP also produced nuanced, multi-platform reporting on how police track cell phones, shipping facilities screen packages and how the bombings shook Austin’s chill attitude.

For their tireless and aggressive efforts to break news by mining sources, searching records and knocking on countless doors, journalists Will Weissert, Jim Vertuno, Paul Weber, Eric Gay, John L. Mone, Emily Schmall and Ryan Foley share this week’s Best of the States.

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July 19, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

One face of immigration policy: 9-year-old in Texas still separated from Guatemalan family

Houston-based immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant uncovered a heartbreaking tale in his coverage of the lingering toll of President Donald Trump’s family separation policy: a 9-year-old boy, Byron Xol, who is still separated from his parents. The boy eventually landed in the home of a Texas family who took custody of the child, while his parents were deported to Guatemala.

Merchant had been looking for an opportunity to write a detailed narrative that would illustrate the stress that separations have on families. When he learned on short notice of Byron’s upcoming birthday, he decided it was the perfect time to tell the tale.

Merchant and his Houston colleagues – video journalist John Mone and photographer David Phillip – went to the boy’s current foster home outside Austin. Meanwhile, photographer Santiago Billy, reporter Sonny Figueroa and video stringer Sergio Alfaro went to the Guatemalan village of the Xol family. Together they captured the emotion of the day and the sharp contrast between the two worlds, as the dad phoned Byron on his birthday.

The story they produced was gripping, used by more than 400 AP members in the U.S. It was just one of a series of strong pieces that have put names, faces and personal narratives to the immigration story, keeping AP’s coverage ahead.

For recognizing the moment and mobilizing quickly across formats and borders, Alfaro, Billy, Figueroa, Merchant, Mone and Phillip share AP’s Best of the Week.

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July 31, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP exclusive leads to release of migrant kids held in US hotels for deportation

Earmarked for deportation, the immigrant children, some mere toddlers, were parked in nondescript hotels – out of sight and, the Trump administration thought, out of mind.  But not out of reach of an Associated Press exclusive.

With an investigation based on source work, court records and witness accounts, immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant exposed how the Trump administration held children in hotels despite federal anti-trafficking laws and court rulings that mandate child-appropriate facilities.

Merchant’s exclusive sparked outrage and accusations of child abuse. Five days later, the Trump administration said it would not expel 17 people, including children, detained at one Texas hotel, and the hotels pledged to stop allowing the practice.

For his investigative story that punctured layers of secrecy and changed the fortunes of all-but-invisible immigrant children, Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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June 28, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP team exposes perilous conditions and spurs action for 250 kids at Border Patrol lockup

First word came from a trusted source cultivated by AP investigative reporter Garance Burke – Customs and Border Protection was holding 250 migrant infants and children at a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, without enough food, water or basic sanitation. “Are you available today?” the source asked, and AP swung into action.

El Paso, Texas, correspondent Cedar Attanasio met with attorneys who had just interviewed the children, while investigative reporter Martha Mendoza set to work contacting lawmakers and government officials. Burke, with the help of attorneys, found parents of the young children who were locked inside and inconsolable. The trio worked through the night, drafting a story focused on the fact that girls as young as 10 were caring for a toddler handed to them by a guard.

The story had enormous impact almost immediately. National outlets scrambled to match the story, citing AP extensively. The reporters’ next-day story was about lawmakers’ calls for change, and on Monday Mendoza and Burke again broke news: The Trump administration was moving most of the children out of Clint.

For a highly significant scoop that dominated the news cycle on multiple days and returned world attention to the border crisis, Mendoza, Burke and Attanasio win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Dec. 20, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

From Brazil to Boston, tracing a surge of Brazilian migrants

for tracing a little-noticed surge in Brazilians crossing into the U.S. Leveraging AP’s footprint from Brazil to Texas to Boston, the deeply reported story documented an astonishing number of Brazilians pouring through El Paso. Hundreds of them had ridden with a single cab driver who Attanasio found by canvassing taxi stands at border bridges, while in Boston, Marcelo found a recently-arrived mechanic, adding texture to the story. https://bit.ly/2PG3jh7

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June 19, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP team documents extraordinary funeral for George Floyd

brilliantly chronicled George Floyd’s final journey. After six days of mourning in cities throughout the U.S., Floyd was laid to rest in a suburb of Houston, with a funeral and burial capped by a procession akin to those for heads of state. The funeral organizers originally barred reporters from the service, but eventually invited an AP reporter and photographer to attend. Other staffers representing text, photo and video held key positions outside the church and at the cemetery, delivering strong coverage throughout, including a brief, impromptu on-camera interview with actor Jamie Foxx. Staffers in Los Angeles and New York monitored live feeds and drafted the story.The funeral lasted hours longer than planned, leaving those covering the event outside in the Texas heat that jumped into the 90s. But the voices, details and images captured by AP, combined with a eulogy-turned-edifying sermon from the Rev. Al Sharpton, made for a compelling narrative that was among the most used stories of the week.https://bit.ly/2NduRbvhttps://bit.ly/3efWagZhttps://bit.ly/2zITREfhttps://bit.ly/2Neswgi

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