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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Dec. 16, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Ransomed: The freeing of 226 Christians from Islamic State

What AP’s Lori Hinnant knew, from a conversation with Beirut bureau chief Zeina Karam early this year, amounted to a fascinating mystery: A series of Syrian villages had been emptied and many of their people taken hostage by the Islamic State group, but now most appeared to be free. It was clear that ransoms were paid, but no one would talk about how it happened.

The hostages were more than 200 Assyrian Christians who were rescued through a fundraising effort among the vanishing people’s global diaspora that brought in millions of dollars. These were the broad outlines of the story that Hinnant’s months of reporting confirmed, but even better were the exclusive details she unearthed _ including IS sending one villager with a ransom note to his bishop, the church dinners and concerts held around the world for donations, and the decision, fraught with ethical qualms and legal risks, to pay a ransom.

Hinnant’s resulting “thriller,” as one admirer called it, is the Beat of the Week.

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July 12, 2019

Best of the States

Only on AP: Big farms find easy ways around caps on tariff aid

An AP Best of States mention in February about the hundreds of companies avoiding President Donald Trump’s steel tariffs raised questions about Trump’s $12 billion aid package to farmers hurt by the tariffs. What happened next shows how states can produce sharp, data-driven journalism – simply by calling on the data team for help.

AP filed Freedom of Information Act requests for U.S. Department of Agriculture data that was analyzed by Balint Szalai, a Hungarian investigative reporter embedded with AP’s data team, and Washington data team intern Riin Aljas.

Among their findings: Many big farming operations were legally collecting far more than the supposed caps on aid.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis reporter Steve Karnowski spoke to longtime USDA critics and interviewed farmers who defended taking the big checks, saying they didn’t even cover their losses under Trump’s trade war.

The Only-on-AP story ran on dozens of sites, and because the data and analysis were released to AP members in advance, many chose to localize their stories.

For sophisticated data analysis and on-the-ground reporting that shed light on a key consequences of trade policy, Karnowski, Szalai and Aljas share this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 14, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation: Top US cardinal accused of mishandling abuse allegations against deputy

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s five-month investigation revealed the stunning allegations: A high-ranking Catholic priest had a sexual relationship with a Houston woman for more than a year, counseled her husband on their marital problems, pressed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the couple and continued to hear her confession.

But the cardinal overseeing the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations in the United States approved the priest’s transfer to a church two hours away.

The fallout from Winfield’s revelations was swift: The priest was suspended and church officials reopened their inquiry into the handling of parishioner Laura Pontikes’ accusations.

To tell the sensitive story, Winfield – and a team that included Raleigh-based national writer/video journalist Allen Breed, New York global enterprise photographer Wong Maye-E and Houston correspondent Nomaan Merchant – meticulously planned coverage in each format, including on-camera interviews with Pontikes and her husband, and photos and video of the cardinal and the accused priest.

For an investigation that cast doubt on a top church official’s handling of a case involving startling allegations of abuse, Winfield, Breed, Wong and Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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April 05, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Florida targeting massage parlor prostitution, trafficking

When police busted several massage parlors engaging in prostitution in Florida in February, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft drew all the attention, but hundreds of other men were also charged in what seemed like a new approach for Florida authorities.

AP Florida reporters Mike Schneider, Orlando, and Terry Spencer, West Palm Beach, seized on the Kraft-driven attention to dig into legal issues surrounding massage parlors and prostitution in Florida. With a deep dive into state records and a key interview with a local source, the pair landed an AP Exclusive that showed a change in strategy: Usually only low-level massage therapists were arrested. Owners were rarely charged and typically faced only fines and probation. Johns typically were not charged at all.

But the recent investigation had instead focused heavily on the possibility of widespread human trafficking. Several spa owners were charged with felonies, and authorities also charged 300 men accused of being patrons, including Kraft and the former president of Citigroup. The Martin County sheriff told Spencer that he wanted to shut down the sex-massage industry in part by targeting the demand side.

Strong play included prominent display in The Washington Post.

For their enterprising use of state records and source-building to find an AP Exclusive in a story that drew enormous global attention, Schneider and Spencer win this week’s Best of States 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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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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Dec. 13, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

‘What Can Be Saved?’: Global series explores heroic efforts to revive ecosystems

The brief for the project was anything but simple: find a way to cover climate change’s effects on the planet in a way that avoided turning the audience off with a gloom-and-doom or heavily text-centric approach. 

The result was a sprawling environmental series that expanded the boundaries of AP’s visual storytelling. The series traveled to 10 countries on five continents, focusing on everything from attempts to bring back Jamaica’s coral reefs, to the conservation of lions and gorillas in Africa, to China’s ambitious plans to build a national park system, to a trip down one of Europe’s last wild rivers.

It was the work of 33 journalists, 15 editors and four translators throughout AP’s global newsroom, reaching millions of people across all formats – and not just because Leonardo DiCaprio touted some of the installments on Instagram and Twitter. 

For ambitious storytelling and compelling display on a subject of global significance, the extended team behind the “What Can Be Saved?” series wins AP’s Best of the Week award. This week’s cash award will be donated to AP’s Employee Relief Fund.

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Sept. 25, 2020

Best of the States

AP’s portrait of a family forced into tough choices during the pandemic

As stories with impact go, this one stands out: The lead subject of the piece, struggling to feed her family during the pandemic, was tracked down on social media and hired by a reader for a job. 

The all-formats package by reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski chronicled the struggle of Sharawn Vinson and her Brooklyn family as they coped with a shortage of food and other crises, taking readers into the lives of a family that was forced to separate to keep everyone fed. The details shared by the family give readers a better understanding of the issues confronting many of the nation’s most vulnerable during the pandemic.

For a rare, intimate look at a family on the front lines of food insecurity brought on by the coronavirus, documented with riveting photos and video, Henao and Wardarski share this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 15, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Only on AP: ‘Impossible’ access, stunning visuals of Ukraine hospitals

Video journalist Mstyslav Chernov and freelance photographer Evgeniy Maloletka used their extraordinary access to western Ukrainian hospitals to produce powerful images of medical workers desperately treating COVID-19 patients despite a medical system in crisis. They also visited one hospital’s makeshift morgue and a cemetery where families grieved over lost loved ones. Chernov had driven 2,500 kilometers (1,600 miles) across three countries, then worked tirelessly to earn the trust of medics who eventually gave him and Maloletka rare access to document the dire situation. The play was impressive among AP customers and across media in Ukraine. One foundation even reached out to the pathologist who had set up an outdoor morgue, supplying the medic with protective gear, disinfectants and a tent.https://bit.ly/2LmvBKuhttps://bit.ly/2WsZdvWhttps://bit.ly/2WwwUNb

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June 29, 2017

Best of the States

Enterprising desk work puts AP out front on amusement park rescue

Colleen Long was by herself on the New York City desk this past Sunday with plenty to do, including taking feeds from two different stringers to update national stories on gay pride parades and a graduation at a suburban high school shattered by killings blamed on the violent MS-13 gang.

But she still managed to jump into action on what turned out to be one of the day’s most clickable stories – of a teenager who dangled and then fell 25 feet from a gondola ride at an upstate New York amusement park.

Not only did Long land an interview with a father and daughter who scrambled to safely catch the 14-year-old girl, she also got the man to send in video that a friend took of the entire event, a reporting tour de force that singlehandedly put the AP out front across all formats.

For doggedly working a story from the desk to keep the AP competitive, Colleen Long wins this week’s Best of the States Award.

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Oct. 22, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

In the wake of Texas’ abortion ban, AP gives voice to women now going to out-of-state clinics

In America’s pitched debate over abortion, the voices of the people most affected by the slew of new laws restricting access to abortion are seldom heard.

Allowing patients to tell their stories of seeking to end their pregnancies has been a priority in AP’s coverage of Texas’ new law banning most abortions. Oklahoma City-based reporter Sean Murphy and Miami-based photographer Rebecca Blackwell delivered impressively on that goal with a sensitively written, visually compelling all-formats package.

The pair carefully negotiated access to a clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana, and earned the trust of Texas patients whose voices were vividly brought to life in text, photo, video and audio. They also met with anti-abortion protesters outside the clinic.

For gaining access and handling a delicate and polarizing story with professionalism, grace and accuracy while providing AP’s worldwide audience a greater understanding of the real-life impacts of the Texas law, Murphy and Blackwell are AP’s Best of the Week — First Winners.

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Aug. 18, 2016

Best of the States

Shining a light on the origins of Arpaio’s campaign contributions

For years, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has made a name for himself as the tough-talking lawman from metro Phoenix who was unafraid of criticizing federal immigration enforcement, earning accolades not only from fellow conservatives but millions of dollars in donations from around the country.

Arizona law enforcement reporter Jacques Billeaud knew that much of Arpaio's campaign donations came from outside Arizona. That’s what his campaign had said. But exactly how much and from where was a mystery because the donations were catalogued in an unsearchable PDF format.

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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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June 10, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Intimate AP package explores the burdens borne by young children providing essential care for parents

Health writer Tom Murphy was talking with an advocacy group for patients with Lou Gehrig’s disease about obstacles in caregiving, when he heard something arresting: Often, it’s children who provide the care.

With that spark, Murphy dug into the research and found that millions of school-aged children across the country are doing heavy-duty caregiving tasks. He and video journalist Shelby Lum then worked for weeks to ensure they could fully show what a family goes through every day. They discovered a family that was not only cooperative but compelling: The Kotiya/Pandya family welcomed Murphy, Lum and photographer Mat Otero into their Texas home where the team shadowed the family’s two young caregivers.

With that access, the trio produced a remarkably rich, engaging all-formats package that hooked readers and viewers.

For shining a delicate but bright light on the heart-wrenching reality of grade schoolers having to be as adept with a breathing machine as with Legos, the team of Murphy, Lum and Otero is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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March 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP all-formats team looks at town’s Black reparations through the eyes of a retired professor

When the college town of Amherst, Massachusetts, began taking a hard look at paying reparations to Black residents, the AP's Boston bureau set about using it as a backdrop for a national look at where things stand on making amends for the lingering effects of slavery.

The team of video journalist Rodrique Ngowi, reporter Philip Marcelo and photographer Charlie Krupa soon found the perfect subject to make the project character-centered: 96-year-old former University of Massachusetts professor Edwin Driver, who arrived on campus in the 1940s as one of the nation’s first Black faculty members at a flagship university — only to find no one would sell him a house. He said he was denied pay raises for decades.

The all-formats team came away with a powerful and illuminating portrait of a Black man who'd been wronged — a compelling way to frame the earnest but complicated public effort to address injustice. 

For impactful and highly visual storytelling that helped put a face on a provocative and politically charged issue — one the nation will be wrestling with for years to come — Ngowi, Krupa and Marcelo earn the week’s Best of the States honors.

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Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Records show Montana official’s misuse of state vehicle

When the Helena Police Department cited the statute of limitations in declining to bring charges against Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton for misuse of a state-owned vehicle, Helena reporter Amy Hanson dug deeper.

After multiple public-records requests Hanson found that Secretary of State Corey Stapleton traveled tens of thousands of miles more than what had been previously reported, including many times when he had no official events on his calendar. And she found that the misuse continued until he turned in the vehicle in March, well within the statute of limitations.

For determined reporting that resulted in a textbook example of accountability journalism, Amy Hanson wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 24, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP offers rare glimpse into world of China's political indoctrination camps

Last year, when Beijing correspondent Gerry Shih was working on a series of stories about the Uighurs in China, he learned that a number of citizens from Kazakhstan had been ensnared in a crackdown in the Xinjiang region where Muslims were being indoctrinated in a network of internment camps.

When one of them, Omir Bekali, decided to speak out about his eight-month ordeal in detention and in a so-called re-education center where hundreds of thousands of Muslims are being indoctrinated to disavow their religion, Shih, video journalist Dake Kang and China chief photographer Ng Han Guan traveled 2,000 miles to Almaty to interview him.

Their in-depth, all-formats report on the physical and psychological torment Bekali endured earns the Beat of the Week.

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Oct. 05, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Planning and preparation pay off in all formats at Bill Cosby sentencing

The two-day sentencing hearing and imprisonment of former TV star Bill Cosby ended a decades-long battle over sexual assault accusations against the comedian once known as “America’s Dad.” An AP team of reporters, photographers and video journalists drew on strong planning and coordination to excel in all formats while fending off a throng of competition.

The AP was ahead at all key moments in the sentencing, from a judge’s decision to label Cosby a sexually violent predator to the moment he handed down a sentence of 3 to 10 years and then denied bail. Staffers moved top photos to the wire almost instantly after they were shot, and provided live video of the scene.

For their excellent work in covering the Cosby sentencing, the team of Michael Sisak, Maryclaire Dale, Claudia Lauer, Pete Brown, Alyssa Goodman, Matt Rourke, Matt Slocum, Jackie Larma, Mike Householder and Joe Frederick share the Best of the Week award.

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April 12, 2019

Best of the States

AP analysis: Sports betting has not been the jackpot some states expected

When the Supreme Court allowed all states to offer betting on sports, some lawmakers across the country saw an opportunity: Here was a way to bolster state budgets with revenue from an activity that was already happening in the shadows. But an AP review showed that actual tax revenue has yet to match expectations in the majority of states that legalized sports gambling.

State government team reporter Geoff Mulvihill, based in New Jersey, and Rhode Island statehouse reporter Jennifer McDermott looked through monthly state revenue reports and then compared the tax revenue generated to the original estimates in the legislation that authorized sports betting. They found that in four of the six states that legalized it last year – Rhode Island, West Virginia, Mississippi and Pennsylvania – tax revenue was far below what the state had projected it would be.

The revenue story was the latest in a string of distinctive stories from reporters working the sports betting beat. Many of the stories, including the state revenue piece, have been accompanied by a data set compiled by Mulvihill that tracks every piece of legislation related to sports gambling. It is being made available to all AP customers who subscribe to our data distribution platform and has been promoted to local reporters as a way to add context to their stories.

For revealing the difference between lawmakers’ promises on tax revenue and the reality, Mulvihill and McDermott win this week’s Best of the States prize.

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