Jan. 05, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

36 days at sea: How castaways survived hallucinations, thirst and desperation

In a partner story to “Adrift,” an AP team tracked down migrants who survived 36 days and told the story of their journey.

When video journalist Renata Brito saw the news of the rescue of several dozen men who survived 36 days at sea, she was shocked. Brito has been covering migrant crossings for years and had never heard of people on the route from West Africa to the Canary Islands surviving that long. She wondered what they might have endured during those 36 days, and so, she and photographer Felipe Dana set out to find out.

When the survivors were rescued, they were taken to Cape Verde and locked up in a school. A few days later, Brito and Dana were on a plane to Cape Verde’s Sal Island. Access to survivors, who were essentially detained, was restricted and authorities announced they would fly them back to Dakar in a few hours.

Brito and Dana followed them there, working with AP Dakar colleague Ndeye Sene Mbengue to make contacts with survivors and their families in Fass Boye but found many of the survivors had gone into hiding after returning to Senegal.

Together with Ndeye, they drove to more than five towns across different regions to meet with them. With Ndeye’s help they translated hours of on- and off-camera interviews. Brito kept in touch with survivors after leaving Senegal and obtained the contact of one of the rescuers who had made several cellphone videos the day they were found and brought on board.

The AP got strong user-generated content that showed what the survivors looked like when they were found, barely alive. The result was an all-formats story, complete with an immersive presentation that included creative motion graphics and illustrations.

For powerfully telling an exclusive story that otherwise might not have been told, Brito and Dana win Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Dec. 22, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Team shines spotlight on underage Rohingya girls forced into abusive marriages

Underage Rohingya girls are forced into abusive marriages in Malaysia so their families in Bangladesh can eat. In safehouses, AP met with child brides who managed to get unlocked from their bedrooms to share their plights.

Human rights workers warned it would be almost impossible to track the girls down. Yet an AP team not only found them, but interviewed them without putting them at risk of reprisal.

Investigative correspondent Kristen Gelineau, based in Sydney, Australia, tracked down an advocate in Malaysia who was herself a Rohingya child bride and carefully coordinated a plan with each girl. Some concocted an excuse to leave their homes and met with AP at safehouses. Many simply could not get unlocked.

The team coordinated interview times with the girls so they could arrive at their homes after their husbands had left for work and leave well before they returned.

Indonesia video journalist and business correspondent Victoria Milko filmed in their dark and claustrophobic apartments, capturing both the youth and isolation of the girls while protecting their anonymity.

McKinnon de Kuyper made a heartbreaking edit of the video, taking advantage of previous filming of Rohingya families who were victims of a boat drowning by video journalist Garjon Al-emrun.

For allowing the AP to be the first media to give these girls a voice, Gelineau, Milko, de Kuyper and Al-emrun are Best of the Week — First Winners.

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Dec. 15, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Former career US diplomat charged with secretly spying for Cuban intelligence for decades

Relying on relentless source work and their joint years of experience, Joshua Goodman and Eric Tucker landed twin scoops on the arrest and indictment of a former career American diplomat charged with being a secret agent for communist Cuba for decades.

Manuel Rocha, who was formerly ambassador to Bolivia, was accused of engaging in “clandestine activity” on Cuba’s behalf since at least 1981, the year he joined the U.S. foreign service. While the case was short on specifics of how Rocha may have assisted the island nation, it provided a vivid case study of how Cuba and its sophisticated intelligence services seek to target, and flip, U.S. officials.

First word came to Latin America correspondent Goodman from a trusted source who called on a Friday evening to say the FBI had arrested Rocha earlier that day at his home in Miami but details were under seal. He enlisted Washington-based Tucker to see if his national security sources could help shake anything loose about the case.

Their break came Sunday — with the case still sealed — when sources gave them enough information to report that Rocha was arrested on federal charges of being an agent of the Cuban government. Their urgent story, which included extensive background on Rocha’s diplomatic stops in Bolivia, Argentina, Havana and elsewhere, staked out AP’s ownership of the case.

More details followed the next morning with another AP break, when Goodman and Tucker obtained the sealed case affidavit from highly placed sources nearly an hour before it was filed, allowing them to trounce the competition with a fast news alert and urgent series.

For putting AP far ahead in revealing what the Justice Department called one of the highest-reaching infiltrations of the U.S. government by a foreign agent, Goodman and Tucker are Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Dec. 08, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Investigation uncovers private school selling diplomas, no classes required

In a package featuring multiple scoops and exclusives, an AP team investigating Louisiana’s rise in unapproved private schools stumbled on a school selling diplomas to anyone whose parents said they had completed their education — even years later. That revelation rocked the state and reverberated across the nation.

Education data reporter Sharon Lurye partnered with Charles Lussier of The (Louisiana) Advocate to secure stunning interviews with an operator of the school defending the practice as an extension of parents’ rights and also met multiple graduates who had gained their diplomas. On the other side of the investigation Lurye and Lussier demonstrated the depth of the risks in sending a child to such a school, landing a rare interview with a mom who says a teacher offered her teen daughter money for sexually explicit photos and wanted to warn others against enrolling their kids in an unapproved school.

Lurye and Lussier were the first to quantify the rise in popularity among Louisiana’s unapproved schools — over 21,000 students, nearly double the number before the pandemic. Many of the families using unapproved schools are homeschooling. But 30 of the schools have more than 50 students.

The project ran on the front page in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Arcadiana. Lurye did radio interviews on WWL in New Orleans and for the “Louisiana Considered” program on the public radio stations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Prominent pickups included Fox News, Newser and ABC News. The project was named one of the best stories of the week by “The Grade,” a well-read education blog.

For a strong investigation, securing multiple exclusives while providing a public service to the people of Louisiana, Lurye wins this week’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Nov. 03, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

New England staff, Investigations join forces to cover tense search for a killer in Maine

It started as a vague alert of a shooting in Maine. But within minutes of learning about it, Portland-based correspondent David Sharp had guidance that at least 16 people were dead. He knew that would make it the state’s deadliest shooting by far.

Even before the first AP alert went out, Sharp and Robert Bukaty were headed to Lewiston, where a gunman had opened fire in a bowling area and bar and then vanished into the night. They were the first national news crew to arrive, coming up live for video and filing the first images of the aftermath.

Sharp’s video interview with a shoeless man who hid in the machinery of the bowling alley as people died around him was among the first eyewitness accounts, getting wide usage by clients including The New York Times.

Ultimately, 18 people would die, and residents would stay locked inside their homes for days.

Throughout the following days, a crew of journalists shared responsibilities and information in Lewiston and beyond, including AP’s breaking news investigations team of Bernard Condon and Jim Mustian who exclusively reported that Maine police were alerted as recently as September to “veiled threats” by the U.S. Army reservist.

AP’s story, which was matched — with credit — over the next day by both The New York Times and CNN, marked the most detailed reporting yet on the contact law enforcement had with the gunman, who killed himself.

The cross-format, cross-department collaboration on this story was flawless and a demonstration of AP at its best. For aggressive breaking news reporting and investigations, we are delighted to award New England’s staff, Mike Balsamo, Alanna Durkin Durkin Richer, Lindsay Whitehurst, Condon and Mustian for the Best of the Week Award — First Winner.

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Oct. 06, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Last living suspect in 1996 drive-by shooting of Tupac Shakur indicted in Las Vegas on murder charge

It was in mid-July when Las Vegas reporters Rio Yamat and Ken Ritter began working their sources, after the police raided the home of a suspect in connection with an investigation into the 1996 killing of rapper Tupac Shakur. The result months later was a super scoop on a riveting story nearly three decades in the making.

Through their deep and extensive sourcing in law enforcement and criminal justice, Yamat and Ritter sought to penetrate a grand jury case shrouded in secrecy. For months, they regularly contacted everyone who was likely involved. It all paid off when they learned they should prepare for an indictment in mid-September. From there, it was a lesson in patience and persistence.

After months where Yamat and Ritter attended court hearings and drafted prep for a potential break, Yamat began hearing rumblings an indictment was imminent. She and Ritter were able to nail down the next morning from multiple sources with firsthand knowledge that Duane “Keffe D” Davis had been taken into custody on suspicion of murder in Tupac's killing.

They broke the news at 9:27 a.m. PDT. The alert published 93 minutes before the court convened for grand jury returns when the indictment would be made public.

For dogged reporting and deep source work that allowed AP to dominate a story that’s mystified fans for decades, Yamat and Ritter are this week’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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