Feb. 02, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Investigation: Secret report linked Honduran national police chief to cartel coke delivery

Reporters Christopher Sherman, Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke were weeks into a deep look at police misconduct in Honduras, where public mistrust of law enforcement is among the highest in the world. So when they heard a new national police chief had been appointed, they immediately shifted gears and began asking questions about him.

What they found was explosive – a confidential government security document that detailed a troubling allegation regarding the force. It said the newly named National Police Chief Jose David Aguilar Moran had once helped a drug cartel leader pull off the delivery of nearly a ton of cocaine. The clandestine haul, worth at least $20 million on U.S. streets, was packed inside a tanker truck that, the report said, was escorted by corrupt police officers to the home of Wilter Blanco, a drug trafficker recently convicted in Florida and now serving a 20-year sentence.

For their dogged reporting, Sherman, Mendoza and Burke share the Beat of the Week.

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April 20, 2018

Best of the States

AP's 50-state analysis: State legislatures lack public records of sexual misconduct claims

As the #MeToo movement spread to state capitols, AP statehouse reporters filed uniform FOIA requests with every legislature seeking information about past sexual misconduct cases and payouts to victims. The coordinated effort, overseen by State Government Team reporter David Lieb, produced some interesting numbers: roughly 70 complaints and nearly $3 million in sexual harassment settlements over the past decade.

But the real story was the information that wasn’t released.

In fact, a majority of states would not disclose records related to sexual misconduct among lawmakers. The most common response was that they had received no such complaints over the past decade, did not keep a record of any such complaints or were not legally bound to disclose the records. But Lieb's research revealed that even states with documented cases of lawmaker sexual harassment were not releasing records about those allegations – and potentially others.

Lieb worked with data editor Meghan Hoyer to organize and analyze the responses from our statehouse reporters in every state. The resulting spreadsheet was distributed to AP bureaus and customers weeks ahead of publication to allow for localizations. AP reporters in 19 states did just that, producing sidebars that in many cases landed on A1.

The mainbar and the state-by-state list of accused lawmakers received wide interest on the APNews app. The story also landed on at least 20 front pages.

For their 50-state accountability project on a topic that continues to rattle state capitols, Lieb and Hoyer win this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 22, 2018

Best of the States

Sex assaults among children on US military bases routinely ignored

Last May, as Reese Dunklin and Justin Pritchard sifted through readers' email responses to AP's 2017 investigation into schoolhouse sex assault, both reporters flagged the same messages for follow-up: The tips described problems with the handling of sex assaults reported on U.S. military bases among the children and teens of service members.

Through dozens of FOIA requests and interviews, they found that reports of sexual assaults and rapes among military kids were getting lost in a dead zone of justice, with neither victim nor offender receiving help. Cases often died on the desks of prosecutors, even when an attacker confessed. And criminal investigators shelved other cases, despite requirements they be pursued, the reporters found.

Using government records and data released by the Pentagon’s military branches and school system, Dunklin and Pritchard catalogued nearly 600 cases of sex assaults among children on military bases, often after protracted FOIA negotiations. Though an acknowledged undercount, it was the first such quantification – something neither the Pentagon nor its global school system had previously done.

For shedding light on a problem too long ignored, and localizing it for AP members in their states, Dunklin and Pritchard share this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Phone tip leads to shady company linked to border wall contract

The short Associated Press story out of San Diego about the first border wall contract awarded under the Trump administration made only a brief mention of the Omaha, Nebraska, company that had won the contract. But that prompted a woman to call the AP. She made several claims to Chicago-based Central Desk editor Jeff McMurray without offering proof, but he figured it was interesting enough to pass along. Omaha breaking news staffer Margery Beck was asked to check into the company.

As Beck examined state business records and court documents, she discovered that the company, SWF Constructors, operated at the same address as another business that had been sued a dozen times, including at least three times by the federal government, for failing to pay subcontractors on government projects. That company, Coastal Environmental Group, was also the subject of an Interior Department audit questioning $2 million in billing for a Superstorm Sandy cleanup contract.

For aggressive records-based reporting that resulted in a timely story no one else had, Beck receives this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP staffers on three continents scramble to fact-check the pope on Chile abuse

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield sensed a potentially explosive development in Chile's long-running sex abuse and cover-up scandal when she noticed a cryptic tweet from a former member of the Pope Francis' abuse advisory board.

Board member Marie Collins had tweeted that Francis was well aware that victims of Chile's most infamous predator priest had placed Bishop Juan Barros at the scene of their abuse. Collins herself had been involved in relaying those concerns to him.

Intrigued and sensing an important twist in a story that AP has already dominated, Winfield and Santiago correspondent Eva Vergara kicked off an extraordinary effort that would culminate in a three-day, multinational, cross-format papal fact-check, prompting calls for the pope to come clean about a scandal that now threatens his legacy.

Over the course of one frantic weekend the enterprise involved a Paris airport stakeout by senior TV producer Jeff Schaeffer, a missed Super Bowl party hosted by Philadelphia-based TV producer Yvonne Lee and a surreal TV interview conducted by AP reporters on three continents.

For teamwork that spanned the globe, in service of a story of immense global interest, Winfield, Vergara, Schaeffer and Lee are recognized with Beat of the Week.

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Feb. 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Man charged with selling armor-piercing bullets to Las Vegas shooter

In the days after the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people, authorities said gunman Stephen Paddock acted alone. But search warrants showed that police and the FBI were looking at two "persons of interest."

One was Paddock's girlfriend, whom police had cleared, and the other was a man named Douglas Haig of Arizona.

Haig talked to various media, including the AP, and held a news conference characterizing his sale of tracer ammunition to Paddock as a lawful transaction.

But Phoenix newsman Jacques Billeaud wasn’t convinced. He called a source he has cultivated in law enforcement who was willing to help but didn’t know the answer to Billeaud’s questions. Then, a few days later, the official called to say that Haig indeed had been charged with a crime. Billeaud quickly checked an electronic court records system and found that armor-piercing ammunition with Haig's fingerprints had been found in Paddock's hotel room. Haig was charged with illegally manufacturing and selling the ammunition.

Billeaud's relationship with his source put the AP ahead, and customers used the AP as first word on a competitive story. For sticking with the story and using long-term source work to break news, Billeaud will receive this week’s Best of the States prize.

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July 14, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

​AP investigation: Children suffered as Vatican hospital chased profits

The approach to Vatican Correspondent Nicole Winfield came from a member of a task force that had investigated care at Italy’s foremost pediatric facility, known as “the pope’s hospital.” The contact feared that serious concerns raised by the task force hadn’t been addressed two years later.

That tip, in late 2015, set the AP on a 20-month investigation of the Bambino Gesu (Baby Jesus) Pediatric Hospital. Winfield teamed up with London-based Medical Writer Maria Cheng to reveal a dark chapter in the facility's history. They found that children sometimes paid the price as administrators tried to make the money-losing enterprise turn a profit, and Vatican officials took pains to keep the concerns quiet.

Their work earns the Beat of the Week.

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Dec. 21, 2017

Best of the States

Reporters spotlight burgeoning crisis: More kids entering foster care due to the opioid epidemic

They are the littlest victims of the opioid crisis: Tens of thousands of children forced into foster care because of a parent’s drug use. On Nov. 30, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released data from 2016 showing new foster care cases involving parents using drugs have hit the highest point in more than three decades of record-keeping.

Less than two weeks after that data was released, the AP transmitted a package of stories focused on two of the states with the biggest one-year increases: Indiana and Georgia.

The project came about thanks to an analysis begun months earlier by Washington-based data journalist Meghan Hoyer. Hoyer worked with an analyst to access exclusive county-level data on foster care entries over the past 15 years, giving the AP a unique, comprehensive and localized look at the issues surrounding children entering the system.

That data allowed New York-based national writers Matt Sedensky to focus his reporting in Indiana, where parental drug use was increasingly cited as the reason for foster care removals. Sedensky convinced the chief juvenile court judge to grant him access to courtrooms and files normally shielded from public view. He also worked to get a caseworker to let him follow her as she visited families caring for children removed from their birth parents’ custody, and spent time with adoptive families, medical professionals and others affected.

A second story, by national writer David Crary, also based in New York, zoomed in on one mother who had lost her three daughters to foster care and her battle to overcome addiction and win them back. In interviews and email exchanges over several months, mother of three Kim Silvers told wrenching details of her experience – including an interview at her joyous graduation ceremony after completing the program.

For providing moving insight into the plight of the youngest victims of the opioid crisis and the struggle of some families to break free, Hoyer, Sedensky and Crary share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Dec. 21, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP: Rohingya women methodically raped by Myanmar armed forces

When AP Australia correspondent Kristen Gelineau, Singapore photographer Maye-E Wong and New Delhi video journalist Rishabh Jain entered the sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh that are sheltering Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, they did not need to coax the women they found to talk.

Accounts of cruelty, violence and rape at the hands of Myanmar armed forces poured out of the survivors.

After only one week in the camps, Gelineau had interviewed 27 women and girls to gather evidence that Myanmar’s armed forces had carried out a pattern of sweeping, systematic rape across Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Joined by Wong and Jain during her second week in the camps, the team revisited several of the women Gelineau had interviewed to capture haunting photos and video. Gelineau and Wong then interviewed two more rape survivors, bringing to 29 the number of women struggling to survive in squalid conditions who were desperate to tell the world what had happened to them. The images of their tear-filled eyes, peering out over brightly colored headscarves, conveyed a depth of suffering almost impossible to describe.

For their searing account in words, photos and video, Gelineau, Wong and Jain have earned the Beat of the Week.

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Dec. 08, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP reveals how dirty US fuel byproduct contributes to India’s dangerously polluted air

Oil extracted from the tar sands of Canada has contributed to booming production among American refineries, but it also has created a messy legacy: Ton upon ton of a filthy byproduct called petroleum coke. U.S. utilities don’t want it because of its extremely high sulfur content, leaving refineries with one option – getting rid of it – because stockpiling had stirred community outcries. Tammy Webber, a Chicago-based reporter with the environmental beat team, wondered: If refineries couldn’t offload the substance in the U.S., what were they doing with it?

Through a year’s worth of detective work, Webber and her beat team colleague in New Delhi, Katy Daigle, traced the shadowy network that trades in oil refineries' bottom-of-the-barrel leftovers. They found that India was the leading destination of “petcoke” from the U.S., and Indian officials had no idea the amount of petcoke flowing into the country was 20 times more than just six years before. Nor did they know how it was being used in a country already choking on some of the world’s dirtiest air.

Within 24 hours of the story hitting the wire, India’s government announced it would phase out imports of petcoke and had begun working on a policy to end the practice.

For revealing the secretive transport of petroleum coke from the U.S. to one of the world’s most polluted countries, and for drawing an immediate reaction from the government of India, Webber and Daigle win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 03, 2017

Best of the States

Georgia election server wiped clean – days after lawsuit against officials

Georgia's centralized and aging election system has been the subject of several controversies – most recently in June, when a whistleblower revealed that state contractors had failed to secure an important election server. Hackers could potentially have affected the results of both 2016 races and a special congressional election last June that drew national attention.

The Houston bureau’s Frank Bajak wrote up the initial news of Georgia’s server problem. But that didn't answer the larger question of whether the vulnerable server had actually been hacked, so Bajak developed new sources and kept pressing for more information.

His efforts paid off when a source provided him with an email disclosing that the troubled server had been wiped clean of all data. Even more interesting, this destruction of evidence happened just a few days after a lawsuit was filed seeking a forensic examination of the server in an effort invalidate the state's vulnerable election technology.

For his enterprise and dogged pursuit of the story behind the story, Bajak wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 06, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP photo team produces unparalleled coverage of Catalonia referendum

The days leading up to Catalonia’s independence referendum pointed toward trouble on the day of the vote. The autonomous region in northeast Spain was pushing ahead with the election despite the country’s constitutional court ordering it to be stopped. In the weeks leading up to the vote, thousands took to the streets, demonstrating for and against independence. The election, set for Oct. 1, was sure to be a defining moment for the region and the country.

It also posed a challenge to those planning AP’s visual report: How best to capture the expected chaos? How to navigate its major city, Barcelona, which would be flooded with demonstrators and police? How to get photographers and video journalists in the right positions, knowing they might be stuck there for hours?

These decisions fell to Emilio Morenatti, AP’s chief photographer for Spain and Portugal. A longtime Barcelona resident, he anticipated those obstacles as he deployed AP’s staff and freelance photographers.

The result was some 200 photographs that captured the violence and passion of a remarkable moment in Spanish history. For planning creatively, making smart in-the-moment decisions and risking personal safety, Morenatti and his team of photographers win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 15, 2017

Best of the States

Smaller US cities struggle with high teen gun violence rates

Shootings in Chicago have captured national headlines, and for good reason: The city has among the highest rates of teenage gun violence in the nation. But where else in the U.S. are teenagers most likely to be killed or injured by gunfire? Baltimore, Detroit, Los Angeles?

In an exclusive analysis, journalists from the AP, working jointly with the USA Today Network, arrived at an unexpected answer: Except for Chicago, the places with the highest rates of teen gun violence in America are smaller and mid-sized cities – towns like Wilmington, Delaware, population 72,000.

AP data journalists Meghan Hoyer and Larry Fenn led the analysis of 3½ years’ worth of shooting cases provided by the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. Baltimore reporter Juliet Linderman, with significant assists from Albany reporter Michael Hill and Savannah correspondent Russ Bynum, picked it up from there. Video journalist Allen Breed produced a powerful video that illustrates the danger and despair, along with the difficulties that WIlmington is having in addressing the problems. The package also was enhanced with graphics from interactives producer Maureen Linke.

For their work revealing a surprising side of teenage gun violence in America, state reporters Linderman, Bynum and Hill, video journalist Breed, data journalists Hoyer and Fenn, and graphic artist Linke share this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 26, 2017

Best of the States

AP finds US buildings using the same cladding blamed in London fire

Sometimes a story doesn’t come from a reporter’s beat or region, just from natural journalistic curiosity.

Atlanta’s Jeff Martin was intrigued after investigators blamed the deadly tower fire in London in part on the flammable cladding that wrapped around its exterior. Wondering what buildings in the U.S. might be using the cladding, he went to the manufacturer’s website and found a trove of information in a promotional brochure.

The brochure said the cladding was used on a terminal at the Dallas airport, the Cleveland Browns stadium, an Alaska High School and a high-rise hotel in Baltimore. Martin, Gainesville, Florida, reporter Jason Dearen, and Baltimore reporter Juliet Linderman helped coordinate a cross-country, multi-media reporting effort that wins this week’s Best of the States.

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