Sept. 20, 2019

Best of the States

Going to extremes to tell the story of sexual violence and shortcomings of enforcement

In western Alaska, rape survivors and their supporters say Nome’s police department has often failed to investigate sexual assaults, especially when the victims are Alaska Native women.

Delivering sensitive-but-powerful coverage from a challenging environment, enterprise photographer Maye-E Wong and freelance correspondent Victoria Mckenzie tell the story of average Americans struggling with sexual violence and law enforcement in small communities. Their work made clear that Nome’s struggles don’t represent an isolated case; it is a microcosm of how police and towns and cities across the U.S. have failed survivors of sexual assaults.

For going to extremes – literally and figuratively – to shed light on a remote corner of the larger issue of sexual violence and enforcement, Wong and Mckenzie share this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 23, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Deadly siege: Through the night, reporter details restaurant assault in Somalia

When police reported that al-Shabab extremists had attacked a popular Mogadishu restaurant named Posh Treats in the volatile Horn of Africa country Somalia, many media rushed to tell the world. But Associated Press stringer Abdi Guled was not convinced the report was accurate. His quick calls, including one to an officer at the scene, quickly determined that a place called Pizza House was under assault, not Posh Treats across the street. So while other news organizations had the wrong restaurant, the AP had it right.

This was just the start of Guled’s extraordinary all-night reporting effort. Amid gunfire that left dozens dead, he would put together a riveting story. It’s the Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 13, 2019

Best of the States

Only on AP: Singer says Domingo harassed her, grabbed her breast; more women come forward

In the weeks after Jocelyn Gecker’s bombshell investigation detailing multiple sexual harassment allegations against Placido Domingo, competitors were out in full force, trying to produce their own stories about women who had encounters with the opera superstar.

But only the AP was able to advance the story, offering the accounts of an additional 11 women who said the legend had behaved inappropriately, including one who said on the record that Domingo insisted on kissing her and later forcefully grabbed her bare breast under her robe. In addition, backstage staff told the Jocelyns – AP’s Gecker and Noveck – how they strove to keep young women from ever being alone with Domingo.

No one could match the pair’s reporting, which produced one of the most-read stories on AP’s platform and formed the basis of stories by many other media outlets. Meanwhile, more opera companies announced they were canceling or reassessing their relationship with Domingo.

For remarkable source building and reporting that continued to give AP ownership of this highly competitive story, Gecker and Noveck earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 20, 2018

Best of the States

AP's 50-state analysis: State legislatures lack public records of sexual misconduct claims

As the #MeToo movement spread to state capitols, AP statehouse reporters filed uniform FOIA requests with every legislature seeking information about past sexual misconduct cases and payouts to victims. The coordinated effort, overseen by State Government Team reporter David Lieb, produced some interesting numbers: roughly 70 complaints and nearly $3 million in sexual harassment settlements over the past decade.

But the real story was the information that wasn’t released.

In fact, a majority of states would not disclose records related to sexual misconduct among lawmakers. The most common response was that they had received no such complaints over the past decade, did not keep a record of any such complaints or were not legally bound to disclose the records. But Lieb's research revealed that even states with documented cases of lawmaker sexual harassment were not releasing records about those allegations – and potentially others.

Lieb worked with data editor Meghan Hoyer to organize and analyze the responses from our statehouse reporters in every state. The resulting spreadsheet was distributed to AP bureaus and customers weeks ahead of publication to allow for localizations. AP reporters in 19 states did just that, producing sidebars that in many cases landed on A1.

The mainbar and the state-by-state list of accused lawmakers received wide interest on the APNews app. The story also landed on at least 20 front pages.

For their 50-state accountability project on a topic that continues to rattle state capitols, Lieb and Hoyer win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 23, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

Chance encounter, tenacious reporting reveal harassment allegations against Placido Domingo

Jocelyn Gecker’s bombshell investigation of sexual harassment allegations against opera superstar Placido Domingo started with a song.

San Francisco-based Gecker was at a party about 18 months ago when she noticed the beautiful voice of the woman next to her singing “Happy Birthday,” and complimented her. The woman was a former opera singer who confided that the industry had a dark underbelly, offering her assessment that “Placido Domingo is the Bill Cosby of the opera world.”

The discussion sparked months of work by Gecker to publicly reveal what many said had been an open secret in the opera world. In all, Gecker would find nine women who accused Domingo of sexual harassment and a half-dozen more who said the star made them uncomfortable. Getting people to go on the record proved challenging, but a breakthrough came when one of Domingo’s accusers agreed to tell her story on camera. The resulting 5,200-word story – and Domingo’s response – commanded instant attention and heavy engagement in global media.

For finding a major international story in an unlikely setting, and her care in dealing with sources while reporting tenaciously on a sensitive topic, Gecker earns AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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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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June 02, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

How Sri Lanka let U.N. peacekeepers get away with sexual abuse in Haiti

When The Associated Press last year started to look into the issue of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers, one finding was a leaked investigative report detailing how a group of 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers preyed upon young Haitian children in a sex ring that lasted for three years. Beyond that was another startling find: The U.N. accepted a Sri Lankan general who was accused of being a war criminal to lead the investigation of another rape in the Caribbean country.

AP’s Katy Daigle traveled to Sri Lanka to score a rare, extended interview with Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias and question him about his role – and to press government and military officials on how they'd followed up on the allegations. In London, meanwhile, investigative reporter Paisley Dodds was tipped by sources to a State Department memo on the WikiLeaks site in which a former U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka raised concerns that that country’s military and government were complicit in war crimes during the 26-year civil war.

Their disclosures earn the Beat of the Week.

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Oct. 30, 2020

Best of the States

AP breaks news on the opioid epidemic and Purdue Pharma, with focus on victims

AP reporters from three different teams broke distinctive, significant stories on the continuing drug overdose crisis in the U.S., which has been overshadowed this year by the coronavirus pandemic:

— A state-level report showing that overdose deaths are on pace to reach an all-time high this year, and that overdoses increased after the virus began spreading in the U.S.— An accountability story on President Donald Trump’s handling of the opioid crisis, and how the issue has been overlooked in the presidential race.— A major scoop on a settlement between the federal government and Purdue Pharma, complete with details of criminal charges and the $8 billion settlement. 

But the depth of coverage didn’t end with the major news beats. All three stories put victims at the center of the reporting. 

For revealing stories that broke news and provided a powerful reminder of an ongoing epidemic that has contributed to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans, Mike Stobbe, Adrian Sainz, Farnoush Amiri, Geoff Mulvihill, Meghan Hoyer and Michael Balsamo win this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 13, 2018

Best of the States

Two stories focus on young victims impacted by US immigration policy

In two moving pieces of journalism in the last week, Associated Press journalists cast a powerful spotlight on the toll of White House immigration policies on young children.

One story started with a question posed by immigration beat team reporter Nomaan Merchant: Could we profile a single block or community where multiple immigrants had been picked up, and explore the impact of those arrests?

Merchant, joined by video journalist Manuel Valdes and photographer Greg Bull, zeroed in on a community in Kentucky that was the site of a two-day Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid last December.

Their reporting turned up examples of people who were arrested by happenstance, and with no criminal records – despite the administration’s mantra that the raids are for public safety. Perhaps the most poignant reporting and images focused on a 4-year-old boy whose father was arrested.

Meanwhile, Arizona immigration reporter Astrid Galvan was looking for ways to tell the stories of children separated from their parents at the border. She found a juvenile docket in Phoenix immigration court and camped out there for the day.

What she found was a major story that affected the national debate on immigration – a 1-year-old boy who had a court appearance with a lawyer. Galvan described in vivid detail how he nursed from his bottle, asked his care giver for “agua” and cried when the care giver retrieved his diaper bag. And she captured the money quote as a judge expressed his bafflement at having to advise a defendant of his rights when the defendant was a 1-year-old boy in diapers.

For exclusive, compelling stories that drove the narrative on a subject of prevailing interest, Galvan, Merchant, Valdes and Bull win this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 15, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Sourcework puts AP ahead as McSally reveals she was raped in Air Force

for putting AP ahead of all other news organizations by jumping on a tip from a source, reporting U.S. Sen. Martha McSally’s shocking revelation that she had been sexually assaulted while in the Air Force. When McSally told a Senate subcommittee she had been raped, Long messaged the desk to file the alert, catching other media on Capitol Hill flat-footed. https://bit.ly/2tSq4Cr

June 14, 2018

Best of the States

Lobbyists – including House speaker’s brother – influence Florida’s payments to victims

In Florida, the Legislature has to approve court awards – beyond a capped amount – for lawsuits alleging wrongdoing by a state or local agency.

So when Florida Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout began hearing about a surge in payouts to victims and families harmed by government actions, he began digging into public and legislative records. What he found confirmed the influence of lobbyists, and of one lobbyist in particular: the House speaker’s brother.

Fineout found that claims lobbied by the speaker’s brother had a substantial rate of success. Of the $37.5 million in claims bills approved over the past two years, nearly half was awarded to victims represented by Michael Corcoran, brother of Florida’s House speaker.

One state lawmaker, a candidate for attorney general, said the process needs fixing, and said that Florida should have a codified, egalitarian process for awarding payments, one that doesn’t rely on who has the best lobbyist.

Fineout's story received extensive play, including a rare banner headline atop A1 in the state's largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. The Sun-Sentinel newspaper said in an editorial that “Florida owes thanks to Gary Fineout ... for shedding light on a dark side of Florida government.”

For work that South News Director Ravi Nessman called a “perfect example of the kind of tough, accountability reporting that we prize so much from our statehouses,” Fineout wins this week's Best of the States award.

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Jan. 11, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation exposes sex abuse suffered at hands of priests by India’s nuns

New Delhi-based investigative reporter Tim Sullivan spent months looking into whispers that Indian nuns had endured sexual pressure by Catholic priests. What he found, after months of reporting into the closed-off world of Catholic convents, was a pattern of abuse that went back decades, ranging from drunken priests barging into nuns’ rooms to outright rape. He also found a culture of silence that had long kept these attacks hidden. Slowly, though, Sullivan found sisters willing to open up about their attacks, and others who could give perspective on why they’d been kept secret for so long. Finally, he and New Delhi photographer Manish Swarup traveled to southern India’s Catholic heartland to meet with nuns who had become pariahs in their community for defending a sister who accused a bishop of rape.

Sullivan’s powerful narrative attracted widespread attention. Accompanied by Swarup’s evocative photos, it was one of the AP’s most-read stories for the week, with excellent reader engagement. AP clients specializing in Catholic affairs ran the story prominently.

The standout work by Sullivan and Swarup contributed to the week’s remarkable body of work across the AP in covering abuse by clergy. For exposing long-held scandals in India’s Catholic ministries, Sullivan and Swarup share AP’s Best of the Week.

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May 07, 2021

Best of the States

Intern’s rape accusation against Idaho lawmaker prompts AP national review of state legislatures

When a 19-year-old legislative intern reported that a state lawmaker in Idaho raped her, she almost immediately faced a campaign of harassment from right-wing groups in the state, and even from other state representatives, who publicized her identity against her will. A legislative panel then forced her to testify from behind a screen at an ethics hearing, after which she was followed and subjected to still further abuse by the accused lawmaker’s supporters.

The sordid story of the young woman’s ordeal was covered with sensitivity by Boise correspondent Rebecca Boone in a series of pieces that included an exclusive interview with the alleged victim, and it prompted a wider look by AP’s State Government Team at allegations of sexual misconduct in statehouses around the country. That story, led by correspondent David Lieb and Report for America data journalist Camille Fassett, provided state-by-state details to AP customers and revealed public allegations against at least 109 state lawmakers in 40 states.

For aggressive yet respectful coverage that put one woman’s voice at the center of the story while providing distinctive national context, Boone, Lieb and Fassett share this week’s Best of the States award.

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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. 01, 2017

Best of the States

AP staffers get exclusive interview with U.S. Rep. John Conyers

When BuzzFeed broke the news that the longest-serving current U.S. House member had settled a sexual harassment complaint, one notable thing missing was comment from U.S. Rep. John Conyers himself. The 88-year-old Conyers rarely gives interviews anymore, deferring to his staff to issue statements or simply not responding.

Congress was on Thanksgiving break, but News Editor Roger Schneider suggested that video journalist Mike Householder and reporter Corey Williams drop by Conyers’ Detroit home. They knew it was a long shot – Corey and Mike had been to Conyers’ house before, and knew it was gated.

To their surprise, Conyers answered their ring.

Conyers answered a few questions, giving Williams and Householder a major beat: He denied settling sexual harassment claims and other allegations of inappropriate touching of staffers.

For aggressive reporting that paid off with an exclusive on one of the week’s top stories, Williams and Householder share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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June 11, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Daring AP team crosses front lines to report on Ethiopia’s Tigray rebels and war’s civilian victims

Since the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia broke out seven months ago, news coverage has necessarily focused on those who fled the region. And AP journalists have delivered that coverage since November. But few journalists could reach areas under the control of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the party of Tigray’s now-fugitive leaders. Access was refused by the Ethiopian military. Until now.

AP’s Kampala, Uganda, correspondent Rodney Muhumuza and the Nairobi, Kenya-based team of Khaled Kazziha, Ben Curtis and Desmond Tiro made it through to the town of Hawzen with determination, teamwork and skill. 

Once there, and knowing the risks, the all-formats team limited themselves to less than an hour in the town, during which they reported exclusively on the TPLF fighters then occupying it. Hours after the journalists left, government troops shelled the town and recaptured it. The team later interviewed displaced victims of the conflict, including child amputees. The resulting multiformat story used the Hawzen as an example of the challenges facing Ethiopian authorities in the region. 

For smart, careful and courageous reporting to become the first outside journalists since the conflict started to interview fighters loyal to the TPLF, Muhumuza, Curtis, Kazziha and Tiro earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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May 28, 2021

Best of the States

Only on AP: A report of college rape, a Facebook admission years later and a woman’s fight for justice

“So I raped you.” 

That message on Facebook, years after Shannon Keeler left college, sent her back to the night as a freshman that changed her life. It also was the basis for her continued fight for justice, as well as this exclusive, powerful examination of campus sexual assault. AP’s Maryclaire Dale, a legal affairs reporter in Philadelphia, and video journalist Allen Breed interviewed Keeler and others, including a student who befriended Keeler on the night of the 2013 attack. That woman, Katayoun Amir-Aslani, told her story, too: She was raped later, by a different man.

The deeply reported all-formats package sheds light on often unreported college rapes, and the systemic obstacles students like Keeler face in their search for justice when they do report. The story drew major attention on AP News, where it was the most-read story for days. Other media rushed to match it, and Keeler has since told her story on network TV.

For sensitive and insightful reporting on a system that one of the victims describes as “broken,” Dale and Breed receive this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 11, 2019

Best of the States

AP Investigation: Priests accused of abuse have access to children, dozens commit crimes

As the ranks of dioceses promising to release lists of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse began to mushroom at the beginning of this year, Philadelphia reporter Claudia Lauer and Washington-based data editor Meghan Hoyer started to strategize: How could they leverage the information on a scale never before accomplished? 

After months of systematic, dogged work, the result was “Where Are They Now,” a blockbuster investigation that found almost 1,700 priests and other clergy members living with little to no oversight, many with positions giving them access to children. Dozens have committed crimes, including sexual assault. 

The story received exceptional play online and in print, and AP Managing Editor Brian Carovillano called it, “One of the most monumental pieces of AP journalism in my memory.” 

For a stunning investigation that breaks new ground in the already impressive body of work that is “The Reckoning” series, Lauer and Hoyer win this week’s Best of the States award.

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