Jan. 31, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: NFL’s Saints allegedly do damage control for Catholic Church on abuse crisis

New York-based federal law enforcement reporter Jim Mustian never gives up on a story.

Sticking with a case he began covering at another news organization in another state more than two years ago, Mustian landed a jaw-dropping exclusive for the AP: That a trove of hundreds of confidential emails has surfaced allegedly showing executives of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints doing public relations damage control for the area’s Roman Catholic archdiocese amid its clergy sexual abuse crisis.

The story had an immediate, visceral impact with readers and earned praise from fellow journalists.

Mustian will continue to chip away at this story and, hopefully, reveal more about the Saints and their involvement with the church. But for now, Mustian’s sticktoitiveness and tough accountability reporting earns him this week’s Best of the States 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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Dec. 11, 2020

Best of the States

True West: Enterprise reporting reveals lurid story that led to Idaho cold case arrest

An arrest in a decades-old Idaho cold case started Boise correspondent Rebecca Boone digging, aiming to tell a broader story about the victim, the suspect and the colorful — and at times shady — pro rodeo and gambling circuit. 

Forty years ago, Dan Woolley was shot in the parking lot of a small-town bar in the Idaho mountains. The shooter crossed the street to the only other bar in town, ordered a drink and declared, “I just killed a man.” Then he disappeared. But late last year an 87-year-old man was arrested in Texas for the slaying — a former pro rodeo rider.

Boone spent months building trust with Woolley’s son and other sources, talking to long-time central Idaho residents and historians. All while juggling her state coverage of breaking news, the pandemic and the 2020 election.

The result of her efforts, an engaging 1,900-word Saturday piece, was among AP’s top stories for the weekend. For an absorbing read that is a textbook example of a general assignment reporter chipping away at a challenging enterprise piece, Boone earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 30, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP gets first look inside China’s largest detention center, breaks news on Uyghur incarceration

The sprawling Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center in Xinjiang, China, is the largest such facility in China (possibly the world), holding perhaps 10,000 or more and embodying the plight of the Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities. Western news organizations have only been able to report from the outside. But the Beijing-based team of enterprise journalist Dake Kang, photographer Mark Schiefelbein and news director Ken Moritsugu managed to get a tour, making the AP the first Western news organization to report inside the facility.

They delivered a vivid package on life inside the detention center, from numbered and tagged Uyghurs sitting ramrod straight to the instructions on force-feeding in the medical room. The journalists also revealed a disturbing new trend: China is moving from the temporary detention of Uyghurs to more permanent mass incarceration of people who have committed no real crime.

The story topped AP’s reader engagement for the week and drew comment from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who called China’s repression of the Uyghurs “horrific.”

For bringing the world rare insight into the detention centers where China holds Uyghurs, the team of Kang, Schiefelbein and Moritsugu earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP staffers on three continents scramble to fact-check the pope on Chile abuse

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield sensed a potentially explosive development in Chile's long-running sex abuse and cover-up scandal when she noticed a cryptic tweet from a former member of the Pope Francis' abuse advisory board.

Board member Marie Collins had tweeted that Francis was well aware that victims of Chile's most infamous predator priest had placed Bishop Juan Barros at the scene of their abuse. Collins herself had been involved in relaying those concerns to him.

Intrigued and sensing an important twist in a story that AP has already dominated, Winfield and Santiago correspondent Eva Vergara kicked off an extraordinary effort that would culminate in a three-day, multinational, cross-format papal fact-check, prompting calls for the pope to come clean about a scandal that now threatens his legacy.

Over the course of one frantic weekend the enterprise involved a Paris airport stakeout by senior TV producer Jeff Schaeffer, a missed Super Bowl party hosted by Philadelphia-based TV producer Yvonne Lee and a surreal TV interview conducted by AP reporters on three continents.

For teamwork that spanned the globe, in service of a story of immense global interest, Winfield, Vergara, Schaeffer and Lee are recognized with Beat of the Week.

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May 17, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Russian hackers posed as Islamic State to harass US military wives

The threat over her phone to Army wife Angela Ricketts was terrifying. “Dear Angela!” it said. “Bloody Valentine’s Day!”

“We know everything about you, your husband and your children,” it continued, claiming that Islamic State militants had penetrated her computer. “We’re much closer than you can even imagine.”

More than three years after Ricketts and four other military wives received this and other alarming messages, AP London-based cybersecurity reporter Raphael Satter unraveled the secret behind it all. Satter drew on a massive hit list of Russian hacking targets, focusing on a group of five women whose names were clustered together on the list. All reported having received death threats from a mysterious group calling itself CyberCaliphate back in 2015.

The threats were not from Middle Eastern terrorists at all, but hackers from the Russian group widely dubbed Fancy Bear – the same gang who later broke into the Democratic Party’s emails and interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

For revealing the latest wrinkle in the Russian hacking story, Satter earns the Beat of the Week.

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July 10, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: China forces Uighurs to cut births with IUDs, abortions, sterilization

The shocking story exposed a serious human rights issue: The Chinese government has forced the use of IUDs, abortions and sterilization on members of China’s Muslim minority in an apparent effort to reduce its population. 

The piece, which ran without a byline for security reasons, established that China is imposing birth control on Uighurs and other Muslims in a far more widespread and systematic way than previously known. The exclusive reporting drew on Uighur and Kazakh sources, research by a prominent China scholar and hours-long interviews with ex-detainees, family members and even a former detention camp instructor. 

The story elicited a strong global response from government officials, news media and the public.

For uncovering another major chapter on the plight of the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China, the unidentified AP reporter wins this week’s Best of the Week award.

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May 27, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

In-depth look at resisters committed to abortion access

set out to explore the abortion rights resistance — dedicated advocates for abortion access who are grappling with what is expected to be a wave of women seeking abortions as the U.S. Supreme Court takes aim at Roe v. Wade and states tighten restrictions, pushing pregnant people farther from home — some hundreds of miles away.After interviewing more than a dozen people, the pair reported for all-formats on a woman with a Midwest coalition providing “practical support” for women seeking abortions. Galofaro and Irvine spent days on her Missouri farm, shadowing Alison Dreith as she fielded calls on a hotline used by women desperate for help.And a companion story revealed the deeply religious employees of an Alabama abortion clinic who have no trouble reconciling their work with their religion, breaking preconceptions about the religious divide over abortion.Both stories won wide use and high reader engagement, prompting praise for balanced, nuanced coverage.Read more

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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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Dec. 06, 2019

Best of the States

Dual labors of love: Documenting a Chicago neighborhood that would not die

Chicago-based national writer Martha Irvine has always been interested in stories about the city’s neighborhoods that buck stereotypes. So when she learned of a grassroots project to “reclaim” abandoned housing on the city’s South Side, Irvine began what she calls “a labor of love.” 

She spent months getting to know the people of the Chicago Lawn neighborhood and their stories. Residents – ex-cons, immigrants, members of the urban working class – were not prepared to let their neighborhood succumb to the malaise that had engulfed other areas of the city, so they came together to make Chicago Lawn a desirable place to live. 

Irvine did it all – not just writing this remarkable story, but shooting the photos and video. The package received heavy play and elicited rewarding feedback. One woman called the work “incredibly uplifting,” adding, “Loved the video, too. Inspiration station.”

For a compelling all-formats package that shed light on a Chicago neighborhood’s success story and resonated with readers, Martha Irvine earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 14, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation: Top US cardinal accused of mishandling abuse allegations against deputy

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s five-month investigation revealed the stunning allegations: A high-ranking Catholic priest had a sexual relationship with a Houston woman for more than a year, counseled her husband on their marital problems, pressed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the couple and continued to hear her confession.

But the cardinal overseeing the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations in the United States approved the priest’s transfer to a church two hours away.

The fallout from Winfield’s revelations was swift: The priest was suspended and church officials reopened their inquiry into the handling of parishioner Laura Pontikes’ accusations.

To tell the sensitive story, Winfield – and a team that included Raleigh-based national writer/video journalist Allen Breed, New York global enterprise photographer Wong Maye-E and Houston correspondent Nomaan Merchant – meticulously planned coverage in each format, including on-camera interviews with Pontikes and her husband, and photos and video of the cardinal and the accused priest.

For an investigation that cast doubt on a top church official’s handling of a case involving startling allegations of abuse, Winfield, Breed, Wong and Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 25, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Deep reporting, startling images reveal shaky faith and depths of despair in Trump Country

It’s a difficult thing, interviewing people about their desolation. But an Associated Press team went to Grays Harbor County, Washington, and came away with a deeply reported portrait of a place that had voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1932, but placed a bet on Donald Trump in November as its rescuer from addiction and economic malaise.

Sensitively and penetratingly, the team of Claire Galofaro, David Goldman and Martha Irvine used text, photos and video to tell the tale of an old logging county that “answered Donald Trump's call to the country's forgotten corners.” A half-year into the Republican’s term, they found varying degrees of faith in his ability to make a difference in their lives.

The latest installment in the AP’s Trump Country series is the Beat of the Week.

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Dec. 21, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP: Rohingya women methodically raped by Myanmar armed forces

When AP Australia correspondent Kristen Gelineau, Singapore photographer Maye-E Wong and New Delhi video journalist Rishabh Jain entered the sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh that are sheltering Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, they did not need to coax the women they found to talk.

Accounts of cruelty, violence and rape at the hands of Myanmar armed forces poured out of the survivors.

After only one week in the camps, Gelineau had interviewed 27 women and girls to gather evidence that Myanmar’s armed forces had carried out a pattern of sweeping, systematic rape across Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Joined by Wong and Jain during her second week in the camps, the team revisited several of the women Gelineau had interviewed to capture haunting photos and video. Gelineau and Wong then interviewed two more rape survivors, bringing to 29 the number of women struggling to survive in squalid conditions who were desperate to tell the world what had happened to them. The images of their tear-filled eyes, peering out over brightly colored headscarves, conveyed a depth of suffering almost impossible to describe.

For their searing account in words, photos and video, Gelineau, Wong and Jain have earned the Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 16, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation: Guam’s ex-archbishop protected culture of clergy sex abuse of children

Knowledge of clergy sex abuse is widespread on the mainland of the United States. But it has long been a secret in the small, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic U.S. territory of Guam.

Washington-based investigative reporter Michael Biesecker, working with Atlanta-based enterprise photographer David Goldman and Seattle video journalist Manuel Valdes, helped to puncture that veil of silence when AP examined thousands of pages of court documents in lawsuits brought by abuse victims and then conducted extensive interviews.

The AP team detailed a pattern of repeated collusion among predator priests, with abuse that spanned generations and reached all the way to the top of the territory’s church hierarchy, ruled over by then-Archbishop Tony Apuron, who himself had been accused of the rape of a 13-year-old choir boy when Apuron was a parish priest.

The care and sensitivity of the reporting and images were essential to the project’s power. “To see my story told in this way gives me a lot of peace, that I have a purpose,” said Walter Denton, a former U.S. Army sergeant and survivor of abuse nearly 40 years ago.

For telling a sensitive and little-known story of systemic clerical abuse dating from the 1950s to as recently as 2013, Biesecker, Goldman and Valdes share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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