Dec. 24, 2020

Best of the States

Joint investigation reveals ‘leadership vacuum’ after backlash against public health officials

AP reporter Michelle Smith was working on another project in June when she came up with the names of a dozen or so public health officials who had quit, retired or been fired. Sensing a trend, Smith and reporters at Kaiser Health News continued to track those departures as the pandemic worsened and the backlash against public health restrictions became more strident.

The journalists contacted officials in all 50 states and interviewed dozens of people, finding a public health leadership vacuum developing at a critical time in the pandemic. They told the stories of public servants who toiled through the pandemic only to be reviled by their neighbors — including the wrenching story of an official whose husband would not even follow her recommendation to require masks in the family store. The timely all-formats story included a data distribution, interactive graphics and a sidebar with portraits and quotes of public health officials. 

For a deeply reported package that examines a vital component of the pandemic response, Smith, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Hannah Recht and Lauren Weber earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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Nov. 01, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation: Ukraine’s Zelenskiy pressured by Trump months before call

Desmond Butler and Michael Biesecker, global investigations reporters in Washington, wanted to fill out the timeline of the diplomatic scandal at the heart of House impeachment inquiry. While Biesecker worked sources in Washington, Butler traveled to Ukraine to meet with associates of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and with other sources developed over years of investigating wrongdoing in the former Soviet Union.

What they learned moved the needle on a complex narrative — associates of the Ukrainian leader said that pressure from the Trump White House started much earlier than was known previously, dating from shortly after Zelenskiy’s election in April, and before he took office as president. 

The scoop was the latest in a series of breaking stories and exclusives by the pair that have defined coverage of the impeachment investigation and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s role in it.

For meticulous work that led to a major scoop and widened the horizons of the ongoing Ukraine-Trump story, Butler and Biesecker share AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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Dec. 14, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation reveals torture in Yemen’s Houthi rebel prisons

AP investigative reporter Maggie Michael has done landmark reporting on Yemen’s civil war throughout the past year, revealing abuses by the Saudi-led coalition that controls much of the south of the country.

But there had been a major gap in the coverage for all media: putting the same scrutiny on the other side in the conflict, the Houthi rebels who control the north. The Houthis impose strict controls on reporters, and sources are afraid to talk, problems that have prevented journalists from reporting in-depth on abuses carried out by the Houthis during the 4-year-old civil war.

Michael found another way. She and Cairo photographer Nariman El-Mofty travelled to the coalition-controlled city of Marib, where they could meet freely with victims of the Houthis who had fled the rebels’ rule. There, former prisoners described horrifying tortures at the hands of the Houthis. Nariman’s riveting visuals encapsulated the suffering, including photos of a man recovering from horrific acid burns, draped in red bandages.

The reporting, supported partly by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, was a breakthrough, as it has been rare to see atrocities by Houthis so prominently featured. Rather than denying the story, a top Houthi figure called for an investigation into allegations of torture in the movement’s prisons.

For their investigation that exposed in raw, excruciating detail the scope of torture committed by the Houthis, Michael and El-Mofty share AP's Best of the Week award.

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April 10, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation: US wasted months before preparing for pandemic

examined weeks of federal procurement records, including a thorough review of federal purchasing contracts, to create a detailed timeline of events related to the spread of COVID-19 and the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak. The records show that the U.S. wasted two months when it could have been preparing to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Federal agencies largely waited until mid-March – when hospitals in several states were already treating thousands of infected patients – to begin placing bulk orders of N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other equipment needed by front-line health care workers.

When AP White House reporter Kevin Freking attempted to ask Trump about the issue at Sunday’s briefing, the president angrily cut off the question, helping drive readers to Biesecker’s story, which was widely shared on social media.https://bit.ly/3aVhmavhttps://bit.ly/3aZdLby

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March 04, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation: Toxic chemicals lie beneath Fort Ord

spent a year investigating the possible health effects of groundwater and soil contamination under Fort Ord, a decommissioned U.S. Army base on the central California coast. A tip led AP to a Facebook group of hundreds of soldiers who had lived at the base and developed rare forms of cancer they believe were caused by contamination.The complex, all-formats story included in-depth interviews with those likely suffering health consequences of exposure at the base, which is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the most polluted places in the nation. The team revealed a discredited 25-year-old study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found no “likely” risk at the site, and documents showing the Army knew toxic chemicals had been improperly dumped at Fort Ord for decades, but took pains not to let that information become public. Read more

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Feb. 12, 2021

Best of the States

AP analysis: In the US, a centuries-old race war continues to rage against people of color

As AP race and ethnicity writer Aaron Morrison covered the protests that grew out of the 2020 killings of George Floyd and others, he also saw President Donald Trump on TV, trying to undermine the racial reckoning at every turn.

Fast forward to Jan. 6, when a mob of mostly white rioters, upset that Trump wasn't reelected, violently breached the U.S. Capitol. Morrison connected the dots of what he described as a war of white aggression. “A war rages on in America,” Morrison wrote in this analysis piece, “It started with slavery and never ended ...” 

With powerful video by Noreen Nasir, portraits by Chris Carlson and presentation by Alyssa Goodman, the package received prominent play and sparked discussion both online and within the AP.

For a timely, compelling package that looks at the state of race relations with historical context and thoughtful analysis, the team of Morrison, Nasir, Carlson and Goodman earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 10, 2020

Best of the States

Joint investigation details hollowed-out US public health departments

While it is widely understood that U.S. public health departments have suffered budget cuts over the years, a collaborative AP/Kaiser Health News team used data and deep reporting to show exactly how expansive those cuts have been.

The investigation by AP’s Michelle Smith, Meghan Hoyer and Mike Householder, teamed with KHN’s Lauren Weber, Laura Ungar, Hannah Recht and Anna Maria Barry-Jester, drew on data from disparate sources and interviews with more than 150 people to reveal a system starved of money and staff for years, and facing more cuts amid the worst health crisis in a century. 

The team’s all-formats package drew kudos and high-profile reaction from health officials, to the halls of Congress, to editorial pages.

For an ambitious story that laid bare the state of America’s public health system, the joint AP/KHN team of Smith, Hoyer, Householder, Weber, Ungar, Recht and Barry-Jester shares this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 19, 2021

Best of the States

AP team finds diversity of politics and religion among West Virginia evangelicals

A tweet was the seed for this illuminating story. “Most people in my rural, Appalachian hometown are being radicalized at church by their pastor, which is the person they trust the most,” it read. AP’s Global Religion team ran with it.

Reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski visited the parishioners of three churches in Bluefield, West Virginia, including one pastor who had attended the Jan. 6 Washington rally that degenerated into a riot. The AP pair spent weeks convincing him to sit down for an interview. The result was an all-formats package of diverse congregations seeking common ground, even as they are divided on the role of evangelical Christianity in American politics. 

For applying gentle persuasion and balanced reporting to produce a nuanced look at religion and politics in one West Virginia town, Henao and Wardarski win this week’s Best of the States award. 

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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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Sept. 25, 2020

Best of the States

AP’s portrait of a family forced into tough choices during the pandemic

As stories with impact go, this one stands out: The lead subject of the piece, struggling to feed her family during the pandemic, was tracked down on social media and hired by a reader for a job. 

The all-formats package by reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski chronicled the struggle of Sharawn Vinson and her Brooklyn family as they coped with a shortage of food and other crises, taking readers into the lives of a family that was forced to separate to keep everyone fed. The details shared by the family give readers a better understanding of the issues confronting many of the nation’s most vulnerable during the pandemic.

For a rare, intimate look at a family on the front lines of food insecurity brought on by the coronavirus, documented with riveting photos and video, Henao and Wardarski share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 24, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Powered by facts: AP investigation undercuts Trump voter fraud claims, prompts rare interview

Former President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 presidential election and his efforts to spread the false claim that widespread voter fraud cost him a second term raised a critical question: How much voter fraud occurred in the six crucial battleground states disputed by Trump?

Turns out, just 473 potential cases in those states. Many of the cases involved Republicans and virtually every case was an individual acting alone rather than coordinated fraud.

AP’s finding was the result of an exhaustive investigation by a team of reporters, data journalists and others, based on detailed fact checks of the vote entries for every county in each of the six states. The investigation also led to an exceptionally rare recorded phone interview with the former president in which he repeated his unfounded conspiracy theories but could find no fault with AP’s reporting.

The story made headlines and was widely cited. For meticulous reporting and analysis that revealed the actual attention-grabbing sliver of voter fraud cases, the team of Christina A. Cassidy, Scott Bauer, Bob Christie, David Eggert, Camille Fassett, Anthony Izaguirre, Shawn Marsh, Anna Nichols, Michelle Price, Ed White and Corey Williams is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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July 30, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

50 years after the US declared war on drugs, AP examines racial disparities

used data and on-the-ground reporting to explore the fallout of America’s war on drugs, launched 50 years ago this summer by President Richard Nixon.Race and ethnicity reporter Morrison, joined by data journalist Kastanis and multiformat journalist Breed, set out to tell a story of the toll that harsh prison sentences and lifetime restrictions post-release have taken on Black and Latino Americans, their families and their communities.To do so, the AP reviewed federal and state data, finding that the Black incarceration rate in America surged from about 600 per 100,000 people in 1970 to 1,808 in 2000, and the rate for the Latino population grew from 208 per 100,000 people to 615, while the white incarceration rate grew at a more modest rate, from 103 per100,000 people to 242.But beyond the data, the AP trio put names and a face to those caught up in this grinding war with no clear winners but many losers. The story’s lead subject, Alton Lucas, could have had a life of touring nationally and internationally with his DJ friend, but instead discovered drugs and the drug trade at the height of the war on drugs. As a crack cocaine addict involved in trafficking, the North Carolina man faced decades in prison at a time when the drug abuse and violence plaguing Black communities were not seen as the public health issue that opioids are today. The combination of Morrison’s deep reporting, Breed’s photos and video, and Kastanis’ data analysis, accompanied by graphics, resulted in a newsy, nuanced package, rich with historical context.https://aplink.news/k6jhttps://aplink.video/017

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May 31, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation reveals lenient pattern of punishment for serial cyberstalker

for using police and court records, and victim interviews to show that at least eight women and teenagers since 2012 contacted authorities to accuse a man of stalking or harassing them, but none of their complaints resulted in prison time for the man. The AP published its findings a day before a Utah judge sentenced the man to serve up to five years in prison. https://bit.ly/2YZMOxR

June 25, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Years in the making, AP’s ‘AWOL Weapons’ investigation prompts immediate Pentagon reaction

Ten years ago, Kristin M. Hall noticed several cases in which U.S. troops stole military guns and sold them to the public. Hall, a military beat reporter at the time, then fired off the first of many Freedom of Information Act requests. The Army, however, refused to release any records and the story could easily have ended there, with Hall moving on to become a Nashville-based entertainment video journalist focused on country music. Yet, she kept at it.

Last week, Hall’s decade-long journey — and the work of a host of others on the global investigations, data and immersive storytelling teams — paid off in “AWOL Weapons,” a multilayered, visually rich project revealing that at least 1,900 military weapons — from handguns to rocket launchers — had been either lost or stolen during the 2010s, with some used in street violence in America.

Two days after publication, the Pentagon’s top general and the Army each said they would seek systematic fixes for the missing weapon problem, and through a spokesman, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called AP’s investigation “another example of the free press shining a light on the important subjects we need to get right.”

With deep reporting and a riveting digital presentation, the multistory package saw outstanding customer use and reader engagement.

For remarkable persistence that revealed a problem the military wanted to keep quiet, generating immediate prospects for reform, Hall receives special distinction alongside colleagues Justin Pritchard, James LaPorta, Justin Myers and Jeannie Ohm as winners of AP’s Best of the Week award.

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