March 16, 2018

Best of the States

AP analysis: NRA contributes to schools; few willing to decline the money

Major corporations were cutting ties with the National Rifle Association after the massacre at a Florida high school, but what about schools that had received grants from the gun organization? It was a natural follow to the Associated Press’ exclusive story that the alleged shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had belonged to a school JROTC program that received NRA grants.

Data journalist Meghan Hoyer dug through tax records to identify the schools that had received more than $7 million in NRA grants. Education beat team member Collin Binkley began calling recipients around the country to see if they would forgo the money. Few said they would.

For their work breaking news on a story that everyone is reporting and providing data that allowed AP members to localize the story, Binkley and Hoyer will receive this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Sept. 17, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Texas farmers race to preserve land in Dust Bowl zone

used the Freedom of Information Act and on-the-ground reporting in the Texas Panhandle to reveal a new Dust Bowl brewing on farmland above the nation’s biggest aquifer — and the halting efforts to stave it off.Farmers, communities and researchers have long known that groundwater in the Ogallala aquifer was steadily declining due to irrigation and might not recover. But while researching a story about disappearing prairie grasslands, Webber discovered that both issues were colliding to create another challenge: As climate change is making rainfall scarcer, farmland is blowing away just as it did during the Dust Bowl.Webber, a member of AP’s global environment team, talked to researchers who warned of huge farmland losses, and she traveling to the Panhandle town of Muleshoe where she told the story of farmers planting native grasses to preserve terrain as their wells struggle to produce water. She also reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had identified a Dust Bowl zone where farmers would receive extra money for grasslands conservation, and spent months prying loose government data showing that not all farmers were embracing the program.Webber’s comprehensive and engagingly written narrative, with photos by freelancer Mark Rogers, vividly captured the new Dust Bowl threatening an important agricultural region, and the efforts to keep farmers on their land. https://aplink.news/6or

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March 04, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Unmatched AP reporting on unclaimed Biden COVID tests

was the first to report that although the Biden administration’s plan to distribute free COVID tests to American households was announced with great fanfare, less than half of the available test kits had been delivered. His story, based on interviews with the White House, showed how the plan to mail out 500 million free COVID tests had met with lackluster demand as virus cases plummeted. Read more

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May 11, 2018

Best of the States

Illinois coroner to poor: Pay $1000 or county keeps remains

The tip that led to an exclusive by Chicago reporter Sara Burnett seemed outlandish: When poor people couldn't afford to bury their loved ones, a western Illinois coroner was cremating the bodies and keeping the ashes until the family paid $1,000. He’s continued the policy even though the state has resumed a program to pay for the funerals.

Burnett reported on a woman whose ex-husband and father of their three children died. They were both on disability and she couldn’t come up with the money, leaving the family to hold a memorial service with just a photograph and an empty container. Wendy Smith said she felt the policy was unfair. "I just think they pick on the people that are poor."

The coroner told Burnett that the policy started after the state, which for years has faced billion-dollar deficits, announced it was too broke to pay for indigent funerals and burials – shifting the cost to funeral homes and county coroners. Further, the coroner claimed only one woman was unhappy. But Burnett tracked down other families, and had a back-and-forth with the state about how much money was appropriated for the burial program

Within days, the state comptroller, citing The Associated Press story, weighed in that the coroner's practice was "disgusting behavior" and called for a ramped-up campaign to alert local officials that state-funded burial is again available.

For illuminating a questionable practice and how the state’s budget crisis continues to cause pain for the poor and vulnerable, Burnett earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 08, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP hours ahead on long-awaited immigration asylum decision

broke the news hours ahead of the competition that the Biden administration would end the asylum limits at the U.S.-Mexico border that were put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.For more than a year, the administration faced growing questions — and pressure — over when it would end a Trump-era rule that has resulted in migrants being expelled at the border without a chance to seek humanitarian protection.The clean beat was the product of years of source development and seamless leveraging of reporting from the White House, the investigative team and the immigration team. The spot news break was bracketed by a series of smart stories showcasing AP’s depth of expertise on immigration matters.Read more

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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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April 30, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

In all formats: Nurse battles back from COVID, lung transplant

produced a powerful and intimate narrative of one nurse’s precarious fight to survive COVID-19 — including the double lung transplant that saved her life.National writer Geller had wanted to find a health care worker recovering after being incapacitated by COVID. He started out calling hospitals around the country with lung transplant and COVID long-hauler programs, finally gettting a referral from Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which had performed the first and, by far, the most COVID lung transplants. They put him in touch with nurse Kari Wegg, who at one point before her transplant had been in a coma with little chance of recovery. Wegg got winded during their first phone conversation, a couple of weeks after she returned home, but she and her husband were open to telling their story. The AP trio would spend large parts of four days in the family’s Indiana home. The result was a riveting read with compelling visuals by Arbogast and Crawford, whose video was edited by multiformat journalist Allen Breed. The package won terrific online play, including the Chicago Tribune and Indiana news sites, with remarkably high reader engagement.https://bit.ly/3vtLoMDhttps://bit.ly/3gQXye6

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April 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP traces black Americans’ history of mistrust toward the medical field

As New York, Chicago, New Orleans and other cities with large black populations began to emerge as hot spots for COVID-19, reporters Aaron Morrison and Jay Reeves decided it would be relevant to examine how black Americans have historically mistrusted the medical field.

The pair connected the skepticism in the black community in part to the aftermath of the notorious “Tuskegee Study,” in which roughly 600 poor black Alabama men were left untreated for syphilis to track the disease’s progress. The secret program was exposed in 1972 and ended, but its effects linger, well beyond Alabama.

With photography by Bebeto Matthews, the story received heavy play as the nation wrestled with the high rate of coronavirus infections among the black community.

For setting the AP apart with a timely examination of black Americans’ mistrust of the medical field, Morrison, Reeves and Matthews win this week’s Best of the States award. 

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Jan. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Au pairs win $65.5M in suit over US pay

The Au Pair cultural exchange program provides U.S. families with low-cost child care, but former au pairs said they were also asked to feed chickens, help families move and do gardening – all while working at below minimum wage. That prompted a judge to grant class-action status to 11 former au pairs last February and drew the attention of Denver breaking news staffer Colleen Slevin, who spent the next 11 months learning all about the world of au pairs and conducting interviews, such as one with a former au pair who said she felt like a slave.

Slevin also built a relationship with the attorneys for the au pairs and negotiated with them for exclusive notice when the $65.5 million settlement was filed last week.

The result was an APNewsBreak on the settlement that went unmatched for hours and received play around the world.

For her perseverance in building sources and tracking a story of international interest while covering breaking news over a three-state region, Slevin wins the week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 21, 2017

Best of the States

Reporters spotlight burgeoning crisis: More kids entering foster care due to the opioid epidemic

They are the littlest victims of the opioid crisis: Tens of thousands of children forced into foster care because of a parent’s drug use. On Nov. 30, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released data from 2016 showing new foster care cases involving parents using drugs have hit the highest point in more than three decades of record-keeping.

Less than two weeks after that data was released, the AP transmitted a package of stories focused on two of the states with the biggest one-year increases: Indiana and Georgia.

The project came about thanks to an analysis begun months earlier by Washington-based data journalist Meghan Hoyer. Hoyer worked with an analyst to access exclusive county-level data on foster care entries over the past 15 years, giving the AP a unique, comprehensive and localized look at the issues surrounding children entering the system.

That data allowed New York-based national writers Matt Sedensky to focus his reporting in Indiana, where parental drug use was increasingly cited as the reason for foster care removals. Sedensky convinced the chief juvenile court judge to grant him access to courtrooms and files normally shielded from public view. He also worked to get a caseworker to let him follow her as she visited families caring for children removed from their birth parents’ custody, and spent time with adoptive families, medical professionals and others affected.

A second story, by national writer David Crary, also based in New York, zoomed in on one mother who had lost her three daughters to foster care and her battle to overcome addiction and win them back. In interviews and email exchanges over several months, mother of three Kim Silvers told wrenching details of her experience – including an interview at her joyous graduation ceremony after completing the program.

For providing moving insight into the plight of the youngest victims of the opioid crisis and the struggle of some families to break free, Hoyer, Sedensky and Crary share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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March 09, 2017

Best of the States

Minnesota: Projecting the GOP health plan's statewide impact

It’s no secret that the repeal and replacement of Obamacare could have a significant impact both on those holding insurance and on the finances of states that have embraced the health care law. But over the last few months, few details had emerged on what that precise impact might be.

In an “Only on AP” story, St. Paul, Minnesota, statehouse reporter Kyle Potter revealed that Minnesota officials were bracing for additional costs that could reach $6 billion by 2029 to maintain a low-income health care program that covers more than 900,000 state residents. For providing one of the first concrete glimpses into the possible ramifications states envision, Potter wins this week's Best of States recognition.

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April 14, 2017

Best of the States

Brown reveals thousands of safety defects on oil train lines in 44 states

As domestic production of oil has increased in recent years, Billings, Montana, Correspondent Matthew Brown closely followed derailments of trains carrying volatile crude. A train from North Dakota jumped the track, exploded and killed 47 people in Canada in 2013. In Brown’s own state, a derailment near the town of Culbertson spilled 27,000 gallons of oil in 2015. Last year, Brown reported that more than 800 potential safety violations were discovered on Union Pacific freight lines after a fiery June 2016 oil train derailment in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

But Brown wanted to know how widespread the problem really was. By pushing repeatedly for public records and working with a longtime source, Brown was able to exclusively report the results of a two-year federal inspection program for the nation’s oil trains – and he revealed that some safety defects uncovered where similar to ones blamed in derailments that triggered huge fires or oil spills in Oregon, Virginia, Montana and elsewhere. For his AP NewsBreak, Brown wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 28, 2019

Best of the States

AP Analysis: EPA data says US air quality is slipping; EPA regulation could make it worse

Washington science writer Seth Borenstein knew the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was not going to notify anyone when it posted new data on the nation’s air quality for 2018, but he knew where it would be posted. He also knew that the Trump administration was poised to replace an Obama-era clean-air rule with a new regulation that was friendlier to coal-fired power plants, so he kept checking for the agency’s data.

When the data finally showed up, Borenstein teamed with New York-based Health and Science data journalist Nicky Forster to evaluate the data, put it in context and run it by scientists. Forster even pointed out errors that the EPA was forced to correct.

Their persistence made AP the first to report that the annual number of days of poor air quality in the U.S. had increased for the second year in a row, after decades of improvement. The story ran on the eve of the EPA’s announcement of its loosened regulation, undermining the rationale for the new standards with the government’s own numbers. Trump’s new rule, experts told the AP, could turn what is so far a modest backslide into a deadly trend.

For diligent reporting and sophisticated analysis to hold a federal agency accountable for its data and regulatory policy, Borenstein and Forster earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 28, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP team exposes perilous conditions and spurs action for 250 kids at Border Patrol lockup

First word came from a trusted source cultivated by AP investigative reporter Garance Burke – Customs and Border Protection was holding 250 migrant infants and children at a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, without enough food, water or basic sanitation. “Are you available today?” the source asked, and AP swung into action.

El Paso, Texas, correspondent Cedar Attanasio met with attorneys who had just interviewed the children, while investigative reporter Martha Mendoza set to work contacting lawmakers and government officials. Burke, with the help of attorneys, found parents of the young children who were locked inside and inconsolable. The trio worked through the night, drafting a story focused on the fact that girls as young as 10 were caring for a toddler handed to them by a guard.

The story had enormous impact almost immediately. National outlets scrambled to match the story, citing AP extensively. The reporters’ next-day story was about lawmakers’ calls for change, and on Monday Mendoza and Burke again broke news: The Trump administration was moving most of the children out of Clint.

For a highly significant scoop that dominated the news cycle on multiple days and returned world attention to the border crisis, Mendoza, Burke and Attanasio win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Dec. 20, 2016

Best of the States

Strong source work nets APNewsBreak in self-driving car showdown between Uber and Calif. officials

Los Angeles reporter Justin Pritchard has made the fledgling “autonomous vehicle” industry a sub-beat and has developed sourcing that has produced a number of significant beats for AP. When he heard Uber would begin picking up San Francisco passengers in its self-driving cars, he saw a confrontation brewing with California regulators and the opportunity for another scoop.

Uber had decided not to abide by a requirement to get a permit before starting its service in its hometown. Uber’s aggressive approach in San Francisco crashed a delicately crafted regulatory truce _ the 20 other companies testing prototypes on public roads applied for the permit before hitting the streets, and agreed to report crashes and other safety metrics.

The cars Uber was bringing to San Francisco seemed just the kind that would need a permit, but the leader of Uber’s self-driving program ­_ Anthony Levandowski _told Pritchard in an interview the day before the launch that they didn’t. He argued that because a person was behind the wheel to monitor the car, it was not advanced enough to need a permit.

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July 19, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Outdated software makes even new election systems vulnerable to hackers

The source’s text said there was something “really troubling” to pass along.

Tami Abdollah, Washington national security reporter, had just returned to covering cybersecurity – a topic she has followed off-and-on since 2015. What the source told her was big: New election systems purchased across the United States were running on outdated Windows 7 systems, making them vulnerable to hackers.

It was a great tip, but it required a lot of work to determine the scope of the problem. The result was an exclusive text and video package that received huge play and raised alarm among state and national lawmakers. Abdollah revealed that the vast majority of 10,000 election jurisdictions nationwide use Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts.

For combining source reporting with meticulous research to break major news on one of the biggest issues ahead of the 2020 election, Abdollah wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 24, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Military prosecutors sent tracking software to defense team, reporter

Los Angeles courts reporter Brian Melley was enjoying a Sunday afternoon when a longtime legal source reached out with a remarkable tip in the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL facing a court martial on charges he murdered a teenage Islamic State fighter in Iraq in 2017.

The source told Melley that military prosecutors, frustrated by leaks in the case, planted tracking software in emails sent to defense lawyers and a reporter. The unsophisticated software was quickly discovered by the recipients.

Melley worked up the story, including an interview with a military law expert who thought the tactic was ethically, legally and intellectually dubious. His story hit the wire the next morning, quickly gaining traction online. AP was widely credited everywhere it appeared and no major media outlet matched it.

For giving AP an exclusive on an important military justice story, Melley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 21, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

​AP analysis: Legal sales of recreational pot impact medical marijuana users

As states that permit sales of only medical marijuana transition to legalizing recreational use of pot, Portland reporter Gillian Flaccus noticed a trend in Oregon: most medical pot dispensaries were closing. She asked why, and what were the effects on patients?

Teaming with Los Angeles-based data reporter Angel Kastanis, the AP set out to answer that question. Kastanis had spent six months compiling a first-of-its-kind national data set on medical marijuana patients, and Flaccus used it to produce an exclusive all-formats package showing that when states legalize pot for all, medical marijuana patients often are left with fewer, and costlier, options.

Flaccus’ story was one of the most popular on AP with strong reader engagement. And Kastanis plans to update the data set twice a year, allowing AP and its subscribing data customers to track industry trends.

For making the AP the go-to source for data trends on medical marijuana and shining a light on the unexpected negative consequences for patients of legalizing recreational pot use, Flaccus and Kastanis earn AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Dec. 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Preparation, sourcing pay off with standout vaccine coverage

worked nonstop for weeks to gain access to the launch of the COVID-19 vaccine campaign, the largest vaccination program in U.S. history. They reached out to old sources and spent weeks cultivating new ones, breaking down barriers to ensure that AP was positioned to cover the story – from trucks rolling with vaccine deliveries to the first jabs in arms.The source reporting paid off. Tips were aggressively followed and coordination between video, photo and regional news desks led to robust back-to-back all-formats pieces on the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, including healthcare workers receiving injections. Video went live from several hospitals that were among the first to vaccinate front-line workers.Play was unmatched. The vaccine shipment story appeared appeared on more than 2,500 news sites and landed on at least 69 front pages including the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit News, the Kansas City Star and others.The story of the initial vaccinations appeared on at least 1,300 news sites and 64 front pages, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Orange County Register and others. And The New York Times used AP photos as its lead image on consecutive days.https://bit.ly/3nYf15rhttps://bit.ly/3hdKNIUhttps://bit.ly/3mKf57o

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Vaccination help wanted, logistics a plus

delivered a widely played national story about a pandemic phenomenon no other news outlet had reported: People with strong logistics skills, including fast food managers, concert promoters and even wedding planners, were being sought and pressed into service to help with COVID-19 testing and vaccination programs.Kole, AP’s New England editor, was intrigued after learning that the Boston Marathon race director had been hired to run mass vaccination sites at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park, and set out to find what other fields were being tapped to fight the pandemic. His story on the demand for operations and event experience was tweeted and retweeted several thousand times and played prominently across the U.S. https://bit.ly/3cFgb2I

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