March 15, 2019

Best of the States

Between the lines of a press release: Gray wolves could lose federal protection

The passing reference in a draft statement on an unrelated topic would have been easy miss. But Billings, Montana, correspondent Matthew Brown instantly recognized its significance – the U.S. was planning to lift protections for gray wolves, an action that would reignite the emotional debate over the predators’ resurgence.

Brown was reporting on sage grouse when he came across the draft Interior Department press release. It mentioned remarks that Acting Secretary David Bernhardt planned to make the next day at a wildlife conference in Denver: Gray wolves had recovered across the Lower 48 states.

Brown recognized the implication of that one sentence, and teamed up with fellow environmental beat team writer John Flesher of Traverse City, Michigan, to begin a race against the clock. Brown and Flesher scrambled to break the news before Bernhardt took the stage the next morning at the closed-press wildlife conference. Finally a source confirmed: Protections for wolves were again in the agency’s crosshairs.

The APNewsAlert moved at 8:45 a.m., a full 15 minutes before Bernhardt was scheduled to speak. Other news outlets were forced to follow in AP’s wake, posting their own stories that relied on a statement put out by Interior.

For seizing on a stray reference and reporting it out into a significant APNewsBreak on wolves, Brown and Flesher win this week’s Best of the States.

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March 29, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Black lung sufferers fear for benefits; feds cut the tax that funds care

for revealing that in the turmoil over the government shutdown, a tax that pays for medical treatment for black lung sufferers was quietly cut in half. Lovan broke the story with a muscular multimedia package demonstrating the decision’s impact at its most human, visceral level – and placed that in the context of the Trump administration’s promises to save the coal industry. https://bit.ly/2YkBNYuhttps://bit.ly/2WveFFd

Aug. 07, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Portland protests – the view from both sides of the fence

This week’s Best of the Week celebrates the team of AP journalists whose extensive coverage of the Portland protests culminated in an exclusive all-formats look at the conflict from the perspective of both demonstrators and federal officers.

With reporting and visuals from inside the federal courthouse that no other news organization could match, and consistently strong coverage from the crowd massed outside the building, the AP team documented the drama and chaos, as well as the human stories amid the nightly volley of fireworks and tear gas canisters.

The defining feature that moved Sunday night was the most clicked/engaged AP story for much of Monday, sparking discussion and widely cited for its comprehensive, fair reporting.

For balanced and insightful coverage from both sides of the Portland divide, setting AP apart on a highly charged story, the team of Gillian Flaccus, Mike Balsamo, Aron Ranen, Marcio Sanchez, Noah Berger, Sara Cline and Krysta Fauria wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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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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July 31, 2020

Best of the States

AP all-formats team delivers stunning coverage of Portland protests

When the arrival of militarized federal agents in Portland, Oregon, escalated tensions in the state’s largest city – energizing the racial justice movement and inflaming protests outside the federal courthouse – AP’s all-formats coverage shined all week. 

The AP team, often at risk themselves, delivered a steady stream of breaking news developments, searing images of nightly clashes involving lasers, fires, homemade bombs and tear gas, as well as exclusive coverage from inside the courthouse.

For a week’s worth of powerful, revealing stories and startling images that provided insight into the events in Portland, the team of Flaccus, Berger, Sanchez, Ranen, Balsamo, Selsky, Cline and Fauria wins AP’s Best of the States award.

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May 28, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Investigative reporter obtains bodycam video of Ronald Greene’s deadly arrest

When Ronald Greene died in 2019, Louisiana State Police troopers initially blamed the Black man’s death on injuries from a crash at the end of a high-speed chase, then later said Greene became unresponsive in a struggle with troopers and died on his way to the hospital.

For the most part, that was all the public would know about the case, until AP’s Jim Mustian took up the story. Since he began reporting nine months ago, he’s broken a string of stories revealing there was more to the story. But Mustian always knew he needed to get his hands on one crucial piece of evidence: video.

This past week, Mustian did just that. In the most explosive break yet in the case, Mustian obtained body camera footage that showed Greene repeatedly apologizing and pleading for mercy as troopers jolted him with stun guns, put him in a choke hold, punched him and dragged him by his ankle shackles. The story led national newscasts and websites, and fronted newspapers across the country, with credit to AP’s reporting and the video, again and again.

This scoop was the work of one dogged investigative reporter who never stopped believing that the world should know what really happened to Ronald Greene. For that we honor Jim Mustian with AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 13, 2021

Best of the States

AP: Louisiana police brass eyed for obstruction of justice in Black motorist’s deadly arrest

Law enforcement reporters Jim Mustian and Jake Bleiberg kept the AP out front on the fallout from the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene, exclusively reporting that federal prosecutors are investigating whether top Louisiana State Police brass obstructed justice to protect the troopers seen on body camera video punching, dragging and stunning the Black motorist.

It was just the latest in a string of AP scoops on the highly secretive in-custody death that troopers initially blamed on a car crash.

The pair also exclusively obtained the full confidential file on the Greene case, including evidence photos showing troopers with Greene’s blood on their hands, uniforms and badges. The story, accompanied by some of those photos and the body cam video, was one of the AP's most engaged offerings of the week.

For strong investigative work to keep exposing the details of a case that had long been shrouded in secrecy, Mustian and Bleiberg win this week’s Best of the States award.

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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. 03, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

US didn't track more than $150B in pandemic school aid. AP did.

teamed up on an all-formats project documenting what happened to historic sums of pandemic aid released to the nation’s schools.Congress has sent more than $150 billion to the states to help K-12 schools since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but the federal government has no accounting of where that money went. Over a period of months, reporter Mulvihill and data journalists Fassett and Fenn did that painstaking work, going state by state to ferret out how multiple streams of congressional funding as used. The result was a massive but granular database shared with AP customers in advance of publication, showing how much federal money each school district in the country received and how it compared to other schools — public, private and charter.With reporting help from Binkley, the team also produced three distinctive news leads: Most school districts do not intend to spend the money in the transformative ways the Biden administration envisions; virtual schools that were already fully online before the pandemic received as much or more as traditional school districts; and some Republican governors used the windfall to further school choice policies that had previously been blocked by legislatures or courts. Householder delivered the video while Krupa and Osorio handled photos in Massachusetts and Detroit respectively.Drawing on AP’s national reach, the work resulted in data that customers could localize as well as two explanatory webinars and sidebars in more than a dozen states by AP statehouse reporters.https://aplink.news/jbehttps://aplink.news/usjhttps://aplink.news/thrhttps://aplink.video/b65

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May 15, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: States receiving disproportionate shares of virus aid

revealed that some of the least-populated states with relatively few coronavirus cases received an outsized proportion of the $150 billion in federal money that was designed to address virus-related expenses. The AP analysis found that much of the aid went to states where there was relatively little need. Alaska, Hawaii, Montana and Wyoming all received from $2 million to more than $3 million per COVID-19 case. The hardest-hit state, New York, received just $24,000 per case and New Jersey slightly more. https://bit.ly/2YZWQ5n

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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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