June 29, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Kobach sought pardon for VP of a corporate donor

Topeka correspondent John Hanna had been hearing hints for weeks that there might be something in Kris Kobach’s record that could cause trouble for the Kansas secretary of state and candidate for governor.

At first, it was just that: hints. The suggestions were so vague that Hanna set off to review the nationally known Republican’s statements, but Hanna, whose reporting sense is informed by 30 years of statehouse reporting, found nothing.

So he kept digging. Eventually a source suggested there might be something to do with a pardon, and Hanna filed a records request.

The governor’s office released a copy of its file on a pardon request for Ryan Bader, the vice president of TriStar Arms, a firearms importer. Bader had faced an aggravated robbery charge over a 2009 incident but agreed to a plea bargain and received a light sentence. Now he wanted a pardon so that he could buy a gun again and get the licenses needed to take over the family business.

Bader’s attorney for the pardon request? Kobach. The records showed Kobach did not provide a key police affidavit that was later released by the office of GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer – whom Kobach is challenging. But there was more. Campaign finance records showed that TriStar had donated at least $7,000 to Kobach’s campaigns for secretary of state and governor. The company also helped sponsor a fundraiser with Donald Trump Jr.

Hanna’s APNewsBreak was well used, including a post on the homepage of a member that is usually hesitant to showcase work done outside its newsroom. It also became a topic of a gubernatorial debate, with Kobach defending the pardon request.

For smart digging and use of public records that helped drive the news agenda and political conversation, Hanna wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 16, 2018

Best of the States

Multiple AP exclusives in all formats from mass shooting at California bar

Just before midnight on the day after California staffers were up late covering the midterm election came reports of a shooting at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Over the next 12 hours, as the scale of the carnage emerged, Sacramento correspondent Kathleen Ronayne, Washington-based reporters Mike Balsamo and Tami Abdollah, and photographer Mark Terrill and video journalist Krysta Fauria, both based in Los Angeles, combined to provide exclusive all-formats content for AP customers.

Despite the hour, Fauria and Terrill were on the scene within 90 minutes of the first reports coming in. Terrill made tight shots of the scene that no one else could match – his photos were used heavily by numerous outlets. Meanwhile, Fauria quickly set up a live shot, the first of four she would do over 12 hours at three locations. She also got AP’s first interview from a survivor.

Reporter Ronayne, bleary-eyed from the long election night, provided the first live video of authorities searching the shooter's home, while Balsamo used a source to break the widely played news that the murder weapon was a handgun, not an assault weapon.

As other news organizations pulled photos of the gunman from social media, Balsamo’s Washington colleague – and fellow AP-Los Angeles alumnus – Tami Abdollah used a source to obtain a driver’s license photo that is believed to be the first and still perhaps the only rights-cleared image of the gunman.

For providing news, photos and video that others couldn’t, Ronayne, Terrill, Balsamo, Abdollah and Fauria win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Cataclysmic fires cap off week of momentous and devastating news in California

California’s news staff still was in the midst of reporting the tragic night-spot shooting in Thousand Oaks when news reached the AP that a wildfire in Northern California was spreading quickly, sending thousands fleeing.

Bay Area freelance photographer Noah Berger, as good a fire chaser as there is anywhere, tipped the office off that the Northern California fire looked explosive. By 11 a.m. Sacramento reporter Don Thompson was hitting the road, and a first AP NewsAlert moved saying people fleeing for their lives had abandoned vehicles as the fire swept in.

AP’s all-formats coverage went into high gear, with staffers pouring in from the region. In addition to Thompson, who stayed at the scene with fire crews for several days straight, Portland, Ore., all-formats reporter Gilly Flaccus arrived, producing unmatched interviews in text and video of survivors and of crews searching for the remains of those killed. San Francisco reporter Paul Elias gathered information on the dramatic rescues and chaotic evacuation, while Las Vegas photographer John Locher and Denver videographer Peter Banda provided gripping visuals from the scene.

AP was first to report thousands of homes destroyed, first to report a named victim, and we were alone in accompanying a search and recovery crew in all formats as they went to a victim’s home and found her remains.

The coverage was nuanced and emotional. California News Editor Frank Baker says there was no one on the California staff who didn’t contribute, working unrelentingly from last week’s elections and mass shooting straight into the wildfire.

For outstanding work, bolstered and supported by California’s all-formats reporting staff and editors, Thompson, Flaccus, Elias, Berger, Locher and Banda share this AP's Best of the Week.

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Nov. 09, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

‘They are human beings’: AP produces deep worldwide count of missing, dead migrants

The idea was bold from its inception: Attempting to count dead and missing migrants worldwide.

After covering the outflow of refugees in the wake of the Islamic State's takeover in parts of Iraq last year, Paris enterprise writer Lori Hinnant noticed a lack of data on the migration. She set off on a mission to count the uncountable.

The yearlong effort to document lives that would otherwise go unnoticed proved extremely challenging, precisely because it was plowing such new ground. An AP team of more than a dozen people painstakingly compiled information that had never been put together before from international groups, forensic records, missing persons reports and death records, and went through data from thousands of interviews with migrants. The data came alive with individual stories of migrants, a challenge in itself.

The AP project found 56,800 dead and missing migrants since 2014, almost double the number currently put out by the United Nations, which focuses heavily on Europe and nearly excludes several other areas of the world. The report drew significant interest, despite the fact that it ran six days before the U.S. midterm elections.

For their ambitious project that established AP as a global authority on this issue, Hinnant, Istanbul visual journalist Bram Janssen and Cairo photographer Nariman El-Mofty share the Best of the Week award.

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Nov. 02, 2018

Best of the States

AP scores multiple scoops on sprawling mail bomb investigation

When an explosive device was found at the suburban New York property of liberal megadonor George Soros, it raised a few eyebrows with just two weeks to go until the midterm election. When a second device was found addressed to Hillary Clinton, the mail bombs targeting critics of President Trump became the dominant story in the country, political and otherwise, for the better part of a week.

The AP broke the news of the connection between the Soros and Clinton devices, making it clear something broader was afoot, the first in a series of scoops keying a sprawling, days-long effort across regions and formats.

Driving the coverage of the investigation into what became more than a dozen homemade bombs sent to prominent Democrats was the Washington law enforcement crew comprised of Colleen Long, Mike Balsamo, Michael Biesecker and Eric Tucker, and law enforcement writers Jim Mustian in New York and Curt Anderson in Miami.

Play across formats was overwhelming. NewsWhip tracked Friday’s mainbar alone, on the suspect's arrest, getting more than 125,000 page views on apnews.com and the app. Among the more widely used stories by customers: a fast but deep profile of the bombing suspect, co-bylined by Washington reporters Michael Biesecker and Stephen Braun and relying heavily on reporting from Miami intern Ellis Rua.

For their beats highlighting the AP’s broad, collaborative and competitive effort, Long, Tucker, Balsamo, Biesecker, Braun, Mustian, Anderson and Rua share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Oct. 19, 2018

Best of the States

High-profile Georgia race focuses national attention on voter ID requirements

In the current political and media environment, it’s not often that a state politics story without President Donald Trump’s name in it drives a national political conversation for almost a week.

But that’s what happened when Atlanta-based newsperson Ben Nadler published a look at Georgia’s “exact match” voter registration verification process and other policies backed by Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Kemp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, faces Democrat Stacey Abrams, vying to become the first black female governor of any state.

According to records obtained by Nadler from Kemps office through a public records request, 53,000 registrations – 70 percent of them from black applicants – were on hold with less than a month before the Nov. 6 election. Nadler also found that Kemp’s office has cancelled more than 1.4 million inactive voter registrations since 2012 – nearly 670,000 registrations in 2017 alone.

The story got tremendous play with AP customers over multiple news cycles and lit up social media.

For his deep look at a critical issue in Georgia’s high-stakes gubernatorial election and driving a national political discussion for days, Nadler wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 31, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusives: National Enquirer’s secret safe, Cohen subpoenaed on Trump Foundation

“What’s in the safe?”

The headline on the cover of the New York Post editions on Aug. 23 spoke volumes about the impact, power and reach of AP reporting on the legal chaos surrounding President Donald Trump.

Washington investigative reporter Jeff Horwitz exclusively reported that the National Enquirer kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Horwitz's story quickly went to No. 1 on AP Mobile and led websites around the world.

It was one of two AP exclusives touching on Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen that seized the nation’s attention last week. In addition to Horwitz, Albany statehouse reporter David Klepper was first to report that New York state investigators subpoenaed Cohen as part of their probe into the Trump Foundation. Klepper reported that Cohen is a potentially significant source for state investigators looking into whether Trump or his charity broke state law or lied about their tax liability.

For their exclusives, Horwitz and Klepper win the Beat of the Week.

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Feb. 16, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Lawmaker accused of meeting with prostitute used taxpayer money for hotel

Allegations that a lawmaker had been trysting with a prostitute while the Utah Legislature was in session rocked the state’s politics. The former lawmaker who had previously pushed for stricter laws cracking down on prostitution went into hiding. His attorney refused comment. The House speaker washed his hands of the scandal, and the prostitute was no longer talking, having sold the story to the tabloid site dailymail.com.

Political reporter Michelle Price needed another way into the story, so she started asking questions around the capitol.

She made a key discovery while looking at the screen grabs of the texts in the tabloid story: The dates lined up with the legislative session. She knew the lawmaker from southern Utah didn’t commute to the Legislature and would be staying in hotels while in Salt Lake City.

She started asking tougher questions. Was taxpayer money used to reimburse the lawmaker for hotel rooms where he met the prostitute? Now she had the attention of officials in state government.

Finally came the APNewsBreak: Price exclusively reported that the lawmaker used taxpayer money to book at least two hotel rooms he is accused of using to meet with the prostitute.

For determination and a commitment to exploring all angles even when the main characters weren’t talking, Price wins this week’s Best of the States.

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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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May 04, 2018

Best of the States

FOIA reveal: Governor shields ally and agency in alleged harassment case

When Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds abruptly fired a longtime friend and political ally last month, she said it was due to “credible” sexual harassment allegations. But her staff said no other information would be available about the behavior of Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison.

Statehouse reporter Barbara Rodriguez and Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley knew there was more to the story, but after filing FOIA requests, the governor's office told them there were no such records, prompting a rare case where reporting the denial would be newsworthy: that there was no evidence, correspondence or investigation into the allegations before Jamison was terminated.

Hours after that story moved, the governor’s office acknowledged they had made a mistake. There was a written detailed complaint against Jamison, but the office insisted it was exempt from FOIA.

Rodriguez and Foley didn’t stop there. They appealed the denial, leading the governor’s office to reverse course again and release the document, which immediately caused a firestorm.

It showed that Jamison had allegedly been harassing female subordinates for years, and that senior officials in the agency were aware of his behavior but apparently didn’t report it – which led to calls for an independent investigation. The governor initially rejected those calls but as pressure built, she announced she had hired a prominent outside lawyer to conduct such an investigation.

For aggressive reporting that shed light on accusations of sexual misconduct by a public official – including the lack of transparency surrounding the charges – the pair shares this week's Best of the States award.

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April 27, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Fast and furious: AP is hours ahead with sought-after Comey memos

The moment James Comey let slip that he had written “contemporaneous notes” detailing his dealings with President Donald Trump, those memos became the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The memos quickly became fodder for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections as it related to possible collusion with the Trump campaign – and in particular, whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Prosecutors perused them, members of Congress demanded them and the public speculated about them.

In the end, The Associated Press got them.

Thanks to the resourceful reporting of the Washington bureau’s Mary Clare Jalonick, Chad Day, Tom LoBianco and Eric Tucker, the AP was the first news organization to publish the contents of those 15 pages of notes, hours ahead of the competition. And that major scoop is the Beat of the Week.

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April 20, 2018

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Trump’s company asked Panamanian president to help in hotel ownership spat

for learning exclusively that lawyers for the Trump Organization had sent a letter appealing to Panama's president to intervene in a bitter dispute over control of a luxury hotel in the Central American nation's capital, an example of the kind of ethical questions surrounding Trump's business dealings that have troubled observers since his election. https://bit.ly/2EZTmlP

March 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Draining the swamp? AP reporters find at least 37 Trump administration officials with ethics waivers

It was a major catchphrase of Donald Trump’s campaign: He would “drain the swamp” in Washington.

But once Trump took office, Washington’s Michael Biesecker wasn’t seeing it. Government officials, it appeared, were working on issues they lobbied for on behalf of private clients. He set out to track the administration’s hiring and measure it against Trump’s pledge.

It did not measure up.

Biesecker and colleagues Juliet Linderman and Richard Lardner found that at least 37 appointees across the government had been granted ethics waivers, allowing them to regulate the very industries in which they had worked. For plumbing the depths of the swamp, their story is Beat of the Week.

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March 09, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Nothing routine about it: Larger-than-life photo of Putin dominates play

It's hard to pull off a truly distinctive photo at a set-piece event with the world's press also gathered there. Russia's Chief Photographer Alexander (Sasha) Zemlianichenko, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, did just this with a low angle on the big screen of Putin's face, staring down and dominating the audience at Putin's state-of-the nation address March 1. The photo, which graced front pages and websites around the world, wins the Beat of the Week.

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