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. 09, 2018

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

With resilience and heavy hearts, Stoneman Douglas starts football season

for his detail-laden account of the first practice of the football season at Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School. Among the victims in the Feb. 14 massacre at the school that killed 17 people was assistant football coach Aaron Feis. The emotional training took place at midnight and AP was the only media allowed to attend except for hometown paper. https://bit.ly/2vfM4IJ

March 22, 2018

Best of the States

Sex assaults among children on US military bases routinely ignored

Last May, as Reese Dunklin and Justin Pritchard sifted through readers' email responses to AP's 2017 investigation into schoolhouse sex assault, both reporters flagged the same messages for follow-up: The tips described problems with the handling of sex assaults reported on U.S. military bases among the children and teens of service members.

Through dozens of FOIA requests and interviews, they found that reports of sexual assaults and rapes among military kids were getting lost in a dead zone of justice, with neither victim nor offender receiving help. Cases often died on the desks of prosecutors, even when an attacker confessed. And criminal investigators shelved other cases, despite requirements they be pursued, the reporters found.

Using government records and data released by the Pentagon’s military branches and school system, Dunklin and Pritchard catalogued nearly 600 cases of sex assaults among children on military bases, often after protracted FOIA negotiations. Though an acknowledged undercount, it was the first such quantification – something neither the Pentagon nor its global school system had previously done.

For shedding light on a problem too long ignored, and localizing it for AP members in their states, Dunklin and Pritchard share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 10, 2017

Best of the States

Rapid response after truck driver kills eight on New York bike path

AP photographers often scramble to the scene of a news story before it’s clear what is happening.

That was the case on a beautiful Halloween afternoon last week when a call came in to the New York City bureau that there was a swarm of police activity near the AP’s lower Manhattan headquarters. News Editor David Caruso ran to the windows and saw an unbroken string of police cars speeding south on the West Side Highway, going down the wrong side of the street. That was enough for him to scramble reporters, photographers and videographers out the door.

At the scene, AP photographer Bebeto Matthews slipped behind police lines and started walking up the street near the west side bike path. He noticed something white on the path and soon realized it was a body covered in a sheet, surrounded by crumpled bicycles and other debris. He began furiously taking pictures, called in what he saw to the desk and then ducked behind some construction equipment to start transmitting his photos on the spot.

Meanwhile, AP photographer Mark Lennihan and stringer photographers Craig Ruttle and Andres Kudacki had also rushed to the scene, making dramatic photos of what would become the worst terrorist attack in New York City since 9/11.

For strong breaking news work that put AP ahead and kept us there, Matthews, Lennihan, Ruttle and Kudacki win this weeks’ Best of the States Award.

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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. 29, 2017

Best of the States

The Next One? Sports launches hub and multiyear plan for exclusive reporting on top hoops prospect

While books and movies have shed light on the world of big-time amateur basketball, no one has published stories along the way – until now. With the first story in a series, Detroit sportswriter Larry Lage and others in a team from Sports established AP as the authority on news about Emoni Bates, a 13-year-old who stands at 6-foot-7, just started the eighth grade and is primed to be the biggest basketball prospect in the United States. The goal is to understand the high-pressure world of college basketball recruiting by following a single promising player’s path.

Lage, hybrid video journalist Mike Householder and photographer Paul Sancya of Detroit reported with the specific intent of presenting the stories in multiple ways, then worked with Chicago sports writer Jim Litke and east regional sports editor Oskar Garcia to craft the hub presentation of the text, photos, video and audio.

For their strong, revealing work, Lage, Householder, Sancya and Litke share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Feb. 17, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

​All-formats team illuminates why a Democratic stronghold went for Trump

Last November, more than 200 counties across America, scores of them in the upper Midwest, turned from blue to red on the electoral map. Why did voters in once-Democratic strongholds support Donald Trump?

An all-formats AP team of Claire Galofaro, Martha Irvine, David Goldman and Angeliki Kastanis set out to find the answer by focusing on one rural Wisconsin county and getting into the lives and mindset of its people. The result was a revealing package that earns the Beat of the Week.

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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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July 26, 2017

Best of the States

AP finds US buildings using the same cladding blamed in London fire

Sometimes a story doesn’t come from a reporter’s beat or region, just from natural journalistic curiosity.

Atlanta’s Jeff Martin was intrigued after investigators blamed the deadly tower fire in London in part on the flammable cladding that wrapped around its exterior. Wondering what buildings in the U.S. might be using the cladding, he went to the manufacturer’s website and found a trove of information in a promotional brochure.

The brochure said the cladding was used on a terminal at the Dallas airport, the Cleveland Browns stadium, an Alaska High School and a high-rise hotel in Baltimore. Martin, Gainesville, Florida, reporter Jason Dearen, and Baltimore reporter Juliet Linderman helped coordinate a cross-country, multi-media reporting effort that wins this week’s Best of the States.

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June 29, 2017

Best of the States

Enterprising desk work puts AP out front on amusement park rescue

Colleen Long was by herself on the New York City desk this past Sunday with plenty to do, including taking feeds from two different stringers to update national stories on gay pride parades and a graduation at a suburban high school shattered by killings blamed on the violent MS-13 gang.

But she still managed to jump into action on what turned out to be one of the day’s most clickable stories – of a teenager who dangled and then fell 25 feet from a gondola ride at an upstate New York amusement park.

Not only did Long land an interview with a father and daughter who scrambled to safely catch the 14-year-old girl, she also got the man to send in video that a friend took of the entire event, a reporting tour de force that singlehandedly put the AP out front across all formats.

For doggedly working a story from the desk to keep the AP competitive, Colleen Long wins this week’s Best of the States Award.

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May 24, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Placing a value – $24 billion – on 'golden visas'

They’re called “golden visas” – legal permission for non-citizens to reside in the U.S. or other countries in exchange for investment. But how much are such investments worth, and who is making them?

These were questions that AP’s Nomaan Merchant set out to answer, encouraged by Greater China news director Gillian Wong.

After months of searching out data from 20-plus countries, analyzing it and interviewing investors, Merchant could report that more than 100,000 Chinese have poured $24 billion in the last decade into "golden visa" programs across the world, and notably in the U.S. – an exclusive AP analysis that earns the Beat of the Week.

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May 25, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: a look inside the 'pie car' and the last days of Ringling Bros.

New York City photographer Julie Jacobson and Michelle Smith, Providence, Rhode Island, correspondent, spent weeks negotiating with the parent company of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus about what sort of access they could get to the performers and crew as “The Greatest Show on Earth” drew to a close after 146 years.

What they really wanted was to get on the train where the workers lived, the last of its kind in the world. Finally the word came down: We could get on the “pie car” for the clowns’ last breakfast, but they would not be in costume, and we could absolutely not see the rest of the train, out of respect for the privacy of the performers.

But Jacobson and Smith don’t take no for an answer. The access they got, the stories they heard and the images they saw formed the basis for an exclusive and heart-tugging package of photos, traditional and 360 video, and text.

For their resourceful and revealing behind-the-scenes look at the end of a cultural icon, Jacobson and Smith receive this week's Best of the State honors.

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March 17, 2017

Best of the States

From grave to lab, professor throws science, passion at cold cases

AP correspondent Tamara Lush first met renowned forensic anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle while reporting on Florida’s Dozier School for Boys – a now-shuttered site where former students accused officials of abuse and dozens of students died. Kimmerle was investigating graves, and local media paid plenty of attention to the positive, bubbly woman with a high-pitched voice – unexpected from someone who jumps in graves and scrubs bones with a toothbrush.

Lush found Kimmerle and her work fascinating – in a state full of colorful characters, she calls the professor one of Florida’s most interesting and brilliant women.

So Lush stayed in touch, and when her sources at the University of South Florida – where Kimmerle teaches and has a lab – offered an exclusive opportunity to follow Kimmerle as she investigated cold cases through a new grant, she jumped at the chance. Lush's all-formats Only on AP package wins this week's Best of States award.

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Feb. 27, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Ex-congregants reveal years of ungodly abuse

This story begins in 2014, when five members of Word of Faith Fellowship, an evangelical congregation in western North Carolina, were indicted for beating a young man because they thought he was gay. Mitch Weiss, an investigative reporter based in Charlotte, reached out to the man, Matthew Fenner, who told a harrowing tale.

For Weiss, that conversation was the beginning of a nearly two-year quest to tell the story of Word of Faith and its controlling leader, Jane Whaley, a 77-year-old petite former math teacher with a thick Southern accent. Working alongside Atlanta-based video journalist Alex Sanz, Weiss eventually pieced together a startling and comprehensive look at a religious community that promised its members peace and prosperity. What they got was violence and abuse, administered in the name of God, former followers told him.

Part one of that series, published this week, wins Best of the States, and there is more to come.

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