June 29, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Kobach sought pardon for VP of a corporate donor

Topeka correspondent John Hanna had been hearing hints for weeks that there might be something in Kris Kobach’s record that could cause trouble for the Kansas secretary of state and candidate for governor.

At first, it was just that: hints. The suggestions were so vague that Hanna set off to review the nationally known Republican’s statements, but Hanna, whose reporting sense is informed by 30 years of statehouse reporting, found nothing.

So he kept digging. Eventually a source suggested there might be something to do with a pardon, and Hanna filed a records request.

The governor’s office released a copy of its file on a pardon request for Ryan Bader, the vice president of TriStar Arms, a firearms importer. Bader had faced an aggravated robbery charge over a 2009 incident but agreed to a plea bargain and received a light sentence. Now he wanted a pardon so that he could buy a gun again and get the licenses needed to take over the family business.

Bader’s attorney for the pardon request? Kobach. The records showed Kobach did not provide a key police affidavit that was later released by the office of GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer – whom Kobach is challenging. But there was more. Campaign finance records showed that TriStar had donated at least $7,000 to Kobach’s campaigns for secretary of state and governor. The company also helped sponsor a fundraiser with Donald Trump Jr.

Hanna’s APNewsBreak was well used, including a post on the homepage of a member that is usually hesitant to showcase work done outside its newsroom. It also became a topic of a gubernatorial debate, with Kobach defending the pardon request.

For smart digging and use of public records that helped drive the news agenda and political conversation, Hanna wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 20, 2018

Best of the States

AP investigation: Pence family’s failed gas station empire cost taxpayers millions to clean up

Indianapolis correspondent Brian Slodysko’s investigative story started from one sentence buried in a news release. It said that the public was paying for environmental cleanup at a contaminated petroleum storage site in Indianapolis that Vice President Mike Pence’s family abandoned after their gas station empire went bankrupt in 2004. The release didn’t mention Pence, just Kiel Brothers.

After attending a demolition celebration, where he photographed a crew tearing down a massive tank that had long-blighted a neighborhood, Slodysko worked over the coming months to detail how extensive contamination from the business was – and quantify the public cost.

The result: Indiana taxpayers paid more than $21 million to clean up after the company, in all likelihood a conservative figure because many of the documents were redacted, missing or incomplete.

But cost alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Slodysko’s review of public records showed that the Pence family business – which was run by Mike Pence’s older brother Greg, who is now running for Congress – repeatedly received favorable treatment from the state.

The story ran, or was teased, on the front page of at least eight Indiana papers, including the Indianapolis Star, which ran the story and photo across the top. It was also featured on the website of the Columbus Republic, Mike Pence’s hometown newspaper.

For an investigation that revealed the millions of tax dollars used to clean up more than 85 contaminated sites in three states, Slodysko earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 16, 2021

Best of the States

AP takes immersive look as drought puts ‘flatlining’ Great Salt Lake at historic risk

As the western U.S. finds itself in the grips of one of the worst droughts in recent history, the AP West region staff has delved into every aspect of the drought’s impact across the region. In one of the hardest-hit areas, the Salt Lake City-based team of Rick Bowmer, Lindsay Whitehurst and Brady McCombs documented that Utah’s Great Salt Lake may be headed to the lowest water levels in 170 years.

Reporting ahead of other news outlets, they delivered an all-formats package with stunning visuals showing readers how the dying lake is impacting people and wildlife and is a harbinger of worrisome drought-related consequences ahead. Decades of drought and water diversion in the booming region have hurt bird habitats, forced boats from shallow water and exposed dry lakebed that could send arsenic-laced dust into the air that millions breathe.

The result was a compelling package that had the highest engagement of all AP stories on July 6 and fourth-most for the week.

For distinctive work that expands AP’s ongoing coverage of climate and drought in the West, the team of Bowmer, Whitehurst and McCombs wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 15, 2019

Best of the States

Freeze frames: Resourceful, creative visuals of old-school ice harvesting

It doesn’t get much cooler than this.

Portland, Maine-based photographer Bob Bukaty’s captivating video and photos bring to life the 120-year-old tradition of ice harvesting, a process that yields ice used for cooling beverages at a New Hampshire summer resort. Using a variety of techniques, equipment, angles, reflections and vantage points, Bukaty took the readers onto the ice on Squam Lake in Holderness, N.H.

Concord correspondent Michael Casey originated the story and wrote the text, while East digital presentation editor Samantha Shotzbarger adapted Casey’s text story into an audio script, voiced by broadcast journalist Warren Levinson.

Bukaty spent most of a frigid day on the lake, using a GoPro camera in a waterproof housing to record the activity under and over the 13-inch-thick ice. He also recorded interviews of group members who used chain saws, ice picks and a massive sled-mounted saw to harvest the blocks of ice from the lake surface.

The striking visuals were the talk of newsrooms in New England and at New York headquarters. By week’s end the story had nearly 30,000 page views, and the video spent three days among AP’s top U.S. newsroom-ready videos – even while competing against State of the Union coverage.

For their story that generated national interest with compelling visuals, the team of Bukaty, Shotzbarger and Casey wins this week’s Best of the States.

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July 05, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Potential conflict for Trump’s UN nominee

for exclusively obtaining documents that expose a potential conflict of interest for Kelly Craft, President Donald Trump’s nominee for United Nations ambassador, on the topics of climate change and fossil fuels. When senior Environmental Protection Agency officials sent an email to Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, the acknowledgment email they received wasn’t from the ambassador. It was from her husband, coal magnate Joseph Craft, a wealthy GOP donor who has joined the coal industry in pressing for access and regulatory relief from the EPA and the Trump administration. It wasn’t the first time the Crafts had blurred roles – and email accounts – raising questions as senators consider her nomination to the U.N. Knickmeyer found several other examples of potential conflicts. https://bit.ly/2LugYWy

July 17, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exposing how ‘desperation science’ slows the race for a remedy

revealed how pressure and politics have corrupted and delayed the scientific process, slowing the development of effective treatments against the coronavirus pandemic.Marchione reviewed studies that are underway and interviewed dozens of doctors, researchers, patients and policy experts as she looked at organizations trying to do rigorous science, as well as the issues undermining that research. Young found creative ways to tell the story visually, including a GoPro mounted on a medical cart. Together they document a Pennsylvania COVID-19 patient enrolled in a clinical trial.The story – challenging to report because of the fluid and chaotic nature of the subject itself – attracted readers and generated interest on social media, a strong showing for non-breaking news.https://bit.ly/2B1uyxRhttps://bit.ly/2CFLpqo

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Teamwork delivers sweeping coverage of Supreme Court nomination

coordinated their reporting to deliver smooth, comprehensive coverage – and exclusives – as the death and memorial of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg transitioned to the rollout of President Donald Trump’s nomination for the now-vacant seat: Judge Amy Coney Barrett.The AP team focused on Barrett as the front-runner for the nomination and had a robust package ready for Trump’s formal announcement. Coverage of the nomination included a revelatory biography of “Scalia’s heir,” how the nomination came about, how Barrett could be the polar opposite of Ginsburg on the court and how the GOP was investing some $10 million in a digital ad blitz to promote Barrett as the next justice on the nation’s highest court.https://bit.ly/2GgS506https://bit.ly/34e1EoMhttps://bit.ly/34gKhUChttps://bit.ly/33gm7u6

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP breaks news on Trump involvement in Michigan certification

delivered two jarring scoops as President Donald Trump shifted to a new tactic in his effort to upend the results of the 2020 presidential election.When the two Republicans on the Wayne County, Michigan, canvass board tried to rescind their vote to certify local results, White House Reporter Zeke Miller wondered if Trump was behind their move and started connecting the dots. Working with Washington colleague Colleen Long and others on the law enforcement team, Miller called around to sources he had developed around the country and uncovered major news: The president had made personal calls to the two canvass board members before they tried to rescind their votes. It showed that Trump’s game had shifted from the courtrooms, where his team was constantly losing, to personally trying to intervene. Miller’s scoop went viral — used by hundreds of websites and tweeted by every major election watcher in the country as a shocking example of the lengths Trump would go to in order to subvert the election. Lansing correspondent David Eggert, working with Miller and Long, followed up with a scoop of his own, reporting that state lawmakers had been summoned to Washington to meet with Trump. The trio’s stories on the drama in Michigan were stocked with news but also wove in critical context on the baseless and extraordinary claims that Trump was making and the damage he was doing to confidence in democratic traditions. Their stories were clear, authoritative, and comprehensive, including important fact check material. https://bit.ly/3lc8IJ6https://bit.ly/36huruX

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Jan. 15, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Riot in America: Compelling and courageous coverage of the insurrection at the US Capitol

The AP team arriving on Capitol Hill expected to cover history on Jan. 6: an unprecedented challenge from Republicans lawmakers to the outcome of the election. Within hours, however, those staffers found themselves covering an insurrectionist mob storming the U.S. Capitol.

As angry supporters of President Donald Trump descended on Capitol Hill, confronting police, breaking down barricades and smashing through windows, AP journalists working in all formats documented the chaotic scenes inside and outside the Capitol.

Despite orders to evacuate, trashed equipment and a vicious attack on one of our staffers, the team on the ground kept words and images moving throughout the day, highlighted by stunning visuals. The work continued into the early hours of the next morning, when Congress finally the certified election results.

For their riveting real-time coverage as U.S. history unfolded, the courageous and dedicated staff on Capitol Hill earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 19, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP story helps derail partisan effort to oust Tennessee judge

revealed a move by the Tennessee House to oust Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, a judge who allowed widespread access to absentee voting before the 2020 election.That ruling last summer by Lyle didn't sit well with Tennessee Republicans. So not long after the legislature reconvened for the first time after the 2020 election, an effort to remove her began in earnest. With GOP supermajorities in both chambers, the measure had a chance to pass despite concerns that it represented a breach of judicial independence.Mattise’s March 8 story went deep on the mounting criticism, including colorful context on Tennessee’s previous efforts to remove judges over the past 50 years. The day after the story hit the wire, the push to oust Lyle went down to defeat in a House subcommittee, demonstrating the power of sunshine to upend questionable policy making. https://bit.ly/3tvbttG

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April 23, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Sharp questions elicit Haley’s comments on Trump, 2024 run

asked a series of smart, precise questions that helped draw out Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor, on her views of former President Donald Trump and whether she would seek the GOP nomination in 2024 if Trump runs again.Haley hasn't given many interviews recently, but during a visit to an historically black college, Columbia-based reporter Kinnard first asked whether Trump’s recent criticism of Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence hurt the GOP. Haley answered with essentially positive remarks about Trump. Then, when asked if she would support him if he chose to run again in 2024, Haley said yes, and if Trump does run, she said she’d forgo a run of her own. Haley’s comments, elicited by Kinnard, made news and sparked significant conversation on social media. https://bit.ly/3dBkn3z

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