Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Records show Montana official’s misuse of state vehicle

When the Helena Police Department cited the statute of limitations in declining to bring charges against Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton for misuse of a state-owned vehicle, Helena reporter Amy Hanson dug deeper.

After multiple public-records requests Hanson found that Secretary of State Corey Stapleton traveled tens of thousands of miles more than what had been previously reported, including many times when he had no official events on his calendar. And she found that the misuse continued until he turned in the vehicle in March, well within the statute of limitations.

For determined reporting that resulted in a textbook example of accountability journalism, Amy Hanson wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 11, 2021

Best of the States

Effects of California drought documented in compelling all-formats content and presentation

With California sinking deeper into drought as wildfire season approaches, AP set out to show the drought’s impact on vulnerable areas — beyond the orange glow of burning homes. Top freelance photographers Noah Berger and Josh Edelson teamed up with reporter Adam Beam, focusing on the six reservoirs with the lowest water levels. 

Both photographers are trained and equipped with drones; they delivered stunning visuals, including boat docks beached on dry land, charred hillside homes overlooking a lake reduced to puddle-like status and boat launches that don’t even reach the water’s edge. Meanwhile, Beam conducted interviews and visited the massive Lake Oroville reservoir, where the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century raged in 2018. 

The package was enhanced by digital storyteller Samantha Shotzbarger, who created a arresting presentation giving readers an immersive view of the evaporating reservoirs.   

For a revealing and forbidding look at the effects of California’s drought, the team of Berger, Edelson, Beam and Shotzbarger earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 19, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Backstage access makes AP a big winner on Grammy night

took advantage of agency exclusive all-formats backstage access at the Grammy Awards, resulting in a wealth of interviews for video, and photo access unmatched by wire service rivals. Isaza, Landrum and Pizzello underwent numerous COVID-19 screenings in the six days leading up to the show in order to gain access. That access came about because of the AP’s decade-plus relationship with the Recording Academy — and a firm stand by AP: Some artists demanded approvals of performance photos, which the AP declined, and some talent said they would only do interviews if certain questions were off limits. Again, no.The AP landed at least 20 video interviews with stars such as Dua Lipa, Da Baby, Miranda Lambert and H.E.R, touching on fashion, racial injustice, their pandemic experiences, the return to performing and more. The biggest wins were photos of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, both rarely photographed by AP, on their big night. AP was one of four photo outlets onsite and the only photo news wire. Competitive news services were forced to use years-old pictures of the pair, as well as several other stars, with their stories.Isaza produced a behind-the-scenes video feature, and Fekadu’s mainbar — powered by photos from Pizzello and Strauss, and quickly updated thanks to his preparedness — racked up nearly 110,000 pageviews by Monday afternoon. Google listed AP’s story first in searches for Grammys or Beyoncé during the evening. https://apnews.com/hub/grammy-awards

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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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May 22, 2020

Best of the States

Inside the Navajo Nation as it endures the coronavirus outbreak

If the Navajo Nation were its own state, it would have the second highest per-capita rate of coronavirus cases in the United States, trailing only New York. 

AP’s Felicia Fonseca, one of the preeminent reporters covering Native issues for any news organization, and photographer Carolyn Kaster reported from the heart of the crisis. Donning full protective gear and a healthy measure of courage, they documented families, doctors and volunteers, while national writer Tim Sullivan added further reporting and masterful writing assistance from afar. 

The story and photos capture the vast beauty of the land and the intimate grief of the people, including one family that has lost four members to the virus. The package played heavily in the Southwest U.S. and was among AP’s most downloaded and viewed for several days.

For a revealing look at a Native community in the midst of the health crisis, Fonseca, Kaster and Sullivan share this week’s Best of the States honors.

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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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Dec. 20, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Accidental shootings show nationwide gap in police training

A mother shot fatally shot in front of her 3-year-old son. A suspect killed while an officer tried to handcuff him. A Homeland Security agent was shot at a Texas high school by a U.S. marshal fumbling with equipment. These are among the more than 1,400 unintentional discharges found by Seattle reporter Martha Bellisle in an investigation that highlights the shortcomings of police weapons training.

No agency tracks how often local, state and federal officers accidentally fire their weapons. Over the course of more than a year, Bellisle exhaustively documented 1,422 unintentional discharges by 258 law enforcement agencies since 2012.

With contributions from colleagues in photo and video – including the story of an Iowa woman who was killed when an officer’s gun discharged, leaving her husband and children still scarred by the tragedy – the all-formats package received prominent play.

For an exclusive that sheds light on a virtually undocumented area of firearms safety, Bellisle earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 22, 2019

Best of the States

LA photographer’s son locked down in school shooting; team coverage stands out

AP staffers displayed remarkable professionalism and composure under extraordinary circumstances in their coverage of the Nov. 14 mass shooting at Saugus High School in a Los Angeles suburb.

LA photographer Marcio Sanchez found himself in a nearly unfathomable position: He was making news photos outside a high school where a gunman had opened fire while one of his sons was locked down inside. Later, when Sanchez was safely home with his 15-year-old son Noah, his longtime LA colleague, reporter Brian Melley, did a sensitive interview with the teenager about his experience during the shooting and lockdown.

Meanwhile, veteran breaking news staffer John Antczak in the LA bureau reported the shifting numbers of casualties with careful sourcing and attribution, anchoring the coverage and avoiding the false reports put out by some media. 

AP’s full complement of all-format coverage was the product of excellent reporting and editing by staffers in the field and in the bureau. That team effort was highlighted by the remarkable work of Sanchez, Antczak and Melley, who earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 08, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Closing of coal plant on tribal land upends a community and a culture

Coal-burning generating plants are closing in the U.S., and coal mines are shutting down amid worries of climate change and the new economies of renewable energy.

Against that backdrop, correspondents Felicia Fonseca and Susan Montoya Bryan traveled to Arizona’s remote Navajo Generating Station to the tell the story of workers, their families, a community and the tribal nations who have depended on coal and are feeling the profound effects of the plant’s impending closure. 

In their all-formats package, the pair let workers explain what they were losing, and how the local economy is taking a massive hit with millions of dollars of revenue no longer flowing to the Hopi and Navajo tribes.  

For a comprehensive, compelling look at the impact of coal’s decline on a community and a culture, Fonseca and Montoya earn this week’s Best of the States award. 

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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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Sept. 20, 2019

Best of the States

Going to extremes to tell the story of sexual violence and shortcomings of enforcement

In western Alaska, rape survivors and their supporters say Nome’s police department has often failed to investigate sexual assaults, especially when the victims are Alaska Native women.

Delivering sensitive-but-powerful coverage from a challenging environment, enterprise photographer Maye-E Wong and freelance correspondent Victoria Mckenzie tell the story of average Americans struggling with sexual violence and law enforcement in small communities. Their work made clear that Nome’s struggles don’t represent an isolated case; it is a microcosm of how police and towns and cities across the U.S. have failed survivors of sexual assaults.

For going to extremes – literally and figuratively – to shed light on a remote corner of the larger issue of sexual violence and enforcement, Wong and Mckenzie share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 23, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Fighting fire with fire: Prescribed burns can prevent catastrophic wildfires

for an all-formats look at prescribed burns, one of the most controversial efforts to head off wildfires. After the devastating California wildfires of the last two years, Melley was assigned to find out how prescribed burns, considered one of the more effective ways to stop or slow fires, were being used to clear brush and other fuel. Melley eventually joined a burn in King’s Canyon National Park where he shot photos and video for a story that outlined the firefighting technique and the issues around it. His cross-format package received wide play in California and the West.https://bit.ly/33qc5ENhttps://bit.ly/33OjzBxhttps://bit.ly/2KNVIJm

July 05, 2019

Best of the States

AP: Smoke from US wildfires boosting health risk for millions

After last year's deadly wildfires in California brought weeks of sooty skies to cities along the West Coast, the AP decided to take a closer look into the broader impacts of the massive smoke plumes.

Billings, Montana, correspondent and environment team member Matthew Brown teamed with Denver video journalist P. Solomon Banda to produce an all-formats report on the growing public health threat from wildfire smoke. Their work grew from a body of research that points to where smoke impacts will be worst – a broad swath of the West that includes more than 300 counties with tens of millions of people.

For diligent reporting that provided a deeper look into how wildfires affect communities throughout the region, Brown and Banda earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 21, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

​AP analysis: Legal sales of recreational pot impact medical marijuana users

As states that permit sales of only medical marijuana transition to legalizing recreational use of pot, Portland reporter Gillian Flaccus noticed a trend in Oregon: most medical pot dispensaries were closing. She asked why, and what were the effects on patients?

Teaming with Los Angeles-based data reporter Angel Kastanis, the AP set out to answer that question. Kastanis had spent six months compiling a first-of-its-kind national data set on medical marijuana patients, and Flaccus used it to produce an exclusive all-formats package showing that when states legalize pot for all, medical marijuana patients often are left with fewer, and costlier, options.

Flaccus’ story was one of the most popular on AP with strong reader engagement. And Kastanis plans to update the data set twice a year, allowing AP and its subscribing data customers to track industry trends.

For making the AP the go-to source for data trends on medical marijuana and shining a light on the unexpected negative consequences for patients of legalizing recreational pot use, Flaccus and Kastanis earn AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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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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Feb. 22, 2019

Best of the States

Victims of the Paradise wildfire; stunning portraits of how they lived and died

The wildfire that consumed Paradise, California, claimed 85 lives while virtually burning the town off the map. But beyond those facts lay a rich narrative of the individuals who perished while calling Paradise home.

AP San Francisco reporters Janie Har and Jocelyn Gecker set out to tell the stories of the victims of the deadly Paradise fire far more comprehensively than was possible in the immediate aftermath: Who were they? Where and when did they die? Did they even have a chance to flee?

To paint a picture of how the tragedy unfolded, the pair spent months tracking down family members – many of whom were wary – to talk about their loved ones, assuring them that AP’s coverage would be more than a recitation of the grim facts. Interviews with California fire officials, a newly available simulation of the fire’s movement on the fateful morning and public records requests enabled AP to produce an interactive graphic giving the exact locations where people died and their approximate times of death.

The result was a riveting package that coupled intimate portraits of the victims with the circumstances of their death. Most never had a chance to flee their homes as the fast-moving fire barreled through.

The moving package was well-received by members throughout California and from coast-to-coast.

For carrying the Paradise story forward with enterprising, sensitive work that focused on the victims’ narratives, Har and Gecker share this week’s Best of the States award.

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