May 15, 2020

Best of the States

Bearing witness as COVID-19 ravages rural Georgia counties

Telling the stories of people who have suffered devastating losses is difficult at the best of times, but with this story, focused on one predominantly black rural county in southwestern Georgia where the pandemic is hitting hardest among some of America’s most exposed, the all-formats team of Claire Galofaro, Brynn Anderson and Angie Wang also had to cope with the challenges of reporting in a pandemic. 

The journalists knew they would have to take cautious risks to tell this important story, while also dealing with the emotional and ethical issues of potentially putting the people they spoke to in danger. They spent much of their time sorting out how to best protect their sources, while also getting a story worthy of the risk those sources were taking to tell it.

That story, intimately told and richly illustrated, connected with readers, some of whom said it made the pandemic finally feel real. Many said it inspired them to act, and others wrote to compliment the journalism. 

For a significant, poignant package that reveals in personal terms the already deep inequities exploited by the pandemic, Galofaro, Anderson and Wang are recognized with this week’s Best of the States 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 08, 2020

Best of the States

Sourcing, records yield scoop: Texas AG helped donor fight Colorado lockout

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he’d sent a letter leaning on Gunnison County, Colorado, to end an order expelling non-residents during the pandemic, AP’s Paul Weber immediately wondered: Why was the top law enforcement official in Texas picking a fight with a remote county two states away in the middle of the crisis? And did Paxton have donors there? 

Weber and colleague Jake Bleiberg started combing campaign finance and property records, quickly finding that some of Paxton’s biggest donors have homes in the wealthy mountain resort town of Crested Butte, Colorado. 

Persistent reporting and extensive public records work revealed that Paxton’s push against the Gunnison health order stood to benefit an exclusive group of Texans, including campaign donors who gave the attorney general a total of nearly $2 million. AP Texas members jumped on the story, using it in print and online.

For alertly connecting the dots between a puzzling press release and a conflict of interest in the attorney general's office, Weber and Bleiberg earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 07, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: North Carolina’s costs for ‘bathroom bill’ calculated in billions

It began as an anniversary story, but one that would break news. With North Carolina’s hotly-contested “bathroom bill,” HB2, in place for nearly a year, AP’s Raleigh bureau was asked by the South Desk to assess the economic impact of the law limiting protections for the LGBT community.

Reporters Jonathan Drew and Emery Dalesio created a spreadsheet tallying the results of their digging, including searches of public records, among them previously unseen state calculations of lost business; they interviewed corporate leaders and state and local officials. And they were able to put a hard minimum figure on huge losses to the state economy even as legislators were negotiating a revision of HB2. “The deal was struck,” The New York Times noted, “days after The Associated Press reported that the backlash against the law would cost North Carolina at least $3.7 billion in business over 12 years.”

The timely exclusive by Drew and Dalesio is the Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 24, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for AP brings first word on death of legendary Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin always had a soft spot for The Associated Press; over the years, she would seek out global Entertainment Editor Nekesa Mumbi Moody to chat – “We spoke when she was working on new music, or about an upcoming performance (like when she sang for the pope in 2015) or even her fitness plan and weight loss,” Moody recalled. Music editor Mesfin Fekadu, too, had interviewed Franklin, and witnessed her last public performance last November.

So when the Queen of Soul was in her last days, her people knew who to call. The result: Fekadu was so far ahead with Franklin’s death that that the news was widely attributed to the AP, even by at least one major competitor. His news break is the Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 10, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Rescue groups tell AP: US missed hundreds still in Afghanistan

delivered the most detailed look yet into the true toll of the Americans still in Afghanistan after the U.S. pullout, fact-checking the Biden administration’s estimate that no more than 200 American citizens were left behind. Rather than take the administration’s estimate at face value, the pair reported on the independent experiences of veteran-led rescue groups and members of Congress who say the figure is too low and also overlooks hundreds of others they consider to be equally American: permanent legal residents with green cards.The leader of one volunteer group told AP that the official count of U.S. citizens is off by hundreds, and California Rep. Darrell Issa, said the calls his office is receiving lead him to estimate the true toll of U.S. citizens left in Afghanistan is about 500.As for green card holders — who have lived in the U.S. for years, paid taxes, owned property and often have children who are U.S. citizens — the true number who want to get out is in the hundreds and perhaps more than 1,000, according to rescue groups and lawmakers. San Diego reporter Watson and New York investigative reporter Condon highlighted the plight of one family of green card holders who lived in Sacramento for years and who have been texting daily with their children’s elementary school principal while trying to escape Afghanistan. “I’m loosing the hope,” texted the mother.AP’s story, with contributions from Kathy Gannon in Kabul and Matt Lee in Washington, was among the most-read on the AP News app on the Labor Day holiday weekend and was featured prominently on major news sites. https://aplink.news/3yy

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March 15, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP team demonstrates what a community loses when a small-town newspaper dies

What’s lost when a newspaper dies? And how do you tell the story of this slow disaster happening in front of everyone’s eyes and still make the world sit up and take notice?

For reporters Dave Bauder and David Lieb, the answer was by focusing on the residents of one small town as they explained the death of local journalism in an authentic, vivid and compelling way.

It’s a story that’s happened repeatedly across the country, with 1,400 cities or towns losing newspapers in the last 15 years. The aftermath of the loss of the Daily Guide in Waynesville, Missouri, was richly told by a multiformat team of text, video and photo journalists as the centerpiece story for “Fading Light,” the AP’s Sunshine Week package on the decline of local news.

New York-based media reporter Bauder and Lieb, a member of the state government team based in Missouri’s capitol, spent several days in Waynesville and its twin city, St. Robert, reporting the story. Denver video journalist Peter Banda and Kansas City photographer Orlin Wagner worked closely with them to shoot visuals, while Alina Hartounian, the multiformat coordinator for the U.S. beat teams, created social videos that drove readers to the story. Bauder also secured an interview with executives at the company that shuttered the Daily Guide.

The package received incredible attention and sparked discussion online. Bauder and Lieb’s text story has been viewed nearly 120,000 times with high engagement, it has landed on nearly 30 front pages, and has been cited in several influential media reports.

For masterful work shining a light on a problem that has left whole communities less informed, Bauder, Lieb, Banda, Wagner and Hartounian win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 06, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals threat of abandoned, leaking oil and gas wells in US

teamed up in all-formats to highlight the environmental crisis of an estimated 2 million abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States.Overcoming the reluctance of landowners fearful their property values would decline if they went public, energy and climate reporter Bussewitz found a fourth-generation Texas rancher who described her beloved land as a “swiss cheese of old oil wells that are just falling apart.” Bussewitz shared the byline with national writer and visual journalist Irvine, who shot video of the site where the rancher had moved 600 head of cattle that may have drunk contaminated water, then combined it with drone footage from the ranch, along with historical photos and footage of abandoned wells. Photographer Gay made striking images of that ranch and another where the rancher had to sue the state of Texas to plug orphaned wells.Data analyst Fenn and digital artist Duckett leveraged that data into interactives, including an exclusive nationwide map that depicted the known orphaned wells in each state, and producers Hamlin and Shotzbarger, with photo editor Goodman, built a powerful presentation on AP News.https://aplink.news/nr5https://aplink.video/rwuhttps://interactives.ap.org/em...https://interactives.ap.org/te...

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Oct. 05, 2018

Best of the States

Oklahoma Republicans targeted by GOP colleague, dark money

Oklahomans widely assumed that 12 Republican state lawmakers who lost their bids for re-election came up short at the polls because of their opposition to raising pay for the state’s public school teachers.

While opposition to education funding may have been one factor in incumbent losses in the GOP primaries, Oklahoma City-based reporter Sean Murphy began hearing scuttlebutt about an organized effort from within the Republican Party to kick out incumbents from their own party.

Using campaign finance reports and solid sourcing at the Capitol, Murphy was alone in showing that the rumors were true.

Public records showed a top state House GOP leader had given money to opponents of two of his own colleagues, and the opponents unseated the incumbents. Murphy also leveraged a relationship developed over years of reporting to get the lawmaker to talk. He acknowledged a plan to punish fellow Republicans for taking hardline stances that forced a compromise with Democrats on a plan to raise taxes to pay for teacher raises.

For combining shoe-leather reporting with smart document work, Murphy wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 07, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Preparation, teamwork lead to deep coverage of US census numbers

relied on meticulous planning, their in-depth knowledge of the subject, and AP’s national footprint to lead comprehensive coverage of just-released 2020 U.S. Census numbers. The first batch of numbers were deceptively simple — on the surface, a single population number from each state and bare-bones information on congressional seats and presidential electors. But with robust preparation and background on the headcount’s implications, the pair pushed AP's coverage to the forefront nationally on an announcement that turned out to contain plenty of surprises.While leveraging AP’s reach with a big assist from colleagues who helped prepare state stories all over the country, as well as advance coverage of millennial migration, a likely Latino undercount in the Sunbelt and California’s loss of a seat for the first time in its history, Schneider and Riccardi deftly adapted the AP’s spot story to the news that 13 states would either gain or lose congressional seats. The spot coverage included an informative glance box of winners and losers, an interactive map and independent analysis by the AP data team.Taken as a whole, the weeklong tour de force showcased the AP’s range and depth, with Schneider and Riccardi leading the effort.https://bit.ly/3toZFZghttps://bit.ly/3elizMlhttps://bit.ly/2PRIz8Ohttps://bit.ly/2Suq5fDhttps://bit.ly/3b3eIBE

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Aug. 09, 2018

Best of the States

Jobs boom favors Democratic counties over Trump strongholds; social issues motivate GOP base

President Donald Trump has long asserted that his tax cuts and other policies would accelerate job growth, which, in turn, would serve the “forgotten” men and women who had helped propel him to the White House in the 2016 election.

Washington, D.C.-based economics reporter Josh Boak wondered: Had that actually occurred so far? And how much was job growth a motivating force for Trump supporters?

Boak hit on a possible way to hold the president’s claims to a fair test. He turned to a relatively obscure report issued by the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, then merged those economic figures with the AP’s 2016 election returns, broken down by county.

The result, under multiple calculations, was clear: The bulk of U.S. hiring under Trump had so far occurred in Democratic counties.

Boak then spent three days in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, an area that had voted decisively for Trump and had lost jobs in the past 12 months. He reported that Republican voters appeared to be motivated more by social issues – opposition to gun control, for example. “Our No. 1 motivating factor,” the county Republican chairman told Boak, “is Second Amendment issues.”

For exclusively documenting how job growth under Trump has disproportionately underserved his geographic base and for illustrating that trend in a community that reflects it, Boak earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 23, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP teams respond with standout coverage of European floods

were quick to deliver exceptional, wide-ranging coverage as devastating floods left some 200 dead across Northern Europe. Sweeping stories and arresting visuals showed the scale and severity of the flooding while also capturing the human suffering and loss.Berlin-based correspondent Frank Jordans recognized the scope of the unfolding tragedy, sending multiple alerts and urgent updates as the death toll began to rise. His stories reported not only the developing story in Western Germany but also in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Austria and Switzerland.Jordans and fellow Berlin writer Geir Moulson continued to track the story over the coming days as the toll grew, while Brussels-based Raf Casert contributed a powerful piece examining the links to climate change. Highlighting the multinational impact of the disaster, Austrian freelance reporter Emily Schultheis crafted a dramatic story of close escapes, elegantly drawing on interviews collected by video crews in all the affected countries.Live video was quickly established through a combination of partner feeds and our own video complement of Berlin’s Christoph Noelting, field producer Pietro di Cristofaro and senior field producer Dorothee Thiesing, Frankfurt producer Daniel Niemann, video journalist David Keyton in Paris, freelancer Eric Fux in Belgium, and Aleks Furtula and Bram Janssen in the Netherlands. The Belgian and Dutch teams, headed by Western Europe News Director Angela Charlton, navigated closed roads and muddy terrain to reach the hardest-hit areas, reporting compelling personal stories amid the destruction. Fux found a family that spent a terrifying night on the roof of their destroyed home, waiting for rescue, and London producer Nadia Ahmed delivered a key user-generated video showing the moment a whole house was swept away by the torrents, snapping off a tree and smashing into a bridge.Photos, both from the ground and from the air, revealed the extent of the damage. Spot coverage included work from Michael Probst and Janssen in Germany, and from Virginia Mayo, Francisco Seco and Valentin Bianchi in Belgium. A striking photo gallery showed the devastation across Europe; AP’s photos were used by hundreds of customers, from The New York Times to Sky News.https://aplink.news/kb4https://aplink.news/gh6https://aplink.news/3chhttps://aplink.photos/9xkhttps://aplink.video/1xwhttps://aplink.video/3vzhttps://aplink.video/g6t

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Aug. 20, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Climate contributing to wildfires on tropical Pacific isles

reported exclusively in all formats on climate-fueled wildfires flaring up on tropical Pacific islands from Hawaii to Micronesia, causing environmental harm from mountaintops to coral reefs.Aware of persistent wildfire problems on some of the Hawaiian Islands and Guam, Honolulu-based Jones and Jakarta, Indonesia-based Milko reported that climate change is making once-lush areas of the islands hotter, drier and more susceptible to fire. As a result, runoff from burned areas damages coral reefs, and the fires are converting critical watershed forests to grasslands that are more prone to fire in the future.While Milko reported on the situation in Guam, where the top fire official said most fires were arson, Jones traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii which was experiencing the largest wildfire in the state’s history. He shot photos and video of firefighters at work, and gained access to private Native Hawaiian homestead land where homes and vehicles were destroyed on the slopes of Mauna Kea. He spoke to residents and evacuees for a historical perspective on the drier, more volatile land, while fire officials and scientists in Honolulu explained how climate change contributes to the fires. https://aplink.news/o3nhttps://aplink.video/mny

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Oct. 27, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Divided America: Seeing options shrinking, white men ask why

As the bitter election season winds down, a recurring theme has been the conviction among many white men that they have been losing ground in society. National writer Matt Sedensky wanted to find a way to tell their story for a concluding installment in the series Divided America.

The yearlong assessment of America’s national disunity comprised more than two dozen deeply reported, multi-format stories exploring splits along racial, religious and socio-economic lines, as well as clashing attitudes on issues ranging from gun regulation to immigration.

Sedensky focused on the views of white men turning toward Republican nominee Donald Trump and rejecting Democrat Hillary Clinton. He listened to the voices on a call-in radio show in Texas _ both host and callers revealing their angst _ and then, through backgrounding interviews with them and reporting on research, showed why these men feel as they do.

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Dec. 13, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Iowa felons list bars a police department from voting; omits a drug dealer

Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley has written extensively about problems tracking felons who are ineligible to vote in Iowa, but it had been five years since he’d gotten a copy of the database itself. So when a trusted source produced a state database of 103,000 felons, Foley set to work analyzing the data. He found it riddled with errors, including laughable mistakes – such as the Des Moines Police Department being banned from voting.

The story was used extensively by Iowa newspapers and broadcasters, who were especially interested given that Iowa’s governor is seeking to change the law regarding voting by felons who have completed their sentences.

For detailed research and reporting that produced an engaging story of statewide interest, Foley earns AP’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 02, 2018

Best of the States

AP scores multiple scoops on sprawling mail bomb investigation

When an explosive device was found at the suburban New York property of liberal megadonor George Soros, it raised a few eyebrows with just two weeks to go until the midterm election. When a second device was found addressed to Hillary Clinton, the mail bombs targeting critics of President Trump became the dominant story in the country, political and otherwise, for the better part of a week.

The AP broke the news of the connection between the Soros and Clinton devices, making it clear something broader was afoot, the first in a series of scoops keying a sprawling, days-long effort across regions and formats.

Driving the coverage of the investigation into what became more than a dozen homemade bombs sent to prominent Democrats was the Washington law enforcement crew comprised of Colleen Long, Mike Balsamo, Michael Biesecker and Eric Tucker, and law enforcement writers Jim Mustian in New York and Curt Anderson in Miami.

Play across formats was overwhelming. NewsWhip tracked Friday’s mainbar alone, on the suspect's arrest, getting more than 125,000 page views on apnews.com and the app. Among the more widely used stories by customers: a fast but deep profile of the bombing suspect, co-bylined by Washington reporters Michael Biesecker and Stephen Braun and relying heavily on reporting from Miami intern Ellis Rua.

For their beats highlighting the AP’s broad, collaborative and competitive effort, Long, Tucker, Balsamo, Biesecker, Braun, Mustian, Anderson and Rua share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Jan. 05, 2018

Best of the States

ONLY ON AP: FEMA sells trailers for pennies on the dollar despite high demand from disaster victims

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas in August, Emily Schmall in Fort Worth, Texas, and Michael Sisak in Philadelphia teamed up to report exclusively that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had sold off scores of trailers with little to no damage in the days leading up to the storm. Their reporting had an immediate impact: FEMA said it had halted the auctions and would evaluate whether any of the units could be used for Harvey victims.

Fast forward to November, when Sisak noticed the auctions had resumed. Working with Central Desk editor Jeff McMurray, Sisak and Schmall took a pointed look at government waste, showing how FEMA was selling gently used trailers for pennies on the dollar rather than making them available for disaster victims.

For resourceful reporting that broke new ground, Schmall and Sisak share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Dec. 17, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP responds to US tornadoes with sweeping, distinctive all-formats coverage

When a tornado warning sounded Friday night, AP’s Appalachian staffers scrambled to find whatever information they could in the dead of night. By early Saturday morning it had become clear Kentucky was going to be the epicenter of one of the most powerful tornadoes to hit the region in recent memory.Staffers responded quickly in all formats, including the first live video from the devastated town of Mayfield. Coverage included residents’ wrenching accounts of survival and loss, and powerful visuals, but there was also an important pause in AP’s coverage: Many news outlets breathlessly reported the governor’s grim prediction that as many as 70 people may have died in the collapse of a candle factory. AP was more cautious, preserving its reputation for accuracy when the actual toll came in much lower.AP’s mainbar text stories, photos and video — live and edited — all earned heavy play.

For smart, fast, determined coverage in the days immediately following the storm, the team of Bruce Schreiner, Claire Galofaro, Dylan Lovan, John Raby, Travis Loller, Mark Humphrey, Gerald Herbert, Kristin Hall and Robert Bumsted is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Nov. 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Cataclysmic fires cap off week of momentous and devastating news in California

California’s news staff still was in the midst of reporting the tragic night-spot shooting in Thousand Oaks when news reached the AP that a wildfire in Northern California was spreading quickly, sending thousands fleeing.

Bay Area freelance photographer Noah Berger, as good a fire chaser as there is anywhere, tipped the office off that the Northern California fire looked explosive. By 11 a.m. Sacramento reporter Don Thompson was hitting the road, and a first AP NewsAlert moved saying people fleeing for their lives had abandoned vehicles as the fire swept in.

AP’s all-formats coverage went into high gear, with staffers pouring in from the region. In addition to Thompson, who stayed at the scene with fire crews for several days straight, Portland, Ore., all-formats reporter Gilly Flaccus arrived, producing unmatched interviews in text and video of survivors and of crews searching for the remains of those killed. San Francisco reporter Paul Elias gathered information on the dramatic rescues and chaotic evacuation, while Las Vegas photographer John Locher and Denver videographer Peter Banda provided gripping visuals from the scene.

AP was first to report thousands of homes destroyed, first to report a named victim, and we were alone in accompanying a search and recovery crew in all formats as they went to a victim’s home and found her remains.

The coverage was nuanced and emotional. California News Editor Frank Baker says there was no one on the California staff who didn’t contribute, working unrelentingly from last week’s elections and mass shooting straight into the wildfire.

For outstanding work, bolstered and supported by California’s all-formats reporting staff and editors, Thompson, Flaccus, Elias, Berger, Locher and Banda share this AP's Best of the Week.

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