May 10, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: California synagogue hadn’t used security funds received shortly before shooting

After a gunman opened fire in a Southern California synagogue on Passover, killing a woman and wounding a man, his 8-year-old niece and the rabbi leading the service, the inevitable question was asked: Could anything have been done to stop the violence?

Reporters Don Thompson and Adam Beam in Sacramento and Julie Watson in San Diego combined to report exclusively that the synagogue itself had recognized security deficiencies and even received a state grant to address them.

But it hadn’t spent the money, the AP team revealed.

For their exclusive follow-up to a crime that generated global attention, Thompson, Watson and Beam win this week’s Best of the States.

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Nov. 22, 2019

Best of the States

LA photographer’s son locked down in school shooting; team coverage stands out

AP staffers displayed remarkable professionalism and composure under extraordinary circumstances in their coverage of the Nov. 14 mass shooting at Saugus High School in a Los Angeles suburb.

LA photographer Marcio Sanchez found himself in a nearly unfathomable position: He was making news photos outside a high school where a gunman had opened fire while one of his sons was locked down inside. Later, when Sanchez was safely home with his 15-year-old son Noah, his longtime LA colleague, reporter Brian Melley, did a sensitive interview with the teenager about his experience during the shooting and lockdown.

Meanwhile, veteran breaking news staffer John Antczak in the LA bureau reported the shifting numbers of casualties with careful sourcing and attribution, anchoring the coverage and avoiding the false reports put out by some media. 

AP’s full complement of all-format coverage was the product of excellent reporting and editing by staffers in the field and in the bureau. That team effort was highlighted by the remarkable work of Sanchez, Antczak and Melley, who earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 11, 2016

Best of the States

Was California's $350 million experiment to replace lawns amid drought worth the cost?

In drought-stricken California, the state and dozens of water agencies embarked upon a unique social experiment: try to break the love affair with the lawn by paying residents to rip out their turf and replace it with less thirsty landscaping. San Francisco-based environment reporter Ellen Knickmeyer, who has been covering the state’s historic five-year drought, decided to dig into the water-saving strategy and determine whether it was worth the cost.

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Nov. 23, 2018

Best of the States

Requiem for Paradise: Remembering the sweet life of a town wiped out by wildfire

It’s not often you have to write an obituary for a town. Yet that’s what Martha Mendoza and Jocelyn Gecker did, with Gillian Flaccus producing a compelling video component. Their tribute to Paradise, California – leveled by a devastating wildfire that killed so many residents – painted a picture of all that was lost. Paradise was a gold prospector’s town, then a lumber town, and until two weeks ago was the home of 27,000 people “who lived and loved here; they built homes and businesses, schools and houses of worship, parks and museums that proudly honored Paradise's place in American history.”

Mendoza worked from the field, in the ashes of the town, with Gecker in San Francisco tracking down leads, helping to write the finished piece and finding photographs to illustrate “the town’s history and spirit.” Their nuanced reporting, along with that of many colleagues, drew forth tales of town holidays, and residents ruminating whether those staples of small-town America would continue.

The accompanying video by Gillian Flaccus, recorded during a ride-along with a long-time resident, complemented the text piece by showing street after street of utter devastation over the man’s narration.

Paradise is gone, and until it rebuilds in some fashion, Mendoza, Gecker and Flaccus have given the world the definitive piece on what it represented. For their deft depiction of the town behind the headlines, the trio wins AP's Best of the States.

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Dec. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Only on AP: Many of those ‘missing’ after wildfire are just fine

As the AP reported on the chaos and confusion surrounding the ever-changing list of missing people in the wake of California wildfire that killed at least 85 people, our reporters set out to try to track down more of those people and to show that they were findable, even though they continued to appear on the list of missing, and to show that hundreds were likely not really missing at all.

Dixie Singh, No. 158 on the list, was surprised to get a call from the AP, saying she was “very much alive,” and all her friends and family knew it. San Francisco reporter Jocelyn Gecker tracked her down through a public records search by AP News and Information Center researcher Jennifer Farrar.

Meanwhile, Sacramento correspondent Kathleen Ronayne and Washington, D.C., reporter Juliet Linderman, who was in town for the week assisting on fire coverage, tracked down other stories of people who were findable – just not by the sheriff’s department.

The team’s research and reporting laid out how easy it was to find some of the people and highlighted lapses in the sheriff’s record-keeping.

For their collaborative exclusive on a key lingering aspect of the deadly Camp Fire, the team of Gecker, Ronayne, Linderman and Farrar wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 20, 2016

Best of the States

Strong source work nets APNewsBreak in self-driving car showdown between Uber and Calif. officials

Los Angeles reporter Justin Pritchard has made the fledgling “autonomous vehicle” industry a sub-beat and has developed sourcing that has produced a number of significant beats for AP. When he heard Uber would begin picking up San Francisco passengers in its self-driving cars, he saw a confrontation brewing with California regulators and the opportunity for another scoop.

Uber had decided not to abide by a requirement to get a permit before starting its service in its hometown. Uber’s aggressive approach in San Francisco crashed a delicately crafted regulatory truce _ the 20 other companies testing prototypes on public roads applied for the permit before hitting the streets, and agreed to report crashes and other safety metrics.

The cars Uber was bringing to San Francisco seemed just the kind that would need a permit, but the leader of Uber’s self-driving program ­_ Anthony Levandowski _told Pritchard in an interview the day before the launch that they didn’t. He argued that because a person was behind the wheel to monitor the car, it was not advanced enough to need a permit.

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Feb. 22, 2019

Best of the States

Victims of the Paradise wildfire; stunning portraits of how they lived and died

The wildfire that consumed Paradise, California, claimed 85 lives while virtually burning the town off the map. But beyond those facts lay a rich narrative of the individuals who perished while calling Paradise home.

AP San Francisco reporters Janie Har and Jocelyn Gecker set out to tell the stories of the victims of the deadly Paradise fire far more comprehensively than was possible in the immediate aftermath: Who were they? Where and when did they die? Did they even have a chance to flee?

To paint a picture of how the tragedy unfolded, the pair spent months tracking down family members – many of whom were wary – to talk about their loved ones, assuring them that AP’s coverage would be more than a recitation of the grim facts. Interviews with California fire officials, a newly available simulation of the fire’s movement on the fateful morning and public records requests enabled AP to produce an interactive graphic giving the exact locations where people died and their approximate times of death.

The result was a riveting package that coupled intimate portraits of the victims with the circumstances of their death. Most never had a chance to flee their homes as the fast-moving fire barreled through.

The moving package was well-received by members throughout California and from coast-to-coast.

For carrying the Paradise story forward with enterprising, sensitive work that focused on the victims’ narratives, Har and Gecker share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 23, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Data, reporting reveal millions exposed to wildfire pollution

used government air pollution data, academic studies and interviews to report exclusively that the western wildfires exposed at least 38 million people in five states to unhealthy levels of smoke, causing emergency room visits to spike and potentially thousands of deaths among the elderly and infirm. The all-formats package included the experience of an Oregon woman whose smoke-triggered asthma attacks twice sent her to the emergency room.https://bit.ly/34hvDgShttps://bit.ly/3m6yeR0

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March 19, 2021

Best of the States

Skeleton found in mountains leads to a family’s story of Japanese internment tragedy

Los Angeles-based reporter Brian Melley reported the initial news of a human skeleton discovered near California’s second-highest peak in 2019, and he broke the news connecting the find to the World War II internment of 110,000 people of Japanese descent. But Melley didn't stop there. He persisted in tracking down family members of Giichi Matsumura, whose body had lain in the mountains for almost 75 years.

Melley found and earned the trust of Matsumura’s granddaughter Lori. In this beautifully elegiac exclusive he reveals how the family’s life in the U.S. was abruptly upended by the Japanese internment, the tragedy compounded by the death of Giichi and the inability to give him a proper burial. It was Lori Matsumura who managed to bring him home for reburial 75 years later, reuniting three generations in a Santa Monica cemetery.

For his determination to follow Giichi Matsumura’s narrative to conclusion, breaking news while telling one family’s poignant story, Melley wins AP’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 23, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Fighting fire with fire: Prescribed burns can prevent catastrophic wildfires

for an all-formats look at prescribed burns, one of the most controversial efforts to head off wildfires. After the devastating California wildfires of the last two years, Melley was assigned to find out how prescribed burns, considered one of the more effective ways to stop or slow fires, were being used to clear brush and other fuel. Melley eventually joined a burn in King’s Canyon National Park where he shot photos and video for a story that outlined the firefighting technique and the issues around it. His cross-format package received wide play in California and the West.https://bit.ly/33qc5ENhttps://bit.ly/33OjzBxhttps://bit.ly/2KNVIJm

Aug. 29, 2019

Best of the States

Early Epstein accuser: Police could have stopped him in 1997

It’s exceedingly rare to get any details from a police report in California and even rarer to get a glimpse inside a detective’s notebook. But Jennifer Peltz and Katie Campione did just that. Peltz and Campione convinced police to finally explain how they handled one of the earliest known sex crime accusations against Jeffrey Epstein, a 1997 case that the accuser has called a massive missed opportunity to bring the financier to justice years before he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls and young women.

Their story turned out to be one of the most popular stories of the week on the AP News mobile site and was also one of the most engaging with readers. Even the Los Angeles Times had no choice but to put the AP story on its website front page.

For going the extra mile to get an explanation for a case that could have stopped Epstein from the start, Katie Campione and Jennifer Peltz win this week's Best of the States.

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Sept. 04, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Despite reports to the contrary, AP finds redwoods still standing

broke the news that the massive and renowned old-growth redwood trees at Big Basin Redwoods State Park had largely survived the region’s devastating wildfires. After other media reported that the ancient trees were “doomed” and had been “wiped out,” Mendoza and Sanchez hiked several smoky miles over waist-high fallen trees to find that the old-growth trees in the park – including the iconic Father and Mother of the Forest – were most definitely standing and had not burned. Even the signs marking the trees were unscathed.The positive news resonated with readers as far away as Iran and India, generating heavy engagement. https://bit.ly/31RxYOh

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July 09, 2021

Best of the States

AP reveals a water crisis at the boiling point for Native Americans, farmers in Western river basin

AP Portland, Oregon, reporter Gillian Flaccus has long followed a simmering issue in the Klamath River Basin, a swath of rural agricultural land in Northern California and southern Oregon that is ground zero for the fight over an increasingly precious resource in the American West: water. Amid extreme drought in the region, the U.S. government has stopped irrigation to hundreds of farmers for the first time in history, while Native American tribes along the 257-mile Klamath River are watching fish species hover closer to extinction. The farmers face ruin and tribes worry their culture will vanish.Flaccus has developed deep sources with area farmers as well as tribal members and recently spent nearly a week in the remote area with freelance photographer Nathan Howard documenting an issue that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Working with New York photo editor and digital storyteller Alyssa Goodman, they produced a sweeping, striking all-formats package that showed the pain on both sides as people begin to realize the water may not be coming back. The package was among AP’s most-viewed stories for Friday. For immersive journalism that explores the human consequences of drought in the U.S. West, Flaccus, Howard and Goodman receive this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 09, 2017

Best of the States

Diversifying pot: How some states are luring minorities into the legal business

For years, marijuana arrests have put minorities in jail at a disproportionately higher rate than whites. Now that recreational marijuana is legal in eight states, the majority of those who benefit most from the profitable industry are white.

Reporters Janie Har, from the Associated Press Race & Ethnicity team, and Bob Salsberg, from the Massachusetts statehouse bureau, set out to explore this dichotomy and how local governments are responding to it.

For their compelling explanation of the cannabis racial divide, Har and Salsberg receive this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

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April 03, 2020

Best of the States

Surviving the coronavirus upheaval may depend on your paycheck – a tale of 2 families

California's Bay Area is full of extremes: poverty and wealth; homelessness and opulence; high-end industry and the service workers who support it. Those extremes matter when it comes to weathering the shutdown in response to the coronavirus.

 Jocelyn Gecker and Olga Rodriguez set out to show how that divide plays out, telling the stories of Rebecca Biernat, a San Francisco attorney, and Sonia Bautista, a hotel worker, and their families. With photographer Jeff Chiu they developed an intimate portrait of the two families – what they have in common and the differences in how they are adjusting to the shutdown.

 For doggedly seeking out the right subjects, overcoming distancing restrictions and expertly weaving together two tales to tell a deeper story about inequality amid turmoil, Gecker, Rodriguez and Chiu earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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