June 11, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Daring AP team crosses front lines to report on Ethiopia’s Tigray rebels and war’s civilian victims

Since the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia broke out seven months ago, news coverage has necessarily focused on those who fled the region. And AP journalists have delivered that coverage since November. But few journalists could reach areas under the control of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the party of Tigray’s now-fugitive leaders. Access was refused by the Ethiopian military. Until now.

AP’s Kampala, Uganda, correspondent Rodney Muhumuza and the Nairobi, Kenya-based team of Khaled Kazziha, Ben Curtis and Desmond Tiro made it through to the town of Hawzen with determination, teamwork and skill. 

Once there, and knowing the risks, the all-formats team limited themselves to less than an hour in the town, during which they reported exclusively on the TPLF fighters then occupying it. Hours after the journalists left, government troops shelled the town and recaptured it. The team later interviewed displaced victims of the conflict, including child amputees. The resulting multiformat story used the Hawzen as an example of the challenges facing Ethiopian authorities in the region. 

For smart, careful and courageous reporting to become the first outside journalists since the conflict started to interview fighters loyal to the TPLF, Muhumuza, Curtis, Kazziha and Tiro earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Oct. 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP pauses to get story of ‘discarded’ Trump ballots right

resisted competitive pressure, holding off on a Department of Justice press release on an investigation into “discarded” military ballots for President Donald Trump, instead taking the time to do a more deeply reported story.Most media rushed to publish when a U.S. attorney in the battleground state of Pennsylvania took the unusual step of announcing the ongoing investigation, saying nine mail-in ballots for the president had been “cast aside” in a county elections office. The county manager later blamed the incident on confusion over the appearance of the envelopes, but conservative social media quickly seized on the initial announcement while the Trump campaign blamed Democrats for “trying to steal the election.”The original press release, however, was short on details and no one, federal or local, was talking. Pennsylvania news editor Christina Paciolla brought the story to the attention of AP’s voting team, and a deeper examination began.The AP drew on expertise across the organization to produce a far more well-informed story the following day, providing essential context and new information, including the U.S. attorney defending his announcement of the votes for Trump, and that Attorney General William Barr had previously briefed the president on the case. https://bit.ly/3if2LJZ

Nov. 20, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP breaks news on Justice Department election investigations

both delivered scoops on the U.S. Department of Justice and election investigations.Balsamo kept hearing rumors of the DOJ looking into election cases, but he knew there were rules prohibiting such investigations during an ongoing election. He kept asking until a source revealed a memo Attorney General William Barr had sent to prosecutors nationwide authorizing federal prosecutors across the U.S. to pursue any “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities before the election is certified, despite the fact there was no evidence of widespread fraud giving prosecutors the ability to go around the longstanding policy. The scoop reverberated nationwide, especially as concerns grew over Trump’s ability to use the levers of government to hang on to power. The story was widely used, with Politico, Axios and NBC citing AP in their coverage of Barr’s memo. AP’s alert and a full story were on the wire more than 40 minutes before other major news organizations obtained a copy of the memo.Meanwhile, Las Vegas reporter Michelle Price was digging into how the DOJ was pursuing allegations from the Trump campaign that voters may have cast improper ballots in Nevada. Price and Balsamo teamed up with voting reporter Anthony Izaguirre to report out two ongoing investigations, and how they may not hold up to scrutiny. Price used her contacts to get exclusive first-person accounts from U.S. military members who thought they’d been wrongly accused of fraud for voting by mail from out of state by Nevada authorities and DOJ officials.https://bit.ly/2Kqu09ehttps://bit.ly/3lOlxKR

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June 11, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Gaza family loses 22 people on war’s deadliest night

teamed up to tell the story of the heavy toll paid by Gaza’s civilians in last month’s war between Israel and Hamas militants, with scores of civilians dead and hundreds of homes destroyed. Looking for a way to tell that story, Laub and Akram went through a list of people killed in Israeli airstrikes, then noticed that the youngest and oldest victims came from the same family — the Kawlaks.The family of four generations lived next door to each other in downtown Gaza City, unprepared for the Israeli air raid that came at about 1 a.m. on May 16, causing homes belonging to the family to collapse. The Kawlaks lost 22 members that night — including the 89-year-old family patriarch and his 6-month-old great grandson who had just lost his first tooth. Three young nieces were found dead in a tight embrace, said one of the survivors. Israel said the strike, the single deadliest of the 11-day war, was aimed at Hamas military targets in the crowded Gaza City neighborhood. Middle East news director Laub and Gaza reporter Akram made a series of visits to the family hoping to interview them. At first, they were reluctant, but the AP pair managed to gain their trust, eventually gettting an exclusive all-formats interview. Thanks to their efforts, the family shared death certificates of all of the victims, along with photos of the men and children. For cultural reasons, the family chose not to provide photos of the women.With strong visuals from video journalist Dumitrache and photographers Hamra and Dana, the result was a compelling account of the terrifying night of the bombing, the family’s immense grief and poignant remembrances of lost loved ones.https://aplink.news/s78https://aplink.video/1mg

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Sept. 10, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Rescue groups tell AP: US missed hundreds still in Afghanistan

delivered the most detailed look yet into the true toll of the Americans still in Afghanistan after the U.S. pullout, fact-checking the Biden administration’s estimate that no more than 200 American citizens were left behind. Rather than take the administration’s estimate at face value, the pair reported on the independent experiences of veteran-led rescue groups and members of Congress who say the figure is too low and also overlooks hundreds of others they consider to be equally American: permanent legal residents with green cards.The leader of one volunteer group told AP that the official count of U.S. citizens is off by hundreds, and California Rep. Darrell Issa, said the calls his office is receiving lead him to estimate the true toll of U.S. citizens left in Afghanistan is about 500.As for green card holders — who have lived in the U.S. for years, paid taxes, owned property and often have children who are U.S. citizens — the true number who want to get out is in the hundreds and perhaps more than 1,000, according to rescue groups and lawmakers. San Diego reporter Watson and New York investigative reporter Condon highlighted the plight of one family of green card holders who lived in Sacramento for years and who have been texting daily with their children’s elementary school principal while trying to escape Afghanistan. “I’m loosing the hope,” texted the mother.AP’s story, with contributions from Kathy Gannon in Kabul and Matt Lee in Washington, was among the most-read on the AP News app on the Labor Day holiday weekend and was featured prominently on major news sites. https://aplink.news/3yy

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Jan. 22, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Trust in AP: Unmatched sourcing delivers scoop on fears of National Guard insider attack

On the news-heavy weekend between impeachment and inauguration, Lolita Baldor broke a story that became the dominant item for news organizations across platforms: Top military officials feared insider attacks from National Guardsmen activated to protect the inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all 25,000 troops sent to the city.

And officials weren’t whispering their concerns anonymously; Baldor quoted the Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy. That was no fluke; Baldor has built trust with McCarthy and other top officials at the Pentagon. The Army granted her exclusive, off-the-record access to an inaugural planning session, then arranged on-the-record interviews with a number of leaders.

Baldor’s scoop immediately lit up social media and was picked up by some 330 news outlets, including networks and major publications.

For impressive source work that produced a major scoop in the intensive buildup to the inauguration, Baldor wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 13, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Teamwork dominates coverage of Pentagon officer’s fatal stabbing

teamed up in all formats to lead coverage of a police officer's fatal stabbing outside the Pentagon, delivering first, exclusive details over two days, decisively winning play and leaving other news organizations to cite AP or match us hours or days later.Veteran military reporter Lolita Baldor had been walking up the stairs to the Pentagon when she heard a sound familiar to her: gunshots. Moments later, she confirmed with a guard that there had indeed been shots fired near the Metro and that one person was down. At the same time, video journalist Sagar Meghani was in a credentialing office just inside the Metro entrance to the building, when he heard an officer yell “Shooter!” Since taking photos and videos inside the building is forbidden, Meghani pretended to look at his phone while surreptitiously snapping photographs of the scene and posting them in Slack. He also recorded and posted public address announcements about the building being in lockdown.Meanwhile, AP staffers across all formats responded. Washington photographer Andrew Harnik raced away from a football practice he’d been covering, producing some of the first photos of heavy police activity. Video journalist Nathan Ellgren established live shots at the Pentagon within 20 minutes of getting the call. Reporters Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Colleen Long worked sources throughout the day to report key details about how the violence unfolded and obtaining the assailant’s name from three separate sources. Investigative reporter Michael Biesecker confirmed previously pending charges against the alleged assailant, making AP first to report the man’s criminal history. The teamwork resulted in the most widely used story on the AP News app and website for the day.https://aplink.news/um0https://aplink.news/pjwhttps://aplink.video/g55https://aplink.video/3vf

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May 21, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Gaza team evacuates, responds with outstanding coverage as airstrike destroys AP’s building

Last Saturday afternoon, the AP’s staff in the Gaza Strip received an urgent call: They had less than an hour to evacuate the office before the Israeli military planned to destroy the entire building. Staff and freelancers scrambled to pack up whatever equipment and belongings they could carry, but even as they rushed to safety they continued reporting the news, including smartphone video of the evacuation and a live shot set up on a neighboring building. 

Moments later, an Israeli airstrike flattened the 12-story building that had served as a second home in one of the world’s most challenging war zones for the past 15 years. The AP team captured the dramatic scene for all formats, then, despite the stunning turn of events, quickly regrouped to continue their coverage of the ongoing conflict. 

The destruction of the building capped a difficult week in which Gaza came under intense Israeli aerial bombing, and thousands of rockets were launched into Israel.  AP’s staff on both sides of the conflict rose to the occasion, presenting fast, accurate stories, powerful photography, gripping video. 

For extreme dedication in the most difficult of circumstances, and their commitment to covering the conflict even at great personal risk, the Gaza team of Fares Akram, Najib Jobain, Rashed Rashid, Khalil Hamra, Hatem Moussa, Adel Hana, Mohammed Jahjouh and Wafaa Shurafa is the unanimous pick for Best of the Week honors.

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June 17, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Bodies of Mariupol steel-plant defenders returned

teamed up to scoop Ukrainian media and the international press corps by revealing the return of Ukrainian fighters’ remains following the weekslong last stand at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.Leicester first learned of the return of the defenders’ bodies while interviewing a soldier for another story. He and Arhirova then pursued multiple sources in a difficult environment, including family members, unit commanders and spokespersons, confirming on the record, ahead of the competition, that several hundred bodies had been swapped with the Russians, including dozens from a regiment that took a lead in defending the complex during the Russian siege of the port city.Read more

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Jan. 20, 2017

Best of the States

Lie detectors trip up border agency applicants

San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat was chatting with a longtime government source and she mentioned her son applied to Customs and Border Protection but was rejected after failing a polygraph test. She and her son were mystified by the result. Soon after, a member of Spagat’s running group – a military veteran with a stellar resume – told the same story of a failed Border Patrol test.

Intrigued, Spagat brought up the issue during a regular check-in call with an official involved in recruiting for the Border Patrol. The official told him the polygraph failure rate was very high. Spagat knew he was on to something and kept pressing, next talking to Border Patrol Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, who gave him a failure rate – 65 percent.

But Kerlikowske didn’t see the number as a negative – it meant the agency was applying tough standards to find its officers. Still, a two-thirds failure rate struck Spagat as abnormal but how could he prove it? Comparable data was hard to find.

So Spagat set about creating it.

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Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Determined source work exposes horrific massacre in holy city of Ethiopia’s isolated Tigray region

Ethiopia’s military campaign in its defiant Tigray province has been shrouded in secrecy since the conflict started in November, but AP East Africa correspondent Cara Anna has been determined to report what happened in the virtually sealed-off region. She has chased every lead through relentless source work, building contacts and networks as she reported one exclusive after another.

For this latest exclusive, Anna had been hearing rumors of a massacre in the holy city of Axum. When phone service returned to the city recently, she was able to reach the deacon of the Axum church who described in disturbing detail the mass killings by Eritrean troops. He believes some 800 people were killed that weekend at the church and around the city, and that thousands in Axum have died in all. Anna found other survivors who corroborated the deacon’s story and offered additional details.

Her reporting scooped all other media and even human rights groups who had been investigating Axum. It also drew rare and surprisingly quick responses from the governments of both Eritrea and Ethiopia.

For determined and resourceful reporting to break through the secrecy surrounding the Tigray conflict and expose the atrocity at Axum, Anna wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 04, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation: Toxic chemicals lie beneath Fort Ord

spent a year investigating the possible health effects of groundwater and soil contamination under Fort Ord, a decommissioned U.S. Army base on the central California coast. A tip led AP to a Facebook group of hundreds of soldiers who had lived at the base and developed rare forms of cancer they believe were caused by contamination.The complex, all-formats story included in-depth interviews with those likely suffering health consequences of exposure at the base, which is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the most polluted places in the nation. The team revealed a discredited 25-year-old study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found no “likely” risk at the site, and documents showing the Army knew toxic chemicals had been improperly dumped at Fort Ord for decades, but took pains not to let that information become public. Read more

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Nov. 05, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Distinctive AP photo project depicts Israelis, Palestinians sharing summer on distant shores

For years, AP’s Khalil Hamra and Oded Balilty have captured the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through their award-winning photography. This summer they turned their lenses away from the violence and onto a place of refuge for both sides: the stretch of beaches along the Mediterranean Sea.

With Balilty making images from Tel Aviv and Hamra from Gaza, the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers produced an evocative essay showing Palestinians and Israelis basking on the beach, separated by 70 kilometers (40 miles) and free from fear of the next eruption of fighting. The photographers have met just once, years ago, but communicated online about what they were seeing, made pictures, shared them and then set out to find similar ones from their respective sides.

The immersive presentation includes an engaging video revealing more about the photographers and how they applied their craft.

For a strikingly unique, creative collaboration that brought, in Balilty’s words, “something positive” from a part of the world beset by conflict, Hamra and Balilty earn this week’s Best of the Week — First Winner award.

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April 10, 2020

Best of the States

Only on AP: The delicate subject of funerals, now held at a distance

When a South Carolina Army veteran died last month, his family decided to invite The Associated Press to take one of the few spots the funeral home would allow for people at the service. His loved ones knew this funeral and their mourning would look different from the usual rituals, and they wanted to share that with other families faced with grief in the coronavirus outbreak. 

North Carolina-based journalist Sarah Blake Morgan took on the delicate task. She shot photos and video from an appropriate social distance, not only to stay safe but out of respect for the family. In her images and words, she painted a picture of a ritual that once brought people comfort but now brings new tension and challenges. 

For her sensitive work delivering a moving Only on AP package on a human angle of the virus outbreak, Morgan wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 06, 2020

Best of the States

AP explores impact of Trump immigration policies; rare interviews with Stephen Miller, migrants

President Donald Trump has altered the immigration system arguably more than any U.S. president, meaning this year’s election could have major implications for future immigration policy and for those trying to enter or stay in the U.S. In the run-up to the election, AP’s immigration team unraveled four key policies that have upended lives: reduced refugee numbers, restrictions on international students, a virtual shutdown of asylum and the curbing of legal immigration. 

The journalists used unmatched source work, data reporting and AP’s global footprint, scoring key on-the-record interviews, from would-be refugees stuck overseas to Stephen Miller, Trump’s lead immigration adviser.

For timely, in-depth coverage of immigration issues that likely hang in the balance as the election is decided, the team of Spagat, Tareen, Snow, Watson, Bull and Akour wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 25, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

All-formats team dominates coverage of Nairobi terror attack

From the first blasts, gunfire and panicked phone calls, the Nairobi bureau immediately assumed a terror attack, aggressively mobilizing resources in a textbook example of cross-format journalism that put the AP ahead on every element of a major breaking story: an extremist attack on a hotel complex that left 21 people dead, in addition to the five attackers.

Senior video producer Khaled Kazziha called freelance video journalist Joe Mwihia, who slipped into the scene with Kenyan special forces, filming exclusive footage as officers cleared rooms, guns drawn, and ran down rumors of a grenade. His three hours of exclusive reporting earned him the byline on the text story based on his detailed contributions.

Meanwhile, staff video journalist Josphat Kasire rushed to the scene with a LiveU and quickly scooped competitors with the first live shot showing burning cars, injured people, survivors fleeing in droves and witness accounts. His compelling footage became the heart of the text story, and the live images continued overnight as the attack unfolded.

Contributing to the outstanding video coverage were freelance cameraman Idi Ali Juma, freelance camera assistant Moses Ndungu and freelance producers Geoffrey Kaviti and Desmond Tiro.

“Sheer bravery,” international editor Ian Phillips said later of the team’s work.

Around the same time, Nairobi photographers Ben Curtis and Khalil Senosi captured gripping images of people fleeing the mayhem and security forces aiming weapons at attackers, among their standout photos.

The play for the photos, video and text was off the charts, including major client Sky News running live and packaged videos on a day busy with Brexit news.

For their formidable breaking news coverage across all formats, the Nairobi team of Kazziha, Curtis, Senosi, Mwihia, Kasire, Ali Juma, Tiro, Kavita and Ndungu wins AP’s Best of the Week.

Special Citation

The Best of the AP committee has also awarded a special lifetime citation to Libya freelance photographer and video journalist Mohamed Ben Khalifa, who died Jan. 19 when the military convoy with which he was traveling came under missile fire in southern Tripoli.

The committee honored Ben Khalifa for the body of his work, carried out with integrity and courage for The Associated Press and his other media clients.

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Dec. 14, 2018

Best of the States

Years of planning pay off in ‘picture perfect’ coverage of Bush funeral events

For more than a decade, Washington photo editor Jon Elswick has negotiated with the Department of Defense over coverage plans for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, while Houston photojournalist David Phillip fostered a relationship with the Bush family and their spokesman to secure AP’s shooting positions for the eventual funeral events.

Those relationships were crucial to arranging and executing coverage, paving the way for more than two dozen staffers to parachute into Washington, Houston and College Station, Texas, where they produced outstanding photos in real time and for the history books.

Among the highlights: Photographer Morry Gash fired a remote-controlled camera that captured a stunning bird’s-eye view of the U.S. Capitol rotunda during visitation and services, and David Phillip negotiated to shoot inside the railroad car carrying the coffin as the funeral train passed through Texas. Phillip called it “the most incredible event I have ever covered.”

The photo coverage was part of an impressive dayslong cross-format effort by scores of AP staff across the country and globe that included hours of live video and spot and breaking text, video, audio and graphics coverage that explored Bush’s life and presidency from every angle.

For exceptional planning and execution on one of the largest news events of the year, this week’s Best of the States goes to the team of photo staff covering the Bush funeral.

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June 24, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

A week at war: AP resets with spot, enterprise Ukraine exclusives

delivered must-read, must-watch stories, adding new layers of depth to AP’s already pacesetting journalism as the Russian invasion of Ukraine grinds into its fifth month.AP journalists in the region, seeking to dispel the notion voiced by Western leaders that global audiences are beginning to experience “war fatigue,” recognized the need for a shift in focus from increasingly incremental developments. They pivoted swiftly to impactful big-picture views of the conflict, all while ensuring competitive coverage of major spot news.Ranging from analysis of the war’s shifting front lines to essential multiformat reporting on longer-term repercussions — the legacy of land mines, the plight of Ukrainian youth, the effect on global food security, among others — and including exclusive video and photos from front-line positions, the AP provided clients and readers with an exceptional body of work over the course of seven days.Read more

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March 26, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Sensitive reporting from Greece tells harrowing story of migrant father charged in son’s shipwreck death

Among the human tragedies stemming from irregular migration, an Afghan boy’s drowning leapt out at Athens-based bureau chief Elena Becatoros when Greek authorities took the unprecedented step of charging his father with child endangerment, for embarking on the perilous journey from Turkey to Greece with his son. 

Led by Becatoros, the AP’s all-formats team in Athens tracked down the father, then spent weeks using formidable people skills and patience to gently persuade the grieving man to recount how his 5-year-old son slipped from his arms and drowned when the boat carrying migrants smashed against rocks and broke in two. The journalists also overcame the father’s initial refusal to appear in photos or on video, while another survivor added depth and detail too painful for the father to describe.

For their dogged pursuit and sensitive telling of this heart-wrenching story that puts human faces to the grim statistics on migration, the team of Becatoros, senior producer Theodora Tongas, video journalist Srdjan Nedeljkovic, freelancer Michalis Svarnias, chief photographer Thanassis Stavrakis and newsperson Derek Gatopoulos wins AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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