Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Records show Montana official’s misuse of state vehicle

When the Helena Police Department cited the statute of limitations in declining to bring charges against Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton for misuse of a state-owned vehicle, Helena reporter Amy Hanson dug deeper.

After multiple public-records requests Hanson found that Secretary of State Corey Stapleton traveled tens of thousands of miles more than what had been previously reported, including many times when he had no official events on his calendar. And she found that the misuse continued until he turned in the vehicle in March, well within the statute of limitations.

For determined reporting that resulted in a textbook example of accountability journalism, Amy Hanson wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the States

Request denied? Sunshine Hub sheds light on state efforts to block public access

Beyond its dramatic effects, the audio from 911 calls can provide the kind of context that is essential to the public's understanding of what happened during a newsworthy crime or emergency. Those recordings are, with few exceptions, a matter of public record. That almost changed this year in Iowa, where the state House passed – unanimously – a bill that would end the public's ability to access many 911 calls. The bill eventually died after an outcry from the media, watchdog groups and civil rights organizations, but it was not unusual. A months-long project by AP reporters and data journalists found more than 150 bills introduced in state legislatures this year that were intended to eliminate or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings.

To help reporters find, track and provide input on those bills, Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen of the data team created a unique online tool that provided full access to AP customers.

Called the Sunshine Hub, it helps users keep track of legislative activity related to government transparency, suggest new bills, search for and categorize bills for research purposes, and discuss legislation with others. The Sunshine Hub directly complemented stories by Ryan Foley in Iowa, Andrew DeMillo in Arkansas and Laurie Kellman in Washington.

For their groundbreaking reporting and software development, Tumgoren, Rasmussen, Foley, DeMillo and Kellman win this week's Best of the States award.

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Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

APNewsBreak: More than 300 accusers in Ohio State doctor scandal

for dogged source work and thorough reporting to confirm the growing number of sexual misconduct accusers against the late Ohio State team doctor, Richard Strauss, Franko has covered the scandal from the beginning and has deep sources, but nailing down the number of accusers has been difficult. Because the lawyers have been tight-lipped about the mediation process, Franko stayed in touch with some of the plaintiffs even if they would talk only off the record. The subject of the growing number of accusers came up during one such conversation, and Franko started checking with some of the lawyers to confirm it. She learned enough to prep a draft story, and when she finally got multiple confirmations and comment, she had the story ready to roll out: More than 300 accusers have come forward. The APNewsBreak was used by the hometown Columbus Dispatch and received wide play online with solid engagement on social media. https://bit.ly/2MFdD8F

June 17, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation of Louisiana State Police triggers federal probe

fittingly beat the competition with news of the biggest impact yet from their two-year investigation of beatings and cover-ups by the Louisiana State Police: The U.S. Justice Department is launching a sweeping civil rights probe of the agency to see if there is a pattern of excessive force and racial discrimination.Based on their deep sourcing, Mustian and Bleiberg were able to exclusively report the federal “pattern-or-practice” investigation as a news alert about an hour before the official announcement in Baton Rouge. It marked the first such action against a statewide law enforcement agency in more than two decades. All the examples cited by the assistant attorney general as justitification for the probe came from a string of AP scoops that exposed (often with video) beatings of mostly Black men and the Louisiana agency’s instinct to protect troopers rather than investigate them.Read more

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Aug. 07, 2020

Best of the States

Players open up to AP, describe coach’s abusive practices at Oregon State

National sports writer Eddie Pells was first approached in February by the mom of a player who said she had some concerns about abuses going on in the volleyball program at Oregon State. 

Over the next five months, Pells conducted dozens of interviews both in and out of the program, and checked with experts to learn if volleyball coach Mark Barnard was over the line. Several athletes spoke to Pells, including a former OSU player who described how the coach’s abusive practices contributed to a suicide attempt. 

Pells’ exclusive led to immediate calls for the coach’s firing and questions about the university officials who didn’t take action after hearing complaints. 

For months of persistent and sensitive reporting despite uncertain prospects, resulting in an impressive story with impact, Pells wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 06, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Use of racial slurs not ‘isolated’ at Louisiana State Police

reported exclusively on a string of racial slurs used by Louisiana State Police troopers, both in their official emails and spoken on the job, refuting the contention of the agency’s superintendent that the use of such demeaning language was just “isolated.”Mustian reviewed hundreds of police records and found at least a dozen instances over a three-year period in which employees forwarded racist emails or demeaned minority colleagues with racist nicknames. He also exclusively obtained documents of an accidental “pocket-dial” of sorts in which a white trooper sent a voice mail to a Black trooper that blurted out his name and then a vile racist slur. The state police superintendent made an abrupt retirement announcement in the midst of Mustian’s reporting, which follows weeks of his coverage on the still-unexplained death of Ronald Greene, a Black motorist taken into custody last year following a police chase. Reeves faced criticism for his secretive handling of the case, including the refusal to release body-cam video that, according to those who have seen it, shows troopers beating, choking and dragging Greene. The case is now the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. Mustian’s story on the racial slurs received strong play, including on the front page of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune/Advocate. https://bit.ly/34VHCkp

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March 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Slower vaccine rollouts more successful in US

collaborated with Surgo Ventures, a health care information organization, to tell the story of how U.S, states that opened up vaccines to more people actually fared worse in the rollout than those that took a more methodical approach. The first-of-its-kind data analysis by AP gauged the success of all states in the vaccine rollout — comparing states by their varying degrees of aggressiveness. Forster, a New York health and science data journalist, and Johnson, Seattle health and science reporter, found states that were most aggressive actually vaccinated a smaller share of their population than those that took a go-it-slow approach. The story also quoted real people about their struggles in getting shots. The result was a hit among customers, including front page play in the Chicago Tribune, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Orlando Sentinel. https://bit.ly/3cha9F4

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Jan. 25, 2019

Best of the States

AP first with on-the-record report of Michigan State interim president’s resignation

In the wake of offensive and insensitive comments about victims of ex-sports doctor Larry Nassar, calls for the resignation or firing of interim Michigan State University President John Engler reached a crescendo.

As the fast-moving story developed, multiple outlets cited anonymous sources in reporting his imminent departure, but Detroit reporter Corey Williams and Lansing, Michigan, correspondent David Eggert scored significant beats on the story, all of them solidly sourced.

Williams successfully reached two MSU trustees – one who said the board had the votes to oust Engler and another saying he was expected to resign later that day, while Eggert contacted Rachael Denhollander, the first victim of Larry Nassar to have gone public, for exclusive early reaction.

And finally, working his sources, Eggert exclusively obtained a copy of Engler’s 11-page resignation letter, which the university’s board was refusing to release. The AP was alone with the letter for at least an hour, posting the document online so we could link to it from our breaking story.

The AP’s story and reporting were widely used, including by The Detroit News – where Engler’s offensive comments had appeared, setting the series of events in motion.

For solid on-the-record reporting that put the AP far ahead on a highly competitive story, Williams and Eggert win this week’s Best of the States.

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April 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

States, feds pressured to reveal nursing home outbreaks

used the power of the AP to highlight an almost unfathomable fact – the federal government and many states have not publicly tracked coronavirus infections and deaths in individual nursing homes – and their story was followed very quickly by policy changes. A day after their story appeared, New York announced it would indeed release a list of individual nursing homes and how many deaths each one had. And less than a week later, the federal government announced it would begin the same process.https://bit.ly/2VRcP2Khttps://bit.ly/2yAhgaf

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Oct. 08, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Accounting and Accountability: AP follows the money, finds most ‘rescue’ funds unspent

Earlier this year, states and cities across the country pleaded for a pandemic “rescue” plan to avoid a fiscal cliff, and they got it: $350 billion from Washington for local and state governments. Five months later, AP State Government Team reporter David Lieb dug into the data, state by state, city by city. He found that states overall had spent just 2.5% of their initial allotment while large cities spent 8.5% — not such an emergency after all.

It was a dramatic finding from an ongoing series of accountability stories led by AP’s state government and data teams tracking hundreds of billions of dollars in pandemic aid.

As Lieb gathered and analyzed the reports, data journalist Camille Fassett prepared the information for wider distribution to customers who used it for their own localized reporting.

Play for the story was outstanding. It landed on the front pages of dozens of AP’s biggest customers, online and print, and drew readership on AP News. For distinctive accountability journalism that delivered on both the national and local level, Lieb and Fassett earn AP’s Best of Week — First Winner.

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Aug. 10, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

50-state investigation reveals arbitrary patchwork of justice for juvenile lifers

After the U.S. Supreme Court told states that juveniles who had been given mandatory life without parole sentences should get the chance to argue for their release, national writers Sharon Cohen and Adam Geller wanted to know how judges, prosecutors, lawmakers and parole boards were dealing with the inmates.

Aided by reporters in all 50 states, their exhaustive investigation showed for the first time that the high court’s mandate in 2016 to give inmates a chance at freedom is being applied inconsistently, varying from state to state, even county to county, “in a pattern that can make justice seem arbitrary.”

The resulting three-day series featured deeply reported text stories, an expansive photo report of inmates from across the country, a 16-minute audio extra, a video animation on teen brain development, a video story, and a searchable trove of state-by-state details – all hosted in a dynamic hub on APNews.com.

Cohen and Geller’s work wins this week’s Beat of the Week prize.

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