Aug. 23, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals litigation over alleged abuse suffered by children separated at border

for their investigation breaking the news of dozens of unredacted legal claims seeking more than $200 million in damages for trauma and abuse alleged by parents and their children who had been separated at the border; these included children who were sexually molested by other children in foster homes.The administrative claims shared with The Associated Press were heartbreaking: Young children pulled from their parents’ arms by government agents were sent to foster homes and residential shelters where they suffered sexual and other physical and emotional abuse. The reporters revealed the high cost of the claims: more than $200 million for 38 claims is just “the tip of the iceberg” said lawyers. And this was the first report that some separated children in foster homes – considered safer and healthier – had been sexually molested. The story ran with exclusive photographs and video of a father whose young son, whose heart was failing, was put in a foster home where he was molested by other children.https://bit.ly/2YQwnbLhttps://bit.ly/2L0R1Mv

Feb. 14, 2020

Best of the States

Records reveal Virginia attorney-lawmaker privilege that delays court proceedings

Sometimes accountability stories are hiding in plain sight, but getting to them requires first recognizing the potential and then doing a whole lot of digging. Virginia reporter Sarah Rankin did both of those things. 

After seeing a one-sentence mention in a legal trade publication, Rankin began the hunt for a deeper story about a continuance privilege granted to lawyer-legislators, and how one Virginia lawmaker used the privilege to consistently delay court hearings. 

Rankin plowed through records of cases that involved Virginia lawmaker Jeff Campbell, the defense attorney for a one-time NASCAR race driver accused of domestic violence. She found that Campbell had employed the continuance privilege at least 30 times over three years, more than double any other lawyer-legislator.

For seizing on the brief mention, then following up with determined reporting that revealed a potential for abuse by lawyer-lawmakers in Virginia and elsewhere, Rankin wins the week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 07, 2020

Best of the States

AP investigates a teen’s life sentence – and the role of Amy Klobuchar

On the campaign trail, presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar has often cited a case – a life sentence given to black teen for killing a young girl – as proof of her tough-on-crime bona fides as a former prosecutor. 

Over the course of a year, Minnesota-based investigative reporter Robin McDowell examined the case against Myon Burrell, who was 16 when he was sentenced to life in prison for the 2002 death of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards. 

McDowell found major irregularities, including inconsistent evidence and questionable police tactics. The resulting package had impact, forcing new scrutiny of the case and Klobuchar’s handling of it. 

For dogged reported that shed new light and focused attention on the case against a man who has long said he was wrongfully convicted, McDowell wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 07, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Trump rape accuser seeking his DNA

for landing an exclusive report about the columnist E. Jean Carroll seeking a DNA sample from President Donald Trump to potentially back her accusation that he raped her in a department store dressing room. Peltz raised the question of DNA testing with Carroll’s legal team last November and stayed in contact with the team, prompting them to reach out with the news that they had tested the dress Carroll wore during the alleged assault. https://bit.ly/36ZTaRM

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Jan. 24, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP reporting reveals nonstop chaos in overburdened immigration courtrooms

Led by reporters Amy Taxin and Deepti Hajela, the AP harnessed its vast geographic reach and expertise on the topic of immigration to deliver a striking, all-formats examination of the nation’s beleaguered immigration court system. 

AP journalists fanned out to courtrooms across the U.S. to vividly illustrate chaos in the nation’s immigration courts, plagued by a 1 million case backlog. 

The reporting uncovered personal stories of immigrants entangled in the system, including an in-depth package from rural Georgia by reporter Kate Brumback and photographer David Goldman, and video by producer Noreen Nasir.

For a revealing look at a legal system struggling to cope with the influx of immigrants, and families caught up in the grinding legal process, Taxin, Hajela, Brumback, Goldman and Nasir share AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Jan. 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP reveals chronic problems, personal stories behind a deadly period in Mississippi prisons

The Associated Press began chronicling rising violence across Mississippi’s troubled prison system in late 2019, but after four deaths in four days it became clear that something bigger was going on.

Reporters Jeff Amy and Emily Wagster Pettus explored the history of underfunding and other problems in the state’s prison system. In addition to official documents describing understaffing, the pair obtained photos and video shot by a prisoner that showed the conditions inside the infamous penitentiary at Parchman. 

AP also published all-formats interviews with grieving mothers of prisoners killed, and reported on the state’s decision to house inmates at a private prison.

For bringing much-needed insight and context to a chaotic, evolving situation and giving voice to those affected by the deadly violence, Amy and Wagster Pettus receive this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 27, 2019

Best of the States

AP investigation shines light on dark side of CBD craze

Responding to AP’s call for ambitious journalism in 2019, Holbrook “Bert” Mohr of the U.S. investigative team tossed out an idea during a brainstorming session: Authorities in Mississippi had found vapes containing fentanyl and synthetic marijuana in stores near Mohr’s home. What caught his eye was that the product was labeled as CBD. 

That led to a collaboration by the Investigations and the Health and Science teams that would offer not just the exclusive results of laboratory testing — finding cheap and illegal synthetic marijuana instead of natural CBD in vapes and edibles — but also telling details about the people who bring dangerous products to market. 

The “Spiked CBD” package broke through. It was easily the top story on AP Mobile, and Mohr’s bylined story appeared on the front page of at least 23 newspapers; it was teased on the front of nearly 100 others. 

For identifying and leading a collaborative investigative project that connected with customers and readers, Mohr receives this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

In the face of death, the party of a lifetime

In a world focused on life and survival, death is often unseen, endured in private and acknowledged in glowing obituaries or tragic news stories. It’s also mostly out of the control of the person who is dying.

Now, with nine U.S. states allowing terminally ill people to end their lives with fatal drugs, thousands of people have legally chosen how and when to end their lives.

Seattle Photographer Elaine Thompson has long wanted to show the real, personal side of what often comes across as an impersonal process. She spent months looking for the right subject, getting tantalizingly close to success before plans fell through. She stuck with it, and when she found Bob Fuller, she enlisted reporter Gene Johnson to tell his story.

This week’s Best of the Week goes to the team of Elaine Thompson and Gene Johnson who chronicled how one man, in the face of death, created the party of a lifetime.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Best of the States

In Mississippi Delta, Catholic abuse cases settled on cheap

As allegations of sexual abuse by clergy have proliferated across the Catholic Church, millions of dollars in settlement money has been paid to victims. Some have received as much as $500,000 apiece.

Not La Jarvis D. Love.

At an IHOP in the Mississippi Delta, a white official from the Franciscan religious order offered to pay him just $15,000 to keep years of alleged abuse secret.

“He said if I wanted more, I would have to get a lawyer and have my lawyer call his lawyer,” Love told The Associated Press. “Well, we don’t have lawyers. We felt like we had to take what we could.”

The story, the latest in AP’s investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church, revealed deals struck with two black men for abuse they said happened in grade school that represent far lower amounts than what other clergy abuse survivors have received. It also revealed the men had been asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, which had long been banned by U.S. Catholic leaders.

Despite the challenges, the team – investigative reporter Mike Rezendes, photographer Maye-E-Wong, video journalist Sarah Blake Morgan, digital storytelling producer Samantha Shotzbarger and researcher Randy Herschaft – produced extraordinary work. Herschaft discovered several critical threads that showed an alleged abuser was working with children even after the church had known about one of the men’s allegations.

For their sensitive work on a complex, emotional and previously untold story, the team of Rezendes, Morgan, Wong, Shotzbarger and Herschaft win this week’s Best of the States.

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March 08, 2019

Best of the States

Only on AP: Death of ‘hood CNN’ video pioneer exposes gangland reporting risks

There’s always a better story behind a statistic.

Chicago’s homicide rate is one of the worst in the United States. By digging into one drive-by shooting, Chicago-based legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm and Houston-based video journalist John Mone found out how one victim’s life had inspired a generation of gang territory storytellers.

Telling it took a lot of sourcework.

Tarm had already been working on a story about social media and gangs, and he’d watched a few of Zack Stoner’s reports on Chicago street gangs and rappers on his ZackTV1 YouTube channel. When reports surfaced that Stoner was gunned down, Tarm began to look deeper, stumbling across a wider story – about a new brand of gutsy gangland reporters in Chicago and elsewhere who have avid followers on YouTube.

Getting access to the storytellers was tough, but eventually the name of Texas-based reporter Shawn Cotton emerged. Cotton was eager to discuss Stoner, his impact on the genre and the effect his killing had on him and others. Mone rode along with Cotton to the Meadow Brook subdivision in Fort Worth, dubbed “Murder Brook” by some of the kids on the street where Cotton filmed.

The multi-platform work played prominently with impressive reader engagement.

For relentless sourcework to show how a generation of storytellers is impacting its communities, Tarm and Mone win this week’s Best of the States.

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Aug. 16, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Reshaping of federal courts concerns gun control supporters

for a forward-looking piece amid the blizzard of gun-related news that followed the most recent mass shootings, looking at how the reshaping of the federal courts under President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate could undermine strict gun-control laws passed by Democratic-leaning states. That scenario is already playing out in California, where a Republican-appointed federal judge has blocked a state law limiting the number of rounds allowed in ammunition magazines. Thompson’s story, turned around in a day and a half in the wake of the latest shootings, resonated with readers and editors, scoring heavy play online and in print. https://bit.ly/2KDN1BC

Aug. 09, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigative team reveals how Michigan-based group quietly helped abusive priests

It was a piece of investigative journalism that yielded stunning revelations about the role of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a small nonprofit in Michigan that has been quietly providing money, shelter and legal help to hundreds of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse.

Investigative reporters Martha Mendoza, Garance Burke and Juliet Linderman launched an aggressive effort using shoe leather and Freedom of Information requests to unravel the story behind the organization. Photographer Paul Sancya told the story through a powerful set of images, while videographer Mike Householder produced his own compelling piece.

The riveting story received prominent play and gathered growing interest as it was translated and published in predominantly Catholic countries around the world.

For a story that revealed a startling but little-known group in the shadows of the church’s sexual abuse scandals, Mendoza, Linderman, Burke, Householder and Sancya win AP’s Best 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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July 05, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

New Jersey fails to identify polluters; governor promises fix

for accountability journalism made possible through an open records request, reporting that New Jersey environmental regulators had failed for nearly a decade to put out a legally required annual report on water pollution that identifies the state’s worst polluters and how the state is holding them responsible. His exclusive story drew a pledge by the governor that the publication of the reports would resume, and kudos from the state’s major news outlets. https://bit.ly/2LysvUS

May 17, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Schedules reveal West Virginia governor largely absent from work

Anthony Izaguirre began hearing the chatter about West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice as soon as he started work as the AP’s statehouse correspondent in Charleston, West Virginia, in late February. Sources told him Justice – a billionaire who owns mines, farms and a swanky resort – wasn’t fully engaged and hadn’t even been in the capital, Charleston, much since taking office in 2017.

Izaguirre's initial request for the governor’s schedules was declined, but he pressed with the help of AP’s legal department, finally getting the records. Armed with those calendars and his own resourceful reporting, he cobbled together a record of the governor’s activities, confirming what many suspected: Justice appeared to have better things to do than govern.

West Virginia media pounced on the exclusive story, which also played well outside the state.

For his resolute work to obtain public records and his thorough reporting to fill out a story no one else in the state could land, Izaguirre wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 10, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Lawmakers target loopholes for spouses who drug, rape their partners

for a distinctive and deeply reported legislative story on the so-called “marital rape exemption” or “spousal defense,” a legal loophole in many states that allows spouses to escape criminal prosecution for raping partners who are drugged, unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. Smyth and Karnowski reported that previous state legislative attempts to remove those exemptions have a mixed record, but that’s starting to change. https://bit.ly/2vLmScQ

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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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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