Aug. 17, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

APNewsBreak: Beyond bluster, US, NKorea in regular contact

For weeks, the escalating back-and-forth between North Korea and the United States over possible nuclear conflict had made for headlines that were alarming at the least _ and to many, terrifying.

Amid all the bluster came an exclusive report from Matthew Pennington, foreign policy reporter in Washington, revealing that senior U.S. and North Korean diplomats have been maintaining a back-channel communication for the last several months, and that they'd moved on from an early focus on U.S. detainees to address the broader strains in the relationship.

At a time of heightened alert, the story pointed to a possible diplomatic path out of the crisis, and indicated that both U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be more flexible on the idea of negotiations than they are letting on. After days of bombastic threats from both sides, Pennington's reporting, which wins the Beat of the Week, provided a sobering reality check: the enemies aren't on an unavoidable path toward conflict.

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May 11, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Yemen's Dirty War: Starving moms skip meals to feed their starving children

The civil war gripping Yemen for the last three years has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters as millions of people face starvation. In an effort to understand the scope of the crisis, The Associated Press launched a one-year project with the Pulitzer Center, a non-profit news organization that helps cover underreported stories internationally.

AP Cairo-based reporter Maggie Michael, one of the few journalists who has followed the unfolding tragedy in Yemen from the beginning, often at great risk, used the Pulitzer grant for an extended reporting trip across Yemen with Cairo photographer Nariman el-Mofty and Yemen-based videographer Maad al-Zekri.

They drove more than 400 miles through five governorates, including one harrowing drive near an active front line outside of Khoukha, from their base in Aden. They interviewed mothers and families affected, plus food experts, doctors and volunteers, and they found that more than 8.4 million of the nation’s 29 million people rely almost completely on food aid.

The team’s courageous efforts to tell this story win the Beat of the Week.

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May 11, 2018

Best of the States

Illinois coroner to poor: Pay $1000 or county keeps remains

The tip that led to an exclusive by Chicago reporter Sara Burnett seemed outlandish: When poor people couldn't afford to bury their loved ones, a western Illinois coroner was cremating the bodies and keeping the ashes until the family paid $1,000. He’s continued the policy even though the state has resumed a program to pay for the funerals.

Burnett reported on a woman whose ex-husband and father of their three children died. They were both on disability and she couldn’t come up with the money, leaving the family to hold a memorial service with just a photograph and an empty container. Wendy Smith said she felt the policy was unfair. "I just think they pick on the people that are poor."

The coroner told Burnett that the policy started after the state, which for years has faced billion-dollar deficits, announced it was too broke to pay for indigent funerals and burials – shifting the cost to funeral homes and county coroners. Further, the coroner claimed only one woman was unhappy. But Burnett tracked down other families, and had a back-and-forth with the state about how much money was appropriated for the burial program

Within days, the state comptroller, citing The Associated Press story, weighed in that the coroner's practice was "disgusting behavior" and called for a ramped-up campaign to alert local officials that state-funded burial is again available.

For illuminating a questionable practice and how the state’s budget crisis continues to cause pain for the poor and vulnerable, Burnett earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 27, 2018

Best of the States

AP lands elusive first interview with two black men arrested at Starbucks

The arrest of two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia for sitting without ordering anything turned into a major crisis for the coffee chain and sparked a national conversation on unconscious bias and overt racism.

But the two men at the center of the controversy sought to maintain their privacy as they tried to make sense of the ordeal. They even moved to a hotel to hide out as the scandal unfolded with numerous interview requests to tell their story.

Knowing the sit-down with the men was essential, Pennsylvania Editor Larry Rosenthal pressed for an interview, noting that one conversation with AP would relieve the pressure they were feeling from so many outlets. Errin Haines Whack, the AP’s national race and ethnicity writer, followed up with a written pitch. She noted she was based in Philly and wanted to hear both their version of events and what they hoped to see moving forward. In the end, that sealed the deal.

For landing the critical interview and delivering it in multiple formats, Whack is this week’s winner of Best of the States.

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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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Dec. 21, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP: Rohingya women methodically raped by Myanmar armed forces

When AP Australia correspondent Kristen Gelineau, Singapore photographer Maye-E Wong and New Delhi video journalist Rishabh Jain entered the sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh that are sheltering Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, they did not need to coax the women they found to talk.

Accounts of cruelty, violence and rape at the hands of Myanmar armed forces poured out of the survivors.

After only one week in the camps, Gelineau had interviewed 27 women and girls to gather evidence that Myanmar’s armed forces had carried out a pattern of sweeping, systematic rape across Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Joined by Wong and Jain during her second week in the camps, the team revisited several of the women Gelineau had interviewed to capture haunting photos and video. Gelineau and Wong then interviewed two more rape survivors, bringing to 29 the number of women struggling to survive in squalid conditions who were desperate to tell the world what had happened to them. The images of their tear-filled eyes, peering out over brightly colored headscarves, conveyed a depth of suffering almost impossible to describe.

For their searing account in words, photos and video, Gelineau, Wong and Jain have earned the 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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Oct. 06, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP photo team produces unparalleled coverage of Catalonia referendum

The days leading up to Catalonia’s independence referendum pointed toward trouble on the day of the vote. The autonomous region in northeast Spain was pushing ahead with the election despite the country’s constitutional court ordering it to be stopped. In the weeks leading up to the vote, thousands took to the streets, demonstrating for and against independence. The election, set for Oct. 1, was sure to be a defining moment for the region and the country.

It also posed a challenge to those planning AP’s visual report: How best to capture the expected chaos? How to navigate its major city, Barcelona, which would be flooded with demonstrators and police? How to get photographers and video journalists in the right positions, knowing they might be stuck there for hours?

These decisions fell to Emilio Morenatti, AP’s chief photographer for Spain and Portugal. A longtime Barcelona resident, he anticipated those obstacles as he deployed AP’s staff and freelance photographers.

The result was some 200 photographs that captured the violence and passion of a remarkable moment in Spanish history. For planning creatively, making smart in-the-moment decisions and risking personal safety, Morenatti and his team of photographers win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 15, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP team captures plight of Rohingya, casts doubt on Myanmar government claims

It was a tide of humanity that just kept getting larger.

Driven from their homes by mass violence after a clash between insurgents and police, Rohingya Muslims from a borderland state in Buddhist-majority Myanmar streamed into neighboring Bangladesh where they faced homelessness, more potential violence and deeply uncertain futures.

Day after excruciating day, an AP team of journalists on both sides of the border painted a portrait of human misery and the hope that always lurks within it – and cast doubt on claims by Myanmar’s government that Rohingya villagers set fire to their own homes.

For their work to focus the world’s attention on the Rohingya’s exodus, Delhi staffers – photographer Bernat Armangue, correspondent Muneeza Naqvi and video journalist Al-emrun Garjon – and Myanmar correspondent Esther Htusan win this week’s Beat of the Week award.

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Sept. 19, 2016

Best of the States

Libraries cope with patrons visiting them to use heroin

The stories of heroin addicts overdosing in unusual places have become numbingly familiar: a McDonald’s play area, inside a children’s hospital, even while driving down the highway.

But it was another odd location -- the restroom of a library -- that drove Columbus reporter Kantele Franko to identify an additional, tragic twist to these stories. Franko learned over several weeks of reporting that the same qualities that make libraries ideal for studying and reading — unfettered public access, quiet corners and nooks, minimal interaction with other people — also make them appealing places to shoot heroin.

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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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April 21, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Must-read stories: UN sex abuse, El Faro sinking share Beat of the Week honors

The stories could not be more different. One revealed that United Nations peacekeepers had been accused of thousands of instances of sexual abuse over 12 years. The other recounted the last hours of a doomed freighter and its crew, as they sailed into a hurricane.

But both of these AP stories – by Paisley Dodds and Jason Dearen, respectively – drew extraordinary notice, captivating readers in a busy news week. And in a departure from usual practice, the two contrasting stories, a hard-hitting investigation and a powerful narrative, are being recognized as co-winners of the Beat of the Week.

Sept. 23, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Pro-painkiller echo chamber shaped policy amid drug epidemic

Combine the capabilities of The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity, and this is what you can get: A two-part blockbuster that exposed the efforts of the opioid industry and allied groups to stymie limits on the use of its powerful drugs, and detailed how they spent more than $880 million on lobbying and political contributions over the past decade.

The genesis of the project was a conversation between Tom Verdin, editor of AP’s state government team, and Geoff Mulvihill, a member of that team. Mulvihill, based in Mount Laurel, N.J., has covered the opioid crisis sweeping the nation, and the two hit upon the idea of trying to determine the extent of the pharmaceutical industry’s exerting influence in state legislatures across the country.

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