Sept. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Making the signature photo, discreetly, as family mourns McCain

Sometimes it takes a team. And a resourceful photographer.

Phoenix photographer Ross Franklin made a stunning image of Cindy McCain resting her head on the casket of her late husband Sen. John McCain during a family service in the Arizona state Capitol. Getting to this moment was a team effort, starting with great Washington contacts and relationships that gave the AP not one but two exclusive spots in the rotunda in Phoenix.

But given the solemnity of the event, there was no way to shoot the private ceremony using a motor drive to take bursts of frames – it would have been too loud and would have echoed throughout the rotunda. So Franklin agreed to shoot the entire event balanced on a ladder overlooking the scene from the balcony, with his camera in a noise muffling blimp – basically operating a camera that is wrapped in a big pillow.

When Cindy McCain approached the casket, Franklin had just one or two frames to capture the signature moment. He nailed it, and the photo was used everywhere, including a stunning display on the front of the Arizona Republic.

For his exceptional work, Ross Franklin wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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Aug. 03, 2018

Best of the States

Aggressive photo coverage, sharp reporting on devastating California wildfire

San Francisco-based freelance photographer Noah Berger is one of the foremost wildfire photographers in California.

His experience helped put him in the right place to shoot stunning images as the Carr Fire swept into Redding and threatened to devour much of the Northern California city of 92,000. It also made AP the first major news outlet to have boots on the ground in the city, a competitive advantage that produced details other didn’t have, and enabled managers to quickly get Sacramento reporter Jonathan J. Cooper headed to the scene.

Berger described the Carr Fire as one of the most intense fire fights he has ever witnessed. His dramatic images put the AP ahead of key competitors by more than a day.

Cooper's reporting included a key measurement of a wildfire’s destructive force: the number of homes lost. When authorities kept saying 65 structures had been destroyed, Cooper went back to two neighborhoods he had visited and counted all the homes burned to the ground. He found 60 in one and 66 in the other. AP’s figure, and the context that the number would ultimately be much higher, quickly became the headline on the story.

A wildfire is among the toughest assignments for any photographer but Berger gave the AP a significant competitive advantage. Cooper’s savvy gave AP a figure others didn’t have. For their work, they share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Determined source work exposes horrific massacre in holy city of Ethiopia’s isolated Tigray region

Ethiopia’s military campaign in its defiant Tigray province has been shrouded in secrecy since the conflict started in November, but AP East Africa correspondent Cara Anna has been determined to report what happened in the virtually sealed-off region. She has chased every lead through relentless source work, building contacts and networks as she reported one exclusive after another.

For this latest exclusive, Anna had been hearing rumors of a massacre in the holy city of Axum. When phone service returned to the city recently, she was able to reach the deacon of the Axum church who described in disturbing detail the mass killings by Eritrean troops. He believes some 800 people were killed that weekend at the church and around the city, and that thousands in Axum have died in all. Anna found other survivors who corroborated the deacon’s story and offered additional details.

Her reporting scooped all other media and even human rights groups who had been investigating Axum. It also drew rare and surprisingly quick responses from the governments of both Eritrea and Ethiopia.

For determined and resourceful reporting to break through the secrecy surrounding the Tigray conflict and expose the atrocity at Axum, Anna wins AP’s Best of the Week 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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May 06, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Algorithm screening for child neglect raises bias concerns

teamed up on an exclusive package that revealed concerns over racial disparity in an algorithm used by one child welfare agency to help decide if a family should be investigated by child protective services.Long-term source work allowed the reporters to obtain research on the impact of the tool used to support social workers in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, who make split-second decisions meant to protect children from neglect. The research showed the algorithm flagging a disproportionate number of Black children for a “mandatory” neglect investigation when compared with white children, and that social workers disagreed with the risk scores the tool produced about one-third of the time.Read more

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Feb. 25, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Source work, reporting, exclusive data modeling put AP ahead on omicron immunity

For two years, as COVID-19 ravaged the world, AP health and science reporter Carla Johnson stayed in constant contact with disease modelers who were using careful analysis to predict what the coronavirus would do next.

This time her subject was the omicron wave — millions were infected and millions more had immunity through vaccination and/or past infection. Johnson knew those numbers might answer one of the most vexing questions of the pandemic: How much immunity had Americans developed from omicron?

Johnson leaned on her sources and asked one influential analyst to produce projections for the AP. The result was a key finding that gave the country the earliest and clearest sense yet of how the U.S. is navigating the pandemic: 73% of the country is believed to be protected from omicron.

Her deeply reported but straightforward story, explaining why future waves may be far less disruptive in the U.S., played widely with credit to AP’s exclusive reporting.

For recognizing that the data might hold answers on COVID immunity, and resourceful source work that delivered a unique projection of future infection, Johnson is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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July 26, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP team leads media fight for photo access at OJ Simpson parole hearing

What happens when the state of Nevada announces it intends to use its own photographer to cover the parole hearing of O.J. Simpson, and exclude all others?

The Associated Press steps up, rallies the media and forces the state to backtrack. For their efforts to ensure news photo access to a high-profile story, the team of Stephanie Mullen, Ken Ritter and Tom Tait is awarded Beat of the Week.

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May 17, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Russian hackers posed as Islamic State to harass US military wives

The threat over her phone to Army wife Angela Ricketts was terrifying. “Dear Angela!” it said. “Bloody Valentine’s Day!”

“We know everything about you, your husband and your children,” it continued, claiming that Islamic State militants had penetrated her computer. “We’re much closer than you can even imagine.”

More than three years after Ricketts and four other military wives received this and other alarming messages, AP London-based cybersecurity reporter Raphael Satter unraveled the secret behind it all. Satter drew on a massive hit list of Russian hacking targets, focusing on a group of five women whose names were clustered together on the list. All reported having received death threats from a mysterious group calling itself CyberCaliphate back in 2015.

The threats were not from Middle Eastern terrorists at all, but hackers from the Russian group widely dubbed Fancy Bear – the same gang who later broke into the Democratic Party’s emails and interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

For revealing the latest wrinkle in the Russian hacking story, Satter earns the Beat of the Week.

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Dec. 22, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Assassination of the Russian Ambassador

On his way home, AP photographer Burhan Ozbilici stopped at the opening of a photo exhibit at Ankara’s Contemporary Arts Center. The Russian ambassador to Turkey was to speak, and Ozbilici figured the AP could use images of the envoy for its archives.

Shockingly, Ozbilici instead found himself a witness to an assassination. With cool head and steady hands, he documented the killing of Ambassador Andrei Karlov, capturing some of the most astonishing images of this or any other year. His photo of the raging gunman _ one hand holding the gun, the other pointed to the ceiling, his lifeless victim on the floor _ would appear on countless front pages and broadcasts and websites. Within hours, it was seen by some 18 million people on Facebook alone.

Even in a year of remarkable work by AP staffers, Ozbilici’s photos and actions were extraordinary _ and richly deserving of the final Beat of the Week award of 2016.

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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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Aug. 20, 2021

Best of the States

AP finds colleges concerned as some students turn to counterfeit vaccine cards

It started with a tip.

When a college student mentioned that fellow unvaccinated students were getting fake COVID-19 vaccine cards in order to attend in-person classes, AP global investigations intern Roselyn Romero remembered that she'd seen an account on Instagram offering fake cards for $25 each.

Romero began searching social media platforms and talked to college students, faculty, administrators and health officials. What she found was a cottage industry offering to accommodate people who refuse to get vaccinated but need documentation saying that they’ve had the shots.

Her deeply reported story had nearly 250,000 pageviews on AP News and was used by hundreds of news outlets, including online and print front pages. She was also interviewed by NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer responded by calling for a multiagency crackdown on the counterfeit cards.

For having a major national impact with her first AP byline, Roselyn Romero wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 19, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP photographers capture defining images of Tiger and Trump

This week we celebrate two very different, yet equally important photo wins.

David Phillip and the AP photo team assigned to the Masters tournament created some of the iconic images of Tiger Woods’ historic win – the result of strategic planning, teamwork and execution.

And Pablo Martinez Monsivais wins for his startling capture of the media reflected in the eye of President Donald Trump, taking what could easily have been treated as just another ho-hum daily Trump photo op and “seeing” something so different.

For delivering outstanding images from two contrasting but highly competitive assignments – and demonstrating how vital the AP is in the photojournalism world – Phillip and Monsivais share AP’s Best of the Week Award.

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Jan. 15, 2021

Best of the States

AP reporting reveals some front-line health care workers balking at COVID vaccine

The AP team of Bernard Condon, Matt Sedensky and Carla K. Johnson assembled the most detailed national look yet at one of the most vexing snags in the coronavirus vaccine rollout: Surprising numbers of health care workers — who have seen firsthand the misery inflicted by COVID-19 — are refusing the shots.

The deep reporting, with contributions from colleagues across the country, found the paradox occurring in nursing homes and hospitals, with some individual facilities seeing a refusal rate as high as 80%. The story, one of AP’s most-read on an extremely busy news week, quoted both health workers expressing fears of vaccine side effects and frustrated facility administrators.

For bringing to light an important part of the stumbling early rollout of the much-anticipated vaccine, Condon, Sedensky and Johnson win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 17, 2016

Best of the States

Bikers gotta stick together: Springsteen rescue goes viral via AP

Having a rock star jump on the back of your motorcycle after you stopped to help him on the side of the road could be a lyric in a Bruce Springsteen song. But it really happened for a group of veterans in New Jersey _ and the AP was first to report the story that naturally went viral.

Late Saturday evening, New Jersey News Editor Josh Cornfield had wrapped up a weekend BNS shift when he got a tip that an American Legion post in Freehold, N.J., had posted a photo of one of their members with Springsteen. As it happened, a group from the legion had been out riding after a Veterans Day event when they noticed a stranded biker. Figuring “bikers gotta stick together,” they stopped to help.

Turns out, the stranded biker was The Boss.

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July 02, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Got guns? Sourcing, data and subject expertise reveal record 300,000 rejected U.S. gun sales

At a time when gun sales in America are reaching record highs and political divisions run deep, Salt Lake City reporter Lindsay Whitehurst has become a recognized authority on shifting weapons laws at the state level. She has cultivated sources on both sides of the issue and earned a reputation as a fair and accurate interpreter of the national schism over guns.

That’s why, after working for months with sources at Everytown for Gun Safety, a major player in the gun control lobby, the nonprofit turned to her with a trove of exclusive records on attempted firearms purchases that were denied by the FBI last year.

Whitehurst dove into the FBI data that showed gun sale rejections at an all-time high. Nearly half of the denials were for convicted felons, at a time when fights for universal background checks continue to fail. And although lying on a firearms background check is a federal offense, Whitehurst also learned that such cases are rarely prosecuted, raising the questionof why — in a volatile America — authorities are not investigating those who try despite being banned.

For probing these questions, and her leadership on a beat that touches on some of the nation’s most fundamental and contentious rights, Whitehurst earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Nov. 11, 2016

Best of the States

Was California's $350 million experiment to replace lawns amid drought worth the cost?

In drought-stricken California, the state and dozens of water agencies embarked upon a unique social experiment: try to break the love affair with the lawn by paying residents to rip out their turf and replace it with less thirsty landscaping. San Francisco-based environment reporter Ellen Knickmeyer, who has been covering the state’s historic five-year drought, decided to dig into the water-saving strategy and determine whether it was worth the cost.

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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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Sept. 03, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Washington team breaks multiple stories; keeps AP ahead during Afghanistan withdrawal

As AP’s staff in Afghanistan grappled with the turmoil of the U.S. evacuation, an AP trio half a world away — Pentagon reporters Bob Burns and Lita Baldor and State Department reporter Matt Lee, with contributions by colleagues — set the standard, breaking news on the month’s most competitive story.

Whether posing tough questions at government briefings or getting the deeper story through one-on-one reporting, the reporters turned out crisp stories that were fair, accurate and authoritative. From the eyebrow-raising visit of two U.S. lawmakers, to the suicide bombing outside Kabul’s airport, to analysis of the ultimate beneficiary of America’s $83 billion expenditure, their coverage kept AP consistently out front.

For repeatedly scooping the competition and setting the news agenda on the closely watched, fast-developing events in Afghanistan, the team of Bob Burns, Lita Baldor and Matthew Lee is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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