Sept. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Making the signature photo, discreetly, as family mourns McCain

Sometimes it takes a team. And a resourceful photographer.

Phoenix photographer Ross Franklin made a stunning image of Cindy McCain resting her head on the casket of her late husband Sen. John McCain during a family service in the Arizona state Capitol. Getting to this moment was a team effort, starting with great Washington contacts and relationships that gave the AP not one but two exclusive spots in the rotunda in Phoenix.

But given the solemnity of the event, there was no way to shoot the private ceremony using a motor drive to take bursts of frames – it would have been too loud and would have echoed throughout the rotunda. So Franklin agreed to shoot the entire event balanced on a ladder overlooking the scene from the balcony, with his camera in a noise muffling blimp – basically operating a camera that is wrapped in a big pillow.

When Cindy McCain approached the casket, Franklin had just one or two frames to capture the signature moment. He nailed it, and the photo was used everywhere, including a stunning display on the front of the Arizona Republic.

For his exceptional work, Ross Franklin wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Reporters overcome fears to expose faith crackdown in China

The assignment always promised to be a challenge: talk with Christians in China about a state crackdown on their faith when many are afraid to speak out for fear of government retribution.

When reporter Yanan Wang, photographer Han Guan Ng and video journalist Emily Wang visited cities in China’s Christian heartland, they discovered the government’s campaign to “Sinicize” Christianity was far more aggressive than previously known. Hundreds of informal churches in private homes were shuttered. Gatherings were raided. Bibles were seized. Authorities ordered posters of Jesus replaced with portraits of President Xi Jinping.

For careful, persistent reporting to expose what experts and activists described as the most severe systematic repression of Christianity since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982, the three win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 03, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP reveals: Catholic nuns accuse clergy of sexual abuse

It was a #MeToo moment from the Vatican with a seemingly unlikely accuser – a nun.

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s interview with a nun, who broke a 20-year-silence about being physically assaulted by an Italian priest, and reporting by Uganda correspondent Rodney Muhumuza about the scope of abuse in Africa, resulted in the AP being the first news organization to chronicle the global impact on nuns of the #MeToo movement.

Their story, which included expert analysis and exclusive Vatican comment urging nuns to report and bishops to sanction abusive priests, earns the Beat of the Week.

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July 06, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

An AP blockbuster: Algeria forces 13,000 migrants into the desert, some to their deaths

“Here in the desert, Algeria has abandoned more than 13,000 people in the past 14 months, including pregnant women and children, stranding them without food or water and forcing them to walk, sometimes at gunpoint, under temperatures of up to 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit).”

With that chilling declaration, the AP opened a new chapter in the ongoing, global saga of migrant suffering. Reporter Lori Hinnant and visual journalists Jerome Delay and Bram Janssen revealed the Algerian government’s complicity in a horror that had gone unreported – and had led to the deaths of an unknown number of migrants. Their exclusive story is the Beat of the Week.

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March 02, 2018

Best of the States

Texas effort to streamline hurricane recovery backfires

As the six-month mark approached of Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas, Austin Administrative Correspondent Will Weissert and Fort Worth Correspondent Emily Schmall teamed up to report exclusively that the state’s decision to lead housing recovery – meant to be faster and better than anything the federal government could muster – was actually resulting in backlogs that made the chaotic response after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina look good by comparison.

Acting on a tip, the duo dug into federal records and added field reporting to produce a multi-format report showing that delay by the governor, and the state land office’s steep learning curve, meant temporary shelter and quick-fix home repair programs were rolling out at a startlingly slow pace.

For excellent sourcing and taking a deeper look at Texas’ hurricane recovery process, Weissert and Schmall share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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June 22, 2018

Best of the States

Chicago gangs embrace social media – often with deadly results

Chicago legal affairs writer Michael Tarm had been anticipating the release of a 400-page report on gangs, compiled about once every six years by the Chicago Crime Commission. He touched base with the commission every few months for years, asking for advanced access to the documents.

It paid off.

Tarm obtained exclusive access to new law enforcement gang intelligence before its official release, then he spent weeks going through police and court records to find a gang-related killing to serve as a narrative of the findings. He uncovered the case of Lamanta Reese, a story illustrating how social media is transforming the city’s street-gang culture with deadly consequences. Gang member Reese, 19, had posted a smiley-face emoji on Facebook in response to an off-color joke about the mother of a rival gang member. Days later, that rival crossed the street between their gang factions, sneaked up on Reese and fatally shot him 11 times.

The story got strong play, with more than 10,000 page views on AP’s site the first day – almost 17,000 overall. The main story was published by 220 sites, including The New York Times and Washington Post, as well as the hometown Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times. The Sun-Times and Daily Herald also ran it in their papers.

For obtaining exclusive access to law enforcement gang intelligence before its official release, poring over police and court records, and drawing on in-depth sourcing to produce a multiformat, compelling narrative, Tarm wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 08, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Global video exclusives as North Korean official travels for summit prep with Trump

The low-key, secretive trip by senior official Kim Yong Chol from North Korea to the U.S., carrying a letter for President Donald Trump, could have gone undocumented were it not for clever, enterprising work by staffers on two continents.

Senior video producer Raf Wober, based in Hong Kong, noticed high security in Beijing's airport, recognized Kim, and used his cellphone to capture video as the North Korean walked through the airport. Wober's video and his alert to the Asia Desk set off a worldwide scramble as Trump later announced that Kim was heading to the U.S. for talks about the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit.

In New York, the team of video journalists Sara Gillesby, Joseph Frederick, Luke Sheridan, Ted Shaffrey, David Martin and Robert Bumsted picked up Wober’s efforts, using technology and street smarts to get exclusive live shots that included Kim’s plane arriving at John F. Kennedy airport, Kim walking on the tarmac to a motorcade, and his arrival at a Manhattan hotel.

All of which was unmatched by the competition, resulting in strong play in the U.S. and internationally.

For their quick and creative thinking to net AP worldwide exclusives, Wober and the New York video team share the Beat of the Week award.

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May 24, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Interview with judge facing recall over Stanford sex assault sentence

When a California judge chose the most lenient sentence for a Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus, the outrage made national headlines for weeks. Anger at the judge turned into a recall effort on the June 5 primary ballot and more widespread media coverage.

Despite the glare, Judge Aaron Persky has been mostly silent for nearly two years. San Francisco reporter Paul Elias has spent nearly that entire time asking for an interview, over and over.

Those efforts paid off with an exclusive, three-hour all formats interview at the judge’s home. The judge said he had no regrets, even though the sentence may cost him his judgeship. The resulting story was featured prominently in local and national media.

For his persistence in getting AP a fascinating interview on a competitive story, Elias wins this week's Best of the States award.

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May 11, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Yemen's Dirty War: Starving moms skip meals to feed their starving children

The civil war gripping Yemen for the last three years has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters as millions of people face starvation. In an effort to understand the scope of the crisis, The Associated Press launched a one-year project with the Pulitzer Center, a non-profit news organization that helps cover underreported stories internationally.

AP Cairo-based reporter Maggie Michael, one of the few journalists who has followed the unfolding tragedy in Yemen from the beginning, often at great risk, used the Pulitzer grant for an extended reporting trip across Yemen with Cairo photographer Nariman el-Mofty and Yemen-based videographer Maad al-Zekri.

They drove more than 400 miles through five governorates, including one harrowing drive near an active front line outside of Khoukha, from their base in Aden. They interviewed mothers and families affected, plus food experts, doctors and volunteers, and they found that more than 8.4 million of the nation’s 29 million people rely almost completely on food aid.

The team’s courageous efforts to tell this story win the Beat of the Week.

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April 06, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Lebanon-based team first to interview Islamic State detainees in Syria

An Islamic State cell notorious for beheading western hostages has become a major story line surrounding the terror group and its murderous onslaught in Syria. The arrest of members of the four-person cell – nicknamed “the Beatles” because of their British accents – led to heightened interest among readers and AP clients.

So it was big news and a major scoop for the AP when an all-formats team made up of reporter Sarah El Deeb, video journalist Andrea Rosa and photographer Hussein Malla obtained the first interview of two men identified as surviving members of the infamous cell.

El Deeb had been working a source for access to foreign fighters detained by Kurdish forces in Syria. When AP finally received access, the detainees were at first reluctant to talk on the record. The Lebanon-based team kept pressing, and ultimately got them to agree to an audio interview, with photos. The interview generated huge interest and dominated headlines, particularly in Britain.

For pushing to make AP the first news organization to interview two suspects alleged to have participated in some of the Islamic State’s group’s most notorious crimes, the team of El Deeb, Rosa and Malla share this week’s Beat of the Week 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 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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