Aug. 16, 2018

Best of the States

In Tuskegee, home to black achievement, a Confederate monument endures

The name “Tuskegee, Alabama” evokes images of black empowerment in a once-segregated nation.

Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver became legends of education at what is now Tuskegee University, and the nation’s first black fighter pilots were known as the Tuskegee Airmen after training in the town during World War II. Michelle Obama gave an impassioned speech there in 2015 while first lady.

So why is there a Confederate monument in the middle of the nearly all-black city?

Birmingham, Ala., correspondent Jay Reeves, using information gleaned from old newspaper accounts, local government records and interviews, reported that the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised money for the monument in the early 1900s. And the white-controlled county gave the heritage group land at the center of town for a whites-only park. It’s there that the statue still stands 109 years later.

Several efforts to relocate the monument have failed through the years, mainly because the Confederate heritage group still owns the land and refuses to move the statue.

In addition to text, Reeves shot photos and located archival images, as well as shooting and editing video for the multiformat package.

For digging in to examine why Confederate monuments are coming down nationwide but not in the historic, majority-black town of Tuskegee, Ala., Reeves wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: US Catholic Church lobbies, gets windfall in federal PPP funds

Based on a tip following AP’s previous reporting on the Paycheck Protection Program, AP anticipated that the Roman Catholic Church might be one of the program’s biggest winners. 

Investigative reporters Reese Dunklin and Michael Rezendes started digging, first showing how the church had successfully lobbied for special treatment under the program, then, when the federal data dropped, the full extent of the church’s windfall. An analysis on deadline revealed $1.4 billion to $3.5 billion in forgivable loans, with many millions going to dioceses that paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy because of sexual abuse claims.

The story had an immediate impact with strong play and engagement in digital, print and broadcast outlets.

For being both first and authoritative on this highly competitive story, and for holding a remarkably powerful institution accountable, Dunklin and Rezendes share this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 21, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Deep AP reporting on NFL’s race-adjusted brain injury settlements

reported that thousands of retired Black professional football players, their families and supporters are demanding an end to the use of “race-norming,” a practice the NFL has insisted on using in the league’s $1 billion brain injury settlement. Black NFL players delivered some 50,000 petitions to a federal court to end the practice.The algorithm used by the NFL assumes Black men start with lower cognitive skills. They must therefore score much lower than whites to show enough mental decline to win an award. The practice went unnoticed until 2018.Dale and Smith recognized that the story extends far beyond sports and money, to discrimination and racial injustice. Their deeply reported story quotes neurology experts who said the practice, sometimes used in medicine as a rough proxy for socioeconomic factors that can affect a person’s health, should not be used in the settlement because it has the effect of systematically discriminating against Black players. The story played widely; CBSN devoted eight minutes to the piece, calling it “a damning report.” https://aplink.news/rcp

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Aug. 09, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigative team reveals how Michigan-based group quietly helped abusive priests

It was a piece of investigative journalism that yielded stunning revelations about the role of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a small nonprofit in Michigan that has been quietly providing money, shelter and legal help to hundreds of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse.

Investigative reporters Martha Mendoza, Garance Burke and Juliet Linderman launched an aggressive effort using shoe leather and Freedom of Information requests to unravel the story behind the organization. Photographer Paul Sancya told the story through a powerful set of images, while videographer Mike Householder produced his own compelling piece.

The riveting story received prominent play and gathered growing interest as it was translated and published in predominantly Catholic countries around the world.

For a story that revealed a startling but little-known group in the shadows of the church’s sexual abuse scandals, Mendoza, Linderman, Burke, Householder and Sancya win AP’s Best of the Week.

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March 06, 2020

Best of the States

AP looks at race in Baltimore through the lens of ‘squeegee kids’

Reporter Regina Garcia Cano took what could have been a dense, pro forma story on complaints about Baltimore’s “squeegee kids” and turned it into a layered piece about inequality in post-Freddie Gray Baltimore. The timing was perfect, as a way for AP to mark the end of 2020’s Black History Month. 

She reviewed figures related to reports on the practice and found one squeegee kid in particular who was willing to open up about the daily grind of dashing into intersections to wash windshields, and how it helped him support his family. 

For her keen eye, and a deft hand, on a complicated topic that would have most likely gone overlooked, Garcia Cano wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Some chiropractors profiteering, undermining vaccines

joined forces to document anti-vaccine activism among a vocal group of chiropractors.Rhode Island-based reporter Smith has been closely tracking anti-vaccine activists. That diligence paid off with a story on a group of influential chiropractors who are becoming leading voices against vaccines and coronavirus safety measures. They’re making money by peddling alternatives as they work to weaken vaccine-related state laws and policies across the U.S., undermining one of the key tools in fighting the pandemic.

The report by Smith and statehouse reporters Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, and Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey, spotlighted an industry that has had little scrutiny during the pandemic. It started out as a tip: Chiropractors attending an anti-vaccine conference in Wisconsin had earned continuing education credits valid toward their licenses. It reminded Smith that a group lobbying against vaccines, Stand for Health Freedom, had been co-founded with chiropractors.The trio scoured public databases to find states allowing CE credits for the anti-vaccine conference, dug up chiropractic board meeting minutes, tracked down statehouse testimony and public comment by chiropractors in numerous states, reviewed news reports and mined digital tools along with interviews of chiropractors, lawmakers and public health advocates to establish that:

— 10 states gave CE credits for the anti-vaccine conference, and that it brought in tens of thousands of dollars in revenue to the chiropractic group and college that sponsored it— Chiropractors have worked to influence vaccine-related legislation and policy in at least 24 states since 2019; a chiropractor-backed group running several lobbying campaigns has never registered as a lobbyist— Dozens of chiropractors use their websites to discourage patients from getting vaccines— Chiropractors are advertising on Facebook and Instagram to sell anti-vaccine products— A California chiropractic group raised $545,000 for anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.— Chiropractic professional groups have taken anti-vaccine stands, including one now run by a longtime anti-vaccine activisthttps://aplink.news/z1m

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March 22, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Kushner organization routinely filed false NYC housing documents

It started with a tip about tenants being harassed at a cluster of New York apartment buildings owned by Jared Kushner's family.

Bernard Condon, a New York-based business writer, began reporting the story last year, visiting buildings and interviewing the tenants, some of whom told similar stories of being subjected to loud construction at all hours, dust, rodents, lead paint in the air and heat suddenly shut off in the winter. Then, some were approached with offers of money to get them to move so the company could install higher-paying tenants.

But the tip did not truly develop until a tenant advocate source told Condon that Kushner Cos. had filed false paperwork for two buildings elsewhere in the city that made it easier to harass tenants during construction. Further, the organization had filed paperwork saying it had zero rent-regulated tenants in buildings throughout the city when, in fact, it had hundreds.

If the Kushner Cos. had disclosed those rent-regulated tenants, it could have triggered stricter city oversight, including possibly unscheduled "sweeps" on site by inspectors to keep the company from harassing tenants.

For dogged reporting that exposed the falsehoods of a company led by the president's son-in-law and trusted adviser, Condon earns the Beat of the Week.

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Feb. 11, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Accountability reporting uncovers taxpayer-funded anti-abortion centers, racial disparities in access

With the continued weakening of state laws protecting women’s rights to abortion in the U.S., the AP’s strong coverage of abortion continues with two stories earning Best of the Week for impressive state accountability reporting and analysis.

A story that surfaced in Tennessee, finding federal dollars being spent on nonprofits aligned with the anti-abortion movement, revealed that legislatures in about a dozen U.S. states were funneling millions of taxpayer dollars to so-called crisis pregnancy centers that are typically unlicensed and have been accused of engaging in misinformation campaigns targeting pregnant women.

A second story focused on racial inequities in access to abortion, an idea sparked by an observation during a visit to the Shreveport, La., abortion clinic where almost every woman in the waiting room was Black. The all-formats package showed how minority women in states where abortion is under attack have the most to lose if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Both stories drew strong play on AP News and customer platforms.

For revelatory state stories on two elements in the pitched national debate over abortion rights, Kruesi, Willingham, Wagster Pettus, Nasir, Solis and Lo earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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July 02, 2020

Best of the States

AP scoops everyone on dramatic ouster of federal prosecutor

After a heads-up tip to Justice Department reporter Michael Balsamo, what unfolded on that Friday night was strange: The top Manhattan federal prosecutor – the one investigating President Donald Trump’s allies – was said to be resigning his job. 

The AP was out with the story for at least a half hour before the competition. But that was just the beginning, as U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman reported for work the next day, only to step down amid conflicting statements from the White House and Justice Department. Balsamo and Neumeister were out front again, making sense of the shifting story with well-sourced detail and context.

For work that put the AP way ahead with both the breaking news and the meaning of the maneuvering, Balsamo and Neumeister share this week’s Best of the States honors.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Best of the States

In Mississippi Delta, Catholic abuse cases settled on cheap

As allegations of sexual abuse by clergy have proliferated across the Catholic Church, millions of dollars in settlement money has been paid to victims. Some have received as much as $500,000 apiece.

Not La Jarvis D. Love.

At an IHOP in the Mississippi Delta, a white official from the Franciscan religious order offered to pay him just $15,000 to keep years of alleged abuse secret.

“He said if I wanted more, I would have to get a lawyer and have my lawyer call his lawyer,” Love told The Associated Press. “Well, we don’t have lawyers. We felt like we had to take what we could.”

The story, the latest in AP’s investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church, revealed deals struck with two black men for abuse they said happened in grade school that represent far lower amounts than what other clergy abuse survivors have received. It also revealed the men had been asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, which had long been banned by U.S. Catholic leaders.

Despite the challenges, the team – investigative reporter Mike Rezendes, photographer Maye-E-Wong, video journalist Sarah Blake Morgan, digital storytelling producer Samantha Shotzbarger and researcher Randy Herschaft – produced extraordinary work. Herschaft discovered several critical threads that showed an alleged abuser was working with children even after the church had known about one of the men’s allegations.

For their sensitive work on a complex, emotional and previously untold story, the team of Rezendes, Morgan, Wong, Shotzbarger and Herschaft win this week’s Best of the States.

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May 15, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Among the vulnerable, the virus stalks with hunger, too

teamed up to put a very human face on the millions in America who are struggling to put food on the table during the pandemic. The pair spent an extended period with Janeth and Roberto, an immigrant couple on the outskirts of the nation’s capital who regularly skip meals to ensure their 5-year-old daughter has enough to eat. Their moving text and photo package, sensitively rendered, brought home how the virus outbreak stalks people on the margins with hunger, as well as disease, and how the social safety net fails many.https://bit.ly/3601QIR

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Feb. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Catholic Church, sitting on billions, amassed PPP aid

investigated the Catholic Church’s receipt of billions in federal aid during the pandemic, breaking news and bringing accountability to both a massive government program and one of the world’s most powerful institutions. The investigative reporters conducted an exclusive and exhaustive analysis showing that while Catholic entities were sitting on at least $10 billion in cash, the nation’s nearly 200 dioceses and other Catholic institutions received at least $3 billion from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, making the Roman Catholic Church perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the program, according to AP’s review.The reporting required was formidable, including joining a federal lawsuit to get the full PPP data. Dunklin and Rezendes then led a blitz by colleagues to hand check tens of thousands of data points. That work tracked the apparently disproportionate aid to Catholic recipients compared to other faith groups and national charities.The package reverberated through a busy news day and was covered in outlets as diverse as Slate and the Catholic News Agency.https://bit.ly/371q7QGhttps://bit.ly/3aPLVzOhttps://bit.ly/3qfXeI4

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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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Dec. 16, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Ransomed: The freeing of 226 Christians from Islamic State

What AP’s Lori Hinnant knew, from a conversation with Beirut bureau chief Zeina Karam early this year, amounted to a fascinating mystery: A series of Syrian villages had been emptied and many of their people taken hostage by the Islamic State group, but now most appeared to be free. It was clear that ransoms were paid, but no one would talk about how it happened.

The hostages were more than 200 Assyrian Christians who were rescued through a fundraising effort among the vanishing people’s global diaspora that brought in millions of dollars. These were the broad outlines of the story that Hinnant’s months of reporting confirmed, but even better were the exclusive details she unearthed _ including IS sending one villager with a ransom note to his bishop, the church dinners and concerts held around the world for donations, and the decision, fraught with ethical qualms and legal risks, to pay a ransom.

Hinnant’s resulting “thriller,” as one admirer called it, is the Beat of the Week.

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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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June 14, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation: Top US cardinal accused of mishandling abuse allegations against deputy

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s five-month investigation revealed the stunning allegations: A high-ranking Catholic priest had a sexual relationship with a Houston woman for more than a year, counseled her husband on their marital problems, pressed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the couple and continued to hear her confession.

But the cardinal overseeing the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations in the United States approved the priest’s transfer to a church two hours away.

The fallout from Winfield’s revelations was swift: The priest was suspended and church officials reopened their inquiry into the handling of parishioner Laura Pontikes’ accusations.

To tell the sensitive story, Winfield – and a team that included Raleigh-based national writer/video journalist Allen Breed, New York global enterprise photographer Wong Maye-E and Houston correspondent Nomaan Merchant – meticulously planned coverage in each format, including on-camera interviews with Pontikes and her husband, and photos and video of the cardinal and the accused priest.

For an investigation that cast doubt on a top church official’s handling of a case involving startling allegations of abuse, Winfield, Breed, Wong and Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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April 05, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Florida targeting massage parlor prostitution, trafficking

When police busted several massage parlors engaging in prostitution in Florida in February, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft drew all the attention, but hundreds of other men were also charged in what seemed like a new approach for Florida authorities.

AP Florida reporters Mike Schneider, Orlando, and Terry Spencer, West Palm Beach, seized on the Kraft-driven attention to dig into legal issues surrounding massage parlors and prostitution in Florida. With a deep dive into state records and a key interview with a local source, the pair landed an AP Exclusive that showed a change in strategy: Usually only low-level massage therapists were arrested. Owners were rarely charged and typically faced only fines and probation. Johns typically were not charged at all.

But the recent investigation had instead focused heavily on the possibility of widespread human trafficking. Several spa owners were charged with felonies, and authorities also charged 300 men accused of being patrons, including Kraft and the former president of Citigroup. The Martin County sheriff told Spencer that he wanted to shut down the sex-massage industry in part by targeting the demand side.

Strong play included prominent display in The Washington Post.

For their enterprising use of state records and source-building to find an AP Exclusive in a story that drew enormous global attention, Schneider and Spencer win this week’s Best of 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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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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Dec. 13, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

‘What Can Be Saved?’: Global series explores heroic efforts to revive ecosystems

The brief for the project was anything but simple: find a way to cover climate change’s effects on the planet in a way that avoided turning the audience off with a gloom-and-doom or heavily text-centric approach. 

The result was a sprawling environmental series that expanded the boundaries of AP’s visual storytelling. The series traveled to 10 countries on five continents, focusing on everything from attempts to bring back Jamaica’s coral reefs, to the conservation of lions and gorillas in Africa, to China’s ambitious plans to build a national park system, to a trip down one of Europe’s last wild rivers.

It was the work of 33 journalists, 15 editors and four translators throughout AP’s global newsroom, reaching millions of people across all formats – and not just because Leonardo DiCaprio touted some of the installments on Instagram and Twitter. 

For ambitious storytelling and compelling display on a subject of global significance, the extended team behind the “What Can Be Saved?” series wins AP’s Best of the Week award. This week’s cash award will be donated to AP’s Employee Relief Fund.

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