July 27, 2018

Best of the States

Private messaging apps used for official business test open records laws

Smart phone private messaging apps are great for keeping secrets. The apps delete messages almost immediately and do not allow them to be saved, copied or captured with a screenshot.

But what about use of the apps by government officials and elected representatives? State Government Team reporter Ryan Foley spotted a trend of public officials increasingly using such apps for official business. It’s a trend that alarms advocates for open government, who say it undermines state laws designed to ensure transparency and access to records.

Foley’s research was based in large part on use of a new legislative tracking tool called the Sunshine Hub that was developed by AP Data Team members Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen. The tool allowed Foley to see whether bills addressing the trend were being introduced in state legislatures across the country. And indeed they were.

The resulting story won play on more than two dozen front pages and prompted several editorials, including one in The Columbus Dispatch warning that officials’ use of message-vanishing apps was the same as destroying public records.

For their efforts in exposing a potentially dangerous anti-transparency trend among government officials, and developing a unique tool to track it, Foley, Tumgoren and Rasmussen win the Best of the States award.

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Feb. 08, 2019

Best of the States

The ‘Left Behind’; AP profiles the other victims of opioids

As the opioid epidemic barrels into its third decade, it’s increasingly hard to find fresh ways to report on the problem. One group that has always been present, usually in the background of stories, are the parents, hundreds of thousands of them who desperately tried to save their children, then buried them anyway. Louisville, Kentucky-based national writer Claire Galofaro chose to focus on them, the survivors who have lost the most to the epidemic.

The project involved journalists across formats throughout the country – Jae Hong, Steven Senne, Pat Semansky, Jeff Roberson, Mark Humphrey, Rodrique Ngowi, Krysta Fauria, Dario Lopez, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Carla Johnson – teaming with Galofaro and enterprise editors Pauline Arrillaga, Jeannie Ohm, Raghu Vadarevu and Enric Marti to think creatively about how text, video, multimedia and photos could work together.

The result was two beautifully written narratives paired with photographs, an extensive Q&A about the epidemic, a full video story and three digital videos in which we hear three different mothers talking about the extreme lengths they went to to try and save their children.

The series struck a raw nerve – engagement was extraordinary: The main story was No. 1 on apnews.com the day it ran, and it appeared on newspaper front pages nationwide. A week later, news outlets were still using it. Hundreds of readers sent emails and tweets. More than one person said that they felt like they were sitting with these families in their living rooms.

For a cross-format effort so intimate, so devastating, it recaptured the attention of a nation that had been exhausted by stories about the opioid epidemic, the team that produced the Left Behind package wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 25, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Europeans unravel massive tennis-fixing ring

for getting exclusive details from the French police on a growing tennis match-fixing scandal in Europe. Leicester revealed the names of four players being held and details of the investigation into the “Maestro,” an Armenian based in Belgium who is the alleged ringleader of a gambling syndicate suspected of fixing hundreds of matches and paying off more than 100 players from around Europe.https://bit.ly/2WiPfuShttps://bit.ly/2FNlJbV

Jan. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Au pairs win $65.5M in suit over US pay

The Au Pair cultural exchange program provides U.S. families with low-cost child care, but former au pairs said they were also asked to feed chickens, help families move and do gardening – all while working at below minimum wage. That prompted a judge to grant class-action status to 11 former au pairs last February and drew the attention of Denver breaking news staffer Colleen Slevin, who spent the next 11 months learning all about the world of au pairs and conducting interviews, such as one with a former au pair who said she felt like a slave.

Slevin also built a relationship with the attorneys for the au pairs and negotiated with them for exclusive notice when the $65.5 million settlement was filed last week.

The result was an APNewsBreak on the settlement that went unmatched for hours and received play around the world.

For her perseverance in building sources and tracking a story of international interest while covering breaking news over a three-state region, Slevin wins the week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 23, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Tim Reiterman, survivor of airstrip attack, tells story of the Jonestown mass murders

When Tim Reiterman set out to tell the story of the 40th anniversary of the Jonestown mass murders and suicides, he didn’t want to retread territory he’d covered with previous anniversary stories, or rely solely on his own harrowing experiences in the South American jungle.

Instead, Reiterman mainly focused on those he hadn’t interviewed before, including the adopted black son of the Rev. Jim Jones. He also focused on those who grew up in the Peoples Temple, or joined as teenagers. These survivors, due to happenstance or their own efforts, were all away from the Jonestown community in Guyana when Jones ordered his followers to drink flavored poison.

The order that ended 900 lives came after a California congressman, temple defectors and journalists including Reiterman were ambushed on a nearby airstrip. The Nov. 18, 1978 attack killed U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, as well as Reiterman’s photojournalist colleague at the San Francisco Examiner, and three others. Reiterman was wounded in the attack, but went on to shoot photos of the bloody aftermath and write a detailed account two days later.

Reiterman’s approach to the 40th anniversary provided an unparalleled look into the massacre through the eyes of survivors who had to go on grieving close family members and forge new lives back in the United States. It also allowed Reiterman the opportunity to explain the tragedy for readers and viewers who might only know its broad outlines, if that. The all-formats package Reiterman wrote and helped coordinate – with assistance from staffers in all formats throughout the AP – wins this week’s Best of the Week.

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Oct. 05, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Planning and preparation pay off in all formats at Bill Cosby sentencing

The two-day sentencing hearing and imprisonment of former TV star Bill Cosby ended a decades-long battle over sexual assault accusations against the comedian once known as “America’s Dad.” An AP team of reporters, photographers and video journalists drew on strong planning and coordination to excel in all formats while fending off a throng of competition.

The AP was ahead at all key moments in the sentencing, from a judge’s decision to label Cosby a sexually violent predator to the moment he handed down a sentence of 3 to 10 years and then denied bail. Staffers moved top photos to the wire almost instantly after they were shot, and provided live video of the scene.

For their excellent work in covering the Cosby sentencing, the team of Michael Sisak, Maryclaire Dale, Claudia Lauer, Pete Brown, Alyssa Goodman, Matt Rourke, Matt Slocum, Jackie Larma, Mike Householder and Joe Frederick share the Best of the Week award.

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Sept. 28, 2018

Best of the States

How 65 women came to Kavanaugh's defense in a matter of hours

Within hours of their high school friend being accused publicly of sexual assault against a young woman 36 years ago, 65 women stepped forward to sign a letter supporting Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was now at risk.

Many in newsrooms asked themselves, how was it possible that 65 people could be marshalled so quickly to attest to someone’s moral character, including people who may not have seen Kavanaugh in decades. Reporters in four states, Jennifer Peltz in New York, Michael Kunzelman in Baltimore, Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston and Dan Sewell in Ohio, set out to reach every single one.

They learned that the campaign had started with phone calls among several high-school friends of Kavanaugh, and organizers used social media to expand their search.

The story, demonstrating AP's ability to marshal staffers across state lines on a tight timeline, was the top non-spot story of the week.

For their efforts, Shafner, Peltz, Kunzelman, Richer and Sewell share this week's Best of the States award.

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June 22, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP first with news of 2,000 kids separated from families at US border

It was the answer to the question everyone was asking, about the biggest story in the world. Just how many children had been separated from their parents at the U.S. border as a result of the Trump administration’s new zero-tolerance immigration policy?

Colleen Long, newly arrived on her Washington beat, got the hugely important scoop, beating all of her seasoned competitors with that very number: nearly 2,000.

Long had just moved to the nation’s capital after more than a decade covering law enforcement in New York, assigned to the Department of Homeland Security. She went right to work grilling sources – anybody she could find.

After speaking to some two dozen people, Long hit pay dirt. A source called and said, “I'm going to give you a big scoop.”

The information put AP more than an hour ahead with the news that, at that point, nearly 2,000 children had been forcibly removed from their families at the border over a six-week period. Long’s competitors – including reporters who have been covering the beat for years – had to wait for the numbers to be released on a conference call later in the day.

For determined, aggressive reporting that yielded a huge payoff, Long wins the Beat of the Week award.

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May 04, 2018

Best of the States

FOIA reveal: Governor shields ally and agency in alleged harassment case

When Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds abruptly fired a longtime friend and political ally last month, she said it was due to “credible” sexual harassment allegations. But her staff said no other information would be available about the behavior of Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison.

Statehouse reporter Barbara Rodriguez and Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley knew there was more to the story, but after filing FOIA requests, the governor's office told them there were no such records, prompting a rare case where reporting the denial would be newsworthy: that there was no evidence, correspondence or investigation into the allegations before Jamison was terminated.

Hours after that story moved, the governor’s office acknowledged they had made a mistake. There was a written detailed complaint against Jamison, but the office insisted it was exempt from FOIA.

Rodriguez and Foley didn’t stop there. They appealed the denial, leading the governor’s office to reverse course again and release the document, which immediately caused a firestorm.

It showed that Jamison had allegedly been harassing female subordinates for years, and that senior officials in the agency were aware of his behavior but apparently didn’t report it – which led to calls for an independent investigation. The governor initially rejected those calls but as pressure built, she announced she had hired a prominent outside lawyer to conduct such an investigation.

For aggressive reporting that shed light on accusations of sexual misconduct by a public official – including the lack of transparency surrounding the charges – the pair shares this week's Best of the States 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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Feb. 09, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP reporting on Rohingya exodus leads to evidence of mass graves in Myanmar

"It was a mixed-up jumble of corpses piled on top of each other."

That was how a Rohingya Muslim survivor described the horrific scene of a mass grave in the Myanmar village of Gu Dar Pyin. Faces of the victims appeared mutilated, possibly with acid. The survivor said he recognized his friends only by the colors of their shorts.

AP Seoul bureau chief Foster Klug, along with photographer Manish Swarup and videojournalist Rishabh Jain, both of New Delhi, were able to find evidence of five previously unreported mass graves in the village. With interviews, video they secured from someone who had been on the scene after the killings and satellite imagery, the reporting pointed to a systematic slaughter of Rohingya Muslim civilians by the military, with help from Buddhist neighbors.

For their exclusive package that detailed previously uncovered evidence of an atrocity, Klug, Swarup and Jain share Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 10, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Inside story: How Russia hacked the Democrats’ emails and Putin’s foes

“Hi,” the email from Google began, before turning more ominous. “Someone just used your password to try to sign in to your Google Account.” Change your password immediately, it urged, by clicking here. But the email wasn’t actually from Google, and it wasn’t sent randomly. It was from hackers connected to Russia who were targeting Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

What eventually emerged from the successful hack – thousands of embarrassing emails from campaign chairman John Podesta and others – was widely reported in the summer and fall of 2016. But the anatomy of how that hack occurred had never been revealed, until now. That investigative story, by Raphael Satter, Justin Myers, Jeff Donn and Chad Day, and a companion piece about wider Russian efforts targeting an array of Kremlin opponents, is this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 03, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Myanmar attacks, sea voyage rob young father of everything

Asia's worst refugee crisis in decades is a tragedy of epic proportions as more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled state-led violence.

Beyond the enormous scope of the exodus are the individual harrowing stories of life, death and the struggle for survival. Reporter Todd Pitman and photographer Gemunu Amarasinghe from Bangkok, videojournalist Rishabh Jain from Delhi and photographer Dar Yasin from Kashmir teamed up to produce a riveting package that reconstructed the heartbreaking journey of one Rohingya man and his family from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

Their package earns the Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 29, 2017

Best of the States

The Next One? Sports launches hub and multiyear plan for exclusive reporting on top hoops prospect

While books and movies have shed light on the world of big-time amateur basketball, no one has published stories along the way – until now. With the first story in a series, Detroit sportswriter Larry Lage and others in a team from Sports established AP as the authority on news about Emoni Bates, a 13-year-old who stands at 6-foot-7, just started the eighth grade and is primed to be the biggest basketball prospect in the United States. The goal is to understand the high-pressure world of college basketball recruiting by following a single promising player’s path.

Lage, hybrid video journalist Mike Householder and photographer Paul Sancya of Detroit reported with the specific intent of presenting the stories in multiple ways, then worked with Chicago sports writer Jim Litke and east regional sports editor Oskar Garcia to craft the hub presentation of the text, photos, video and audio.

For their strong, revealing work, Lage, Householder, Sancya and Litke share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Aug. 04, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

'They kept us as slaves': AP Exclusive reveals abuse claims against church

"They kept us as slaves."

One man's tearful revelation to AP national investigative reporter Mitch Weiss helped unravel a horrible secret – the former congregant of the World of Faith Fellowship sect was among hundreds who'd been dispatched from the church's two Brazilian branches to the U.S., where many say they were forced to work for little or no pay and physically or verbally assaulted.

Dozens of former congregants told similar stories of abuse and exploitation in an exclusive AP multi-format story that earns Weiss, national investigative reporter Holbrook Mohr, and Peter Prengaman, news director in Rio de Janeiro, the Beat of the Week.

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