July 16, 2021

Best of the States

AP takes immersive look as drought puts ‘flatlining’ Great Salt Lake at historic risk

As the western U.S. finds itself in the grips of one of the worst droughts in recent history, the AP West region staff has delved into every aspect of the drought’s impact across the region. In one of the hardest-hit areas, the Salt Lake City-based team of Rick Bowmer, Lindsay Whitehurst and Brady McCombs documented that Utah’s Great Salt Lake may be headed to the lowest water levels in 170 years.

Reporting ahead of other news outlets, they delivered an all-formats package with stunning visuals showing readers how the dying lake is impacting people and wildlife and is a harbinger of worrisome drought-related consequences ahead. Decades of drought and water diversion in the booming region have hurt bird habitats, forced boats from shallow water and exposed dry lakebed that could send arsenic-laced dust into the air that millions breathe.

The result was a compelling package that had the highest engagement of all AP stories on July 6 and fourth-most for the week.

For distinctive work that expands AP’s ongoing coverage of climate and drought in the West, the team of Bowmer, Whitehurst and McCombs wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 07, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Resourceful AP team dominates all-formats coverage of Colorado inferno

When a winter grassland fire exploded along Colorado’s Front Range two days before New Year’s, destroying nearly 1,000 homes and forcing tens of thousands to flee, AP staffers in all formats rushed to document what is likely the state’s most destructive fire ever.

The coverage included first video and photos of the massive flames on Day One, giving AP a quick competitive edge from the start. AP stayed ahead in the days that followed with staffers trekking for miles into the burn area, quickly delivering text, video and photos as residents returned to the remains of their homes. The reporting also placed the blaze in the larger context of global warming in the American West.

During a busy news week, the initial fire coverage was among AP’s top stories.

For compelling all-formats content from this rare, horrific winter fire, the team of Eugene Garcia, Dave Zelio, Thomas Peipert, Colleen Slevin, Jim Anderson, Martha Bellisle, Brittany Peterson, Patty Nieberg, David Zalubowski and Jack Dempsey is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Dec. 01, 2016

Best of the States

US moves to block mining near Yellowstone

The Obama administration is racing in its final days to keep industry out of natural and environmentally sensitive areas throughout the U.S. West, where the incoming Trump administration has raised fears of loosened regulations on federal lands.

Billings, Montana Correspondent Matt Brown _ who has an acute sense of the value in reporting on land out West _ has broken news repeatedly to keep the AP ahead.

Brown is deeply sourced with federal interior officials and consistently checks in with them. He was working on a story week about officials canceling oil and gas leases on land near Glacier National Park that's considered sacred to tribes – also an APNewsBreak – when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell mentioned she was coming back to Montana in a week.

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Dec. 07, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Livestream video leads coverage of Alaska earthquakes

As soon as the ground stopped violently shaking in Anchorage on the morning of Nov. 30, Anchorage newsman Dan Joling calmed his nerves and started reporting. Then, within minutes, he went from producing urgents to plotting out with Stephanie Mullen, the West region’s deputy director of storytelling based in San Francisco, how AP would get the most compelling visuals at first light.

Already adept at capturing still photos, Joling would use a tool new to him, the live video streaming app Bambuser, to report on the damage from the two powerful back-to-back earthquakes centered just outside Alaska’s biggest city.

Out in the field, Joling drove up to a vehicle stranded on a crumpled roadway, first using his iPhone to snap photos that he quickly sent to a photo editor. He then fired up the Bambuser app, a tool that he had been trained on exactly one month before.

The live footage he streamed was scooped up immediately by customers in the United States and Europe.

His quick thinking and improvisation put the AP far ahead of the competition and gave viewers and customers unmatched views of the quakes’ aftermath, earning him AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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May 29, 2020

Best of the States

AP takes a rare behind-the-scenes look into the complex world of contact tracing

With contact tracing in the spotlight as one of the keys to stopping the spread of the coronavirus, journalists across the AP have sought access to the investigators, only to be rebuffed for privacy concerns. But Utah-based correspondent Brady McCombs convinced a county health department that he and photographer Rick Bowmer could show the world how contact tracing is conducted, while protecting private details. 

Once they were in the door, the curtain rolled back. The pair spent parts of five days shadowing investigators as they talked, commiserated and cajoled people to comply with tracing – something simply unseen in other coverage or descriptions of contact tracing. 

And in a major break, McCombs used social media to identify one of the subjects of tracing, getting exclusive all-formats access to tell the story of a family on the other end of a tracer’s call.

For a timely and revealing package on a vital element of the pandemic response, McCombs and Bowmer share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 24, 2020

Best of the States

AP travels to the edge of America for start of the 2020 census in tiny Alaska town

On the edge of America, the U.S. Census started in a tiny Alaska town on the Bering Sea. Toksook Bay, population 661, is only reachable by plane, and isn’t an easy place to live, much less report. The temperatures hover around zero, and daylight is scarce this time of year.

After months of planning, Alaska news editor Mark Thiessen and San Diego photographer Greg Bull spent four days in the remote community, getting rare access to day-to-day life and an interview with the person who would be the first counted, 90-year-old Lizzie Chimiugak. 

And when the Census director finally arrived, delayed by bad weather that kept many other news organizations away, Thiessen and Bull were able to quickly file the spot news that Census 2020 had begun.

For overcoming myriad technical obstacles and very cold fingers to cover the news in a far-flung part of the country, while also providing a window into a world unlike any other place in the U.S., Thiessen and Bull win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 15, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Ariana Grande fires back at Grammys producer after AP story

for raising with Ken Ehrlich, producer of the Grammys, the question of why Ariana Grande did not perform at the awards show. Ehrlich said that the singer had declined due to inadequate time to prepare. Within moments of the report, Grande took to Twitter, pointing to Fekadu’s story and telling her 61 million followers that Ehrlich’s explanation was untrue, blaming Ehrlich for “stifling” her and rejecting the songs she offered to perform. https://bit.ly/2S2IbiL

Jan. 19, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP NewsBreak: AP scoops everyone on ICE's 7-Eleven hiring sweep, biggest raid under Trump

Associated Press reporter Elliot Spagat has spent years covering the U.S.-Mexico border, building sources within the federal agencies that enforce the nation’s immigration laws and earning the respect of senior officials.

That source work paid off when Spagat scored an exclusive ride-along as federal agents executed what officials called the largest immigration action against an employer under Donald Trump’s presidency: An early-morning sweep of nearly 100 7-Eleven stories that targeted the stores’ owners, rather than the workers.

One U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said the operation was “a harbinger of what’s to come” for employers.

For his efforts to put AP ahead of the competition (some news organizations cited AP while their own reporters rushed to confirm the story), Spagat wins this week’s Beat of the Week prize.

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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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May 03, 2019

Best of the States

‘Destined to Burn’: AP, media organizations join forces to expose California wildfire risks

A groundbreaking collaboration among California newspapers and The Associated Press started with a tweet.

Northern California News Editor Juliet Williams saw on Twitter that the editor of The Sacramento Bee, a McClatchy paper, was driving to meet with the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record, a MediaNews paper, to talk about wildfire coverage. Williams reached out, offered the AP’s help, and a partnership was born, with the goal of illuminating problems and pointing to potential solutions to California’s increasingly deadly wildfires.

The results: nearly a dozen stories, including an analysis of data by McClatchy and AP Los Angeles-based data journalist Angeliki Kastanis revealing that more than 350,000 Californians live in towns and cities almost entirely within zones of very high wildfire risk. An analysis also found that a 2008 building code for California’s fire-prone regions can make the difference in whether homes burn or not, but there’s little retrofitting of older homes.

The partnership’s next installment was focused on evacuation planning, revealing that many communities wouldn’t share the information or didn’t have an adequate plan, or any plan at all. Data analysis by USA TODAY Network-California showed many communities had too few roads to get everyone out.

We heavily publicized the package and play was impressive, with hundreds of downloads of the first two installments. Many outlets used the data to report their own stories about local fire risks. And this isn’t the end of the partnership: The next phase will focus on legislative action on wildfire coverage.

When AP engages in collaborations like these we become more than just a content provider to our customers; we’re helping them produce high-impact local coverage that wouldn’t exist otherwise. In this case, the “Destined to Burn” partnership was managed at every level by West Deputy Director of Newsgathering Anna Jo Bratton, who worked for six months with people throughout the AP and the collaborators to make the partnership a success.

For putting the AP at the center of an important collaboration, driving important journalism in a state ravaged by wildfires, and forging a stronger relationship with members, Williams, Kastanis and Bratton win this AP’s Best of the States.

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March 15, 2019

Best of the States

Between the lines of a press release: Gray wolves could lose federal protection

The passing reference in a draft statement on an unrelated topic would have been easy miss. But Billings, Montana, correspondent Matthew Brown instantly recognized its significance – the U.S. was planning to lift protections for gray wolves, an action that would reignite the emotional debate over the predators’ resurgence.

Brown was reporting on sage grouse when he came across the draft Interior Department press release. It mentioned remarks that Acting Secretary David Bernhardt planned to make the next day at a wildlife conference in Denver: Gray wolves had recovered across the Lower 48 states.

Brown recognized the implication of that one sentence, and teamed up with fellow environmental beat team writer John Flesher of Traverse City, Michigan, to begin a race against the clock. Brown and Flesher scrambled to break the news before Bernhardt took the stage the next morning at the closed-press wildlife conference. Finally a source confirmed: Protections for wolves were again in the agency’s crosshairs.

The APNewsAlert moved at 8:45 a.m., a full 15 minutes before Bernhardt was scheduled to speak. Other news outlets were forced to follow in AP’s wake, posting their own stories that relied on a statement put out by Interior.

For seizing on a stray reference and reporting it out into a significant APNewsBreak on wolves, Brown and Flesher win this week’s Best of the States.

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Dec. 15, 2016

Best of the States

AP provides superior coverage of Oakland warehouse fire that killed 36

As soon as the flames were doused on an Oakland, California, warehouse known as the Ghost Ship two things were clear: The death toll would be huge, and telling the story would be complicated. It took a cross-format team effort to tell the story, and the staff in California rose to the occasion, including incoming San Francisco news editor Juliet Williams, who got an early start on her new job, dashing to the bureau from Sacramento to run the story.

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May 24, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Interview with judge facing recall over Stanford sex assault sentence

When a California judge chose the most lenient sentence for a Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus, the outrage made national headlines for weeks. Anger at the judge turned into a recall effort on the June 5 primary ballot and more widespread media coverage.

Despite the glare, Judge Aaron Persky has been mostly silent for nearly two years. San Francisco reporter Paul Elias has spent nearly that entire time asking for an interview, over and over.

Those efforts paid off with an exclusive, three-hour all formats interview at the judge’s home. The judge said he had no regrets, even though the sentence may cost him his judgeship. The resulting story was featured prominently in local and national media.

For his persistence in getting AP a fascinating interview on a competitive story, Elias wins this week's Best of the States award.

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March 01, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

Months of planning, smart execution result in dominating Oscars coverage

The envelope was opened, “Green Book” was announced as best picture at the 91st Oscars, and entertainment writer Andrew Dalton’s eyes shifted over to Spike Lee.

The director threw up his hands in exasperation and attempted to storm out of the Dolby Theatre before being told to return to his seat. Social media quickly lit up with disdain for the selection by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and Dalton’s eyewitness reporting quickly fueled the criticism.

In a packed theater filled with actors and other journalists, Dalton reported what few saw and the television cameras didn’t show, giving the AP exclusive material and driving audiences to its comprehensive Oscars coverage.

Later that night, entertainment producer Mike Cidoni Lennox interviewed “Green Book’s” producers outside the Oscars’ official after-party, helping drive the following day’s coverage of the controversial win.

The reaction to the best picture winner capped dominating all-formats team coverage of the Oscars, the result of months of planning and preparation. AP customers received a steady stream of photos, video and stories, including film writer Jake Coyle’s deadline story which was viewed more than 88,000 times. Coyle had crafted prep for all the likely winners, allowing for fast updates when the envelopes were opened.

For their extensive planning, professional expertise and swift work, Dalton, Coyle and Lennox win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 10, 2017

Best of the States

Photographer reports exclusive details of Oakland player using gay slur against fan

A photographer needs more than a good eye to do the job.

On Friday night, August 4, Los Angeles-based photographer Mark J. Terrill landed the AP a scoop with sharp hearing.

In the eighth inning of the Angels’ game against the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles’ CJ Cron made a diving stop of Matt Joyce’s hard-hit line drive, which elicited loud cheers from the crowd in Anaheim. As Joyce ran back to the dugout Terrill heard the Oakland player in a heated exchange with a fan, cursing at the fan using a gay slur.

Terrill's reporting was used by AP's stringer covering the game for Sports, and expanded by Baseball Writer Ron Blum who recognized the importance of the incident. The AP story went unmatched overnight. Even after the A's addressed the incident, most media outlets continued to cite the AP story throughout.

For their enterprising efforts, Terrill and Blum split this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

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Oct. 23, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Data, reporting reveal millions exposed to wildfire pollution

used government air pollution data, academic studies and interviews to report exclusively that the western wildfires exposed at least 38 million people in five states to unhealthy levels of smoke, causing emergency room visits to spike and potentially thousands of deaths among the elderly and infirm. The all-formats package included the experience of an Oregon woman whose smoke-triggered asthma attacks twice sent her to the emergency room.https://bit.ly/34hvDgShttps://bit.ly/3m6yeR0

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