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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Jan. 26, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

Modi opens Hindu temple built on ruins on razed mosque, in political triumph for prime minister

AP’s team in India provided visually compelling, richly reported, all-format coverage of one of the country’s most defining and contentious events, the opening of a controversial Hindu temple built on a razed mosque.

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened a controversial Hindu temple, it marked a political triumph for the populist leader under whose watch the line between religion and state has largely eroded in the constitutionally secular country. The temple sits on a site where Hindu mobs tore down a mosque three decades ago, its fraught history still an open wound for many Muslims.

AP’s cross-format team in Delhi and on ground in Ayodhya provided visually rich and nuanced coverage that was both thoughtful and insightful. Photographer Rajesh Kumar Singh was the only international photographer who managed to secure access to the high-security temple complex to exclusively cover the select gathering of invitees and arrival of Modi. AP was first among the global agencies to file self-shot images of the event while other agencies had to rely on handout images.

Singh, senior video journalist Rishi Lekhi, and stringer Biswajeet Banerjee kept the inputs steadily flowing in from Ayodhya, including live coverage from outside the venue, while Shonal Ganguly, Saaliq Sheikh and Krutika Pathi in Delhi helped with a quick turnaround of both text and video edits, enriching them with useful background and voices of ordinary Indians.

For playing a key role in bringing images of this momentous event to global audiences — and putting it in context — Rajesh Kumar Singh, Rishi Lekhi, Biswajeet Banerjee, Sheikh Saaliq, Shonal Ganguly and Krutika Pathi are Best of the Week — First Winner.

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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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Nov. 17, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Data-driven reporting highlights outsized presence and influence of fossil fuels industry at climate negotiations

Members of the AP Climate team were struck by the large size and flashiness of stands dedicated to oil and gas at last year’s COP27. The AP team wanted to get beyond the anecdotes to truly measure the presence and influence of fossil fuels industries.

Climate data journalist Mary Katherine Wildeman developed a methodology to cross reference, identify and categorize more than 24,000 participants at the summit that focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate reporter Seth Borenstein, Climate news editor Dana Beltaji and their colleagues found nearly 400 people from fossil fuels industries attended the summit, not always in a transparent way.

The analysis led to other stories from AP’s Climate team, including water reporter Suman Naishadham and video journalist Victor Caivano’s package about Canada’s commitments to climate. In a separate story, Wildeman, Climate editor Doug Glass and Climate news director Peter Prengaman pored over documents to find that despite lots of talk, oil and gas companies are not moving toward a transition to green energy.

Climate video editor Teresa de Miguel and Climate photo editor Alyssa Goodman developed creative visual plans for all three stories to elevate the data and storytelling.

For work that resulted in three exclusive stories ahead of COP28, the team of Wildeman, Borenstein, Naishadham, Caivano, Beltaji, de Miguel and Glass win 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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