July 12, 2019

Best of the States

Only on AP: Big farms find easy ways around caps on tariff aid

An AP Best of States mention in February about the hundreds of companies avoiding President Donald Trump’s steel tariffs raised questions about Trump’s $12 billion aid package to farmers hurt by the tariffs. What happened next shows how states can produce sharp, data-driven journalism – simply by calling on the data team for help.

AP filed Freedom of Information Act requests for U.S. Department of Agriculture data that was analyzed by Balint Szalai, a Hungarian investigative reporter embedded with AP’s data team, and Washington data team intern Riin Aljas.

Among their findings: Many big farming operations were legally collecting far more than the supposed caps on aid.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis reporter Steve Karnowski spoke to longtime USDA critics and interviewed farmers who defended taking the big checks, saying they didn’t even cover their losses under Trump’s trade war.

The Only-on-AP story ran on dozens of sites, and because the data and analysis were released to AP members in advance, many chose to localize their stories.

For sophisticated data analysis and on-the-ground reporting that shed light on a key consequences of trade policy, Karnowski, Szalai and Aljas share this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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April 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

‘Cartels are scrambling’ as virus disrupts drug trade

revealed how the coronavirus is taking a bite out of the global drug trafficking – everything from severing key supply chains for Chinese precursor drugs to paralyzing the economies upon which drug sales rely. With detailed, on-the-record source work, they reported why drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia are being disrupted and how that is playing out in cities across the U.S., mostly in the form of tight supplies and prices that have risen to crisis-gouging levels. https://bit.ly/355KtWz

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Sept. 04, 2020

Best of the States

AP investigation: Thousands of environmental waivers granted amid pandemic

When the Trump administration waived enforcement of environmental protections because of the pandemic, a former EPA administrator called it a “license to pollute,” while public health officials told AP that it would be difficult to determine the impact.

At that, five AP reporters around the country embarked on a two-month, brute force effort to wrest loose state data on the suspended regulations.

They found more than 3,000 instances of environmental waivers to oil and gas companies, government facilities and other operations, with nationwide implications for public health. 

For deep reporting and painstaking analysis to document the potential consequences of relaxed environmental regulation, the team of Knickmeyer, Bussewitz, Flesher, Brown and Casey wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 28, 2019

Best of the States

AP Analysis: EPA data says US air quality is slipping; EPA regulation could make it worse

Washington science writer Seth Borenstein knew the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was not going to notify anyone when it posted new data on the nation’s air quality for 2018, but he knew where it would be posted. He also knew that the Trump administration was poised to replace an Obama-era clean-air rule with a new regulation that was friendlier to coal-fired power plants, so he kept checking for the agency’s data.

When the data finally showed up, Borenstein teamed with New York-based Health and Science data journalist Nicky Forster to evaluate the data, put it in context and run it by scientists. Forster even pointed out errors that the EPA was forced to correct.

Their persistence made AP the first to report that the annual number of days of poor air quality in the U.S. had increased for the second year in a row, after decades of improvement. The story ran on the eve of the EPA’s announcement of its loosened regulation, undermining the rationale for the new standards with the government’s own numbers. Trump’s new rule, experts told the AP, could turn what is so far a modest backslide into a deadly trend.

For diligent reporting and sophisticated analysis to hold a federal agency accountable for its data and regulatory policy, Borenstein and Forster earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 27, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Vivid package examines wild horse conflict amid Western drought

collaborated on an evocative, in-depth examination of the U.S. government’s roundups of wild horses on the arid plains of the American West. The roundups have expanded during this year’s megadrought. Federal land managers say they are increasing the number of horses removed from the range to protect the parched land and the animals themselves, but wild-horse advocates accuse the government of using the conditions as an excuse to move out the iconic animals to preserve cattle grazing.Photographer Bowmer and Salt Lake City colleague Whitehurst attended a July roundup on the plains west of Salt Lake City and watched from a mountaintop perch as about 300 horses were corralled to be adopted or kept in captivity. Bowmer’s striking images include helicopters swooping low to corral the horses as the mustangs gallop away, and horses gathered around watering holes against a mountain landscape. Whitehurst and Denver reporter Anderson weaved color into the story, describing the horses’ high-pitched whinnies rising into the dry air, while explaining how the summer roundups have escalated tensions between government officials and the horse advocates. The package was used by countless members in the West and elsewhere in the country.https://aplink.news/7ulhttps://apnews.com/hub/drought...

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Dec. 10, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Dogged source work, preparation deliver scoop on 1st US omicron case

teamed up to score a major beat on news of the first case of the omicron variant in the United States.

Balsamo, lead federal law enforcement reporter and one of the best-sourced journalists in the AP, knew omicron was headed toward the U.S. and kept in close touch with his contacts, circling back repeatedly to ask whether the virus had been identified on U.S. soil.When he finally got word from a rock-solid source, Balsamo went to White House reporter Miller, who also had been chasing the story and quickly confirmed it. The two moved lightning fast, writing a story off Miller’s smart prep reporting. Leveraging their sources, they had an alert on the wire within four minutes, and a story moved about three minutes later.They beat the official announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — that the first known omicron case had been detected in California — by just a few minutes but in the world of competitive scoops, minutes can feel like hours. TV, radio, major websites all used AP’s story on one of the most highly anticipated stories of the week. https://aplink.news/f7e

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Aug. 20, 2021

Best of the States

AP finds colleges concerned as some students turn to counterfeit vaccine cards

It started with a tip.

When a college student mentioned that fellow unvaccinated students were getting fake COVID-19 vaccine cards in order to attend in-person classes, AP global investigations intern Roselyn Romero remembered that she'd seen an account on Instagram offering fake cards for $25 each.

Romero began searching social media platforms and talked to college students, faculty, administrators and health officials. What she found was a cottage industry offering to accommodate people who refuse to get vaccinated but need documentation saying that they’ve had the shots.

Her deeply reported story had nearly 250,000 pageviews on AP News and was used by hundreds of news outlets, including online and print front pages. She was also interviewed by NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer responded by calling for a multiagency crackdown on the counterfeit cards.

For having a major national impact with her first AP byline, Roselyn Romero wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 02, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Got guns? Sourcing, data and subject expertise reveal record 300,000 rejected U.S. gun sales

At a time when gun sales in America are reaching record highs and political divisions run deep, Salt Lake City reporter Lindsay Whitehurst has become a recognized authority on shifting weapons laws at the state level. She has cultivated sources on both sides of the issue and earned a reputation as a fair and accurate interpreter of the national schism over guns.

That’s why, after working for months with sources at Everytown for Gun Safety, a major player in the gun control lobby, the nonprofit turned to her with a trove of exclusive records on attempted firearms purchases that were denied by the FBI last year.

Whitehurst dove into the FBI data that showed gun sale rejections at an all-time high. Nearly half of the denials were for convicted felons, at a time when fights for universal background checks continue to fail. And although lying on a firearms background check is a federal offense, Whitehurst also learned that such cases are rarely prosecuted, raising the questionof why — in a volatile America — authorities are not investigating those who try despite being banned.

For probing these questions, and her leadership on a beat that touches on some of the nation’s most fundamental and contentious rights, Whitehurst earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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July 02, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Resourceful reporting, legal challenge reveal FBI going for the gold

has been breaking news about buried treasure since 2018, when the FBI conducted a secretive dig in a remote area of Pennsylvania, aimed at recovering a legendary cache of stolen Civil War-era gold. The FBI has long refused to confirm it was searching for the fabled gold — while also insisting it didn’t find whatever it was hoping to dig up.Rubinkam knew the FBI needed a federal search warrant to gain access to the site, but every document in the case was sealed ... as if the case didn’t exist. With help from AP attorney Brian Barrett and a Philadelphia-based media lawyer, a judge lifted the sealing order, revealing a veritable gold mine of news and confirming Rubinkam’s previous reporting: that the feds were, indeed, looking for gold. Among the details in the FBI’s unsealed affidavit: A contractor’s sensitive instruments had detected a huge underground mass with the density of gold.What the unsealed case didn’t include was a document describing what the FBI actually found. Federal prosecutors assert no such document exists because the dig came up empty. But the treasure hunters who led the FBI to the site in the first place believe the evidence says otherwise. They are seeking FBI records of the dig.Rubinkam’s story was among the top 10 most-viewed stories on apnews.com last week. It appeared on newspapers' front pages and spurred follow-ups, including by The Washington Post.https://aplink.news/gcohttps://aplink.news/jyq

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Aug. 21, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scoop on Justice Department investigation of Yale discrimination

landed a scoop on a Justice Department investigation into higher education. Balsamo got word through sources that the two-year investigation was completed and had found something attention-grabbing: Yale University was illegally discriminating against Asian American and white applicants, in violation of federal civil rights law. Working with education reporter Collin Binkley, the pair scrambled to move a story that crushed other major news outlets by nearly an hour. Thanks to Binkley’s reporting, the AP was also first to get Yale’s statement on the probe, which it said was “hasty” and unfair. https://bit.ly/34cw1gT

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Sept. 18, 2020

Best of the States

Putting a human face to the numbers: A waiter made homeless by the pandemic

Since the pandemic took hold in America, myriad stories have covered the broad economic impact of millions laid off or underemployed. But few have captured how the chilling trickle-down effect is changing lives.

Enter Kelli Kennedy. The Florida reporter produced a compelling, poignant story on one man's struggle with the devastating effects of the coronavirus shutdowns. Orlando resident Jeff Lello lost his waiter job, ended up homeless and briefly lived in a tent in the woods. 

The story was among AP’s most-read of the week, drawing feedback from readers, colleagues and even politicians.

For a stark narrative of unemployment wrought by the pandemic, Kennedy’s story wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 25, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Feds probing in-custody death of Black man in Louisiana

reported exclusively on the launch of a federal investigation into the death last year of Ronald Greene, a Black man in Louisiana, following what state troopers say was a struggle at the end of a traffic chase. It is a long-simmering case in which police have refused to release any body camera video or records. Mustian’s deep reporting also included confirmation of a separate FBI civil rights investigation and the publication of graphic death photos. The probe has raised questions that the Louisiana State Police has so far refused to answer.https://bit.ly/33Zvf58https://bit.ly/33Z1yBd

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May 21, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Deep AP reporting on NFL’s race-adjusted brain injury settlements

reported that thousands of retired Black professional football players, their families and supporters are demanding an end to the use of “race-norming,” a practice the NFL has insisted on using in the league’s $1 billion brain injury settlement. Black NFL players delivered some 50,000 petitions to a federal court to end the practice.The algorithm used by the NFL assumes Black men start with lower cognitive skills. They must therefore score much lower than whites to show enough mental decline to win an award. The practice went unnoticed until 2018.Dale and Smith recognized that the story extends far beyond sports and money, to discrimination and racial injustice. Their deeply reported story quotes neurology experts who said the practice, sometimes used in medicine as a rough proxy for socioeconomic factors that can affect a person’s health, should not be used in the settlement because it has the effect of systematically discriminating against Black players. The story played widely; CBSN devoted eight minutes to the piece, calling it “a damning report.” https://aplink.news/rcp

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May 14, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Nationwide reporting effort exposes dwindling vaccine demand

led a nationwide reporting effort revealing that COVID-19 vaccine demand is plummeting.Each week, states are told how many vaccine doses are available to them, and they in turn decide how many they want to order from the federal supply. Reporters started hearing anecdotal evidence of states ordering paltry amounts of vaccine in recent weeks, at a time when the Biden administration wants to get 70% of adult Americans vaccinated by July 4.So AP reporters across the country asked governors how many vaccines they were ordering last week. Some states, like Iowa, Kansas and Wisconsin, decided to order a fraction of their allocation, as low as 8% of what’s available to them. Other locations, like New York City, Colorado and Maryland, were asking for their full allocation. Hollingsworth, based in Kansas City, Missouri, and Richmond, in Madison, Wisconsin, fleshed out the numbers with examples of widespread vaccine hesitancy around the country, and what states were doing to entice more shots.The result was a smart mainbar on Saturday that connected the dots in a way that only the AP can, with its 50-statehouse presence. The piece also set the stage for a broader, more advanced data collection effort that the AP will build on in the coming weeks. https://aplink.news/i67

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Sept. 25, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals Walmart, Amazon donations to Q-linked lawmaker

reviewed campaign finance records and social media posts, finding that Walmart, Amazon and other corporate giants donated to the reelection campaign of a Tennessee lawmaker who had amplified and promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory. Milligan helped compile and review Federal Election Commission data for 81 current or former congressional candidates who have expressed support for or interest in QAnon. The AP analysis showed that dozens of QAnon-promoting candidates have run for federal or state offices during this election cycle. Collectively, they have raised nearly $5 million from thousands of donors. Individually, however, most of them have run poorly financed campaigns with little or no corporate or party backing. Kunzelman’s story showed up in more than 200 news outlets with strong engagement, including Hollywood director Judd Apatow, who tweeted a link to his 2.4 million followers. https://bit.ly/3j0AnfH

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May 14, 2021

Best of the States

Nimble AP reporting reveals Alabama trooper charged in child rape hid alleged misconduct at FBI

In a classic case of keeping an open mind during reporting, AP’s Jim Mustian and Kim Chandler started out reporting one story, but found themselves reporting exclusively that an Alabama state trooper, arrested on charges he raped an 11-year-old girl, had used a forged letter and lied on his application to get hired after being removed from the FBI — also on serious allegations of sexual misconduct.

To federal law enforcement reporter Mustian, this initially appeared as yet another case of the FBI allowing an accused agent to quietly move on with his career. But just as he was about to publish, the FBI said the bureau letter Christopher Bauer submitted to Alabama authorities when he was hired was “not legitimate.” Meanwhile, Chandler, Montgomery statehouse reporter, tracked down Bauer’s application for the trooper job, in which he said he was still employed by the FBI and had never been forced to resign because of disciplinary action.

This had become the story of a former agent, and perhaps others, falsifying his record. The piece was among the week’s top stories on AP News, with nearly 200,000 pageviews.

For deep reporting that followed the story wherever it took them, Mustian and Chandler earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP pauses to get story of ‘discarded’ Trump ballots right

resisted competitive pressure, holding off on a Department of Justice press release on an investigation into “discarded” military ballots for President Donald Trump, instead taking the time to do a more deeply reported story.Most media rushed to publish when a U.S. attorney in the battleground state of Pennsylvania took the unusual step of announcing the ongoing investigation, saying nine mail-in ballots for the president had been “cast aside” in a county elections office. The county manager later blamed the incident on confusion over the appearance of the envelopes, but conservative social media quickly seized on the initial announcement while the Trump campaign blamed Democrats for “trying to steal the election.”The original press release, however, was short on details and no one, federal or local, was talking. Pennsylvania news editor Christina Paciolla brought the story to the attention of AP’s voting team, and a deeper examination began.The AP drew on expertise across the organization to produce a far more well-informed story the following day, providing essential context and new information, including the U.S. attorney defending his announcement of the votes for Trump, and that Attorney General William Barr had previously briefed the president on the case. https://bit.ly/3if2LJZ

Oct. 09, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive audio: Black man died after beating by Louisiana trooper

exclusively obtained an audio clip from the body-camera footage of a Louisiana state trooper implicated in the death of a Black motorist last year, capturing the trooper saying, “I beat the ever-living f--- out of him.” It is the most direct evidence yet to emerge in the death last year of Ronald Greene, which troopers initially blamed on injuries from a car crash at the end of a chase. The long-simmering case has now become the subject of a federal civil rights investigation and growing calls for authorities to release the full body-cam video.

Mustian, a former investigative reporter for The New Orleans Advocate, is deeply sourced on the Louisiana State Police and has been consistently out front on this story. He broke the news that federal investigators were stepping in, and his scoop on the trooper’s 27-second audio received strong play through several busy news cycles. https://bit.ly/3d4CwoH

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July 09, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

15-month data collaboration yields exclusives on COVID in prisons

collaborated with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focusing on criminal justice, for 15 months during the pandemic, tracking coronavirus in prisons in all 50 states.The reporters tracked virus sickness, death and vaccinations from every prison system and the federal government. Each week they entered the data into the system that editors refined into what became the definitive picture of COVID-19 and incarceration. They filed exclusives off the data along the way, detailing how 1 in 5 prisoners were sickened nationwide, thousands had died, how prisons and jails emptied out and then started to fill up again, and how the uniquely grueling conditions of prison — close quarters, poor health and hygiene, would make for a breeding ground like no other for the virus.The journalists reported how prisoners, despite being in an extremely high-risk environment, were often put lower on the vaccination list out of political fears over public perception. They also discovered how the prison systems were able to adapt to meet the moment in some cases, increasing transparency and letting prisoners go free without an increase in crime — only to draw the curtains closed once the virus abated. Every single story was an exclusive based on the team’s exhaustive data.https://aplink.news/vajhttps://aplink.news/404https://bit.ly/3dS34evhttps://aplink.news/pxuhttps://aplink.news/9p5https://aplink.news/7c5

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