July 23, 2021

Best of the States

Smart prep, sharp execution put AP out front on obit of prominent civil rights leader Gloria Richardson

Among the toughest obits to write on the fly are those for people who were hugely influential but rarely heard from in their later years. AP’s Brian Witte, however, was fully prepared when he got an exclusive tip on a Friday evening that prominent civil rights figure Gloria Richardson had died at 99.

Witte, AP’s Annapolis, Maryland, correspondent, used carefully crafted, detailed prep and source work to break news of the death of the first Black woman to lead a sustained desegregation movement outside the South. Thanks in part to a striking 1963 AP photo of Richardson pushing away the bayonet of a National Guardsman, she came to symbolize fearlessness among civil rights activists.

Witte’s prep included an interview with Richardson’s biographer, building enough trust for the author to email him with first word of her death. He persuaded the biographer to share family contacts, scoring quotes that forced many outlets to cite AP. Witte’s story, linked with archival photos, hit the wire early Friday evening, beating all competition and receiving strong play.

For insightful, resourceful reporting that puts Richardson's significant legacy back in the public eye, Witte earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 25, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Sharp rise in reports of sexual assault at US military academies

broke news ahead of a Pentagon announcement: Sexual assaults reported at U.S. military academies have risen sharply.Longtime Defense Department reporter Baldor used a tip, source work and rigorous reporting to determine the closely guarded numbers for all the elite academies. And when the DOD asked her to hold the story, suggesting her information might be wrong, she stood firm. Baldor’s AP story moved more than an hour before the official announcement, her numbers confirmed by the Pentagon. Read more

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Jan. 21, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Teamwork delivers sharp coverage of synagogue hostage standoff

responded quickly Saturday, both in-person and remotely, to reports of a hostage standoff at a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue. Well-sourced reporting and old-fashioned door-knocking led to revelatory journalism as the story unfolded. The standoff ended with the hostage-taker’s death as an FBI SWAT team rushed the building.Dallas reporter Bleiberg was the first staffer on the ground, staying on-scene for more than eight hours, working in official updates and sourcing information that moved the story forward.Washington-based federal law enforcement reporters Tucker and Balsamo quickly jumped in, using their own sources for updates on the hostages, the gunman and the Pakistani neuroscientist he was demanding be freed from a federal prison. In what proved to be a smart decision, the AP used restraint when the gunman referred himself as a “brother” to federal inmate Aafia Siddiqui; other news organizations had to backpedal as that story began to unravel. But AP did produce a first day explainer on Siddiqui and her case.Dallas staffer Jaime Stengle and Austin-based colleague Paul J. Weber made significant contributions to the coverage, and New York photo editor Don King wasted no time picking up early photos from member photographers at the scene, even as Dallas staff photographer Tony Gutierrez hurried to Colleyville.The morning after the final three hostages escaped, Bleiberg knocked on the most important door of the weekend, and it paid off, as he was able to speak briefly with Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who has been praised by other congregants, security specialists and law enforcement with his handling of the ordeal.From Saturday onward, AP reporters around the U.S. and overseas helped to deliver more tips, interviews and sourced information, producing stories that stayed in the AP News top 10 for the three-day weekend.https://aplink.news/ofmhttps://aplink.news/1iwhttps://aplink.news/k5whttps://aplink.news/s07https://aplink.news/gquhttps://aplink.video/oiy

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Dec. 17, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: US envoy secretly visited Venezuela on hostage mission

combined sleuthing and great source reporting to break a story that the Biden administration was trying to keep secret: that the U.S. government's top hostage negotiator was secretly visiting Venezuela as part of an ongoing effort to secure the release of jailed Americans, including American oil executives known as the Citgo 6.The AP pair has followed the case since the 2017 detention of the oil executives. When Latin America correspondent Goodman learned that a U.S. government flight was traveling toward Venezuela, he flagged it to Washington-based national security reporter Tucker, who quickly confirmed with sources that the plane was carrying Roger Carstens, the U.S. government’s special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. They spent the next several days reporting the details of Carstens’ visit. Goodman pressed multiple sources to learn Carstens visited American detainees behind bars and had also met with aides to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.Tucker, who has a history of reporting on hostage and detainee cases, then landed an exclusive interview with Carstens after he was safely out of Venezuela. The envoy shared first-hand details of his visit with the prisoners.The result was a vivid tale of the first known face-to-face outreach in Venezuela by a senior U.S. official since at least 2019. It earned widespread attention from CNN, which gave AP prominent credit, and other major news outlets. The story was even bigger in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin and South America. And while others eventually reported their own stories, they did not get Carstens. His lone interview was with AP. https://aplink.news/i7u

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Nov. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Collaboration across continents keeps AP ahead on journalist’s release

teamed up to break the news that American journalist Danny Fenster was free from prison in Myanmar and heading home via Qatar.Former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardon had unexpectedly announced the release during a routine call, setting the AP, which had covered Fenster’s detention closely, in motion. Building on close contacts they’d nurtured with Richardson’s team, AP coordinated with its bureaus across continents to meet Fenster and Richardson en route to deliver visuals, video and text in advance of the competition.Bangkok reporter Grant Peck, alerted to the release by Southeast Asia news director Kiko Rosario,broke the news that Fenster was free and traveling with Richardson. Peck and Asian-Pacific correspondent David Rising anchored the fast-moving story, then Asia news director Adam Schreck worked with his Persian Gulf counterpart, Jon Gambrell, who arranged for a freelancer to get comments and visuals of Fenster in Qatar.The Asia team also coordinated with New York. where photographers Craig Ruttle and Seth Wenig captured images of Fenster’s arrival. Reporter Bobby Calvan, with video journalists Ted Shaffrey and Joe Frederick, then secured interviews with Fenster and Richardson after their news conference.https://aplink.news/d62https://aplink.news/5zghttps://aplink.video/21fhttps://aplink.video/7rx

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Oct. 01, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP wins exclusive access to notorious federal jail in NY

secured rare access inside the federal jail in Manhattan where Jeffrey Epstein killed himself, reporting first-hand about the structural mess and squalid conditions. The AP pair had previously reported that the infamous Metropolitan Correctional Center, built in the 1970s, is slated for at least temporary closure. Still, they wanted more.Previous requests had been denied, but Balsamo and Sisak relied on years of deep source work and weeks of negotiations with the Justice Department and the BOP, finally winning access inside the MCC in Manhattan and the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where a majority of the inmates will be moved.Balsamo, AP’s lead Justice Department reporter who was the first journalist to cover the resumption of federal executions, came away from MCC with details like: “One cell is off-limits because the door is now unstable — likely because of the constant pounding over the years from the prisoners inside on the cinder block walls.” New York-based law enforcement reporter Sisak also reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents and judicial orders that detailed the conditions inmates had faced and researched the history of the building.The result was a vividly written and reported exclusive unmatched by any other news agency. The story was picked up by New York media and news outlets across the country. https://aplink.news/xck

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Aug. 20, 2021

Best of the States

AP finds colleges concerned as some students turn to counterfeit vaccine cards

It started with a tip.

When a college student mentioned that fellow unvaccinated students were getting fake COVID-19 vaccine cards in order to attend in-person classes, AP global investigations intern Roselyn Romero remembered that she'd seen an account on Instagram offering fake cards for $25 each.

Romero began searching social media platforms and talked to college students, faculty, administrators and health officials. What she found was a cottage industry offering to accommodate people who refuse to get vaccinated but need documentation saying that they’ve had the shots.

Her deeply reported story had nearly 250,000 pageviews on AP News and was used by hundreds of news outlets, including online and print front pages. She was also interviewed by NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer responded by calling for a multiagency crackdown on the counterfeit cards.

For having a major national impact with her first AP byline, Roselyn Romero wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 30, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

50 years after the US declared war on drugs, AP examines racial disparities

used data and on-the-ground reporting to explore the fallout of America’s war on drugs, launched 50 years ago this summer by President Richard Nixon.Race and ethnicity reporter Morrison, joined by data journalist Kastanis and multiformat journalist Breed, set out to tell a story of the toll that harsh prison sentences and lifetime restrictions post-release have taken on Black and Latino Americans, their families and their communities.To do so, the AP reviewed federal and state data, finding that the Black incarceration rate in America surged from about 600 per 100,000 people in 1970 to 1,808 in 2000, and the rate for the Latino population grew from 208 per 100,000 people to 615, while the white incarceration rate grew at a more modest rate, from 103 per100,000 people to 242.But beyond the data, the AP trio put names and a face to those caught up in this grinding war with no clear winners but many losers. The story’s lead subject, Alton Lucas, could have had a life of touring nationally and internationally with his DJ friend, but instead discovered drugs and the drug trade at the height of the war on drugs. As a crack cocaine addict involved in trafficking, the North Carolina man faced decades in prison at a time when the drug abuse and violence plaguing Black communities were not seen as the public health issue that opioids are today. The combination of Morrison’s deep reporting, Breed’s photos and video, and Kastanis’ data analysis, accompanied by graphics, resulted in a newsy, nuanced package, rich with historical context.https://aplink.news/k6jhttps://aplink.video/017

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July 30, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP gets first look inside China’s largest detention center, breaks news on Uyghur incarceration

The sprawling Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center in Xinjiang, China, is the largest such facility in China (possibly the world), holding perhaps 10,000 or more and embodying the plight of the Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities. Western news organizations have only been able to report from the outside. But the Beijing-based team of enterprise journalist Dake Kang, photographer Mark Schiefelbein and news director Ken Moritsugu managed to get a tour, making the AP the first Western news organization to report inside the facility.

They delivered a vivid package on life inside the detention center, from numbered and tagged Uyghurs sitting ramrod straight to the instructions on force-feeding in the medical room. The journalists also revealed a disturbing new trend: China is moving from the temporary detention of Uyghurs to more permanent mass incarceration of people who have committed no real crime.

The story topped AP’s reader engagement for the week and drew comment from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who called China’s repression of the Uyghurs “horrific.”

For bringing the world rare insight into the detention centers where China holds Uyghurs, the team of Kang, Schiefelbein and Moritsugu earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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July 24, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Inside the first major outbreak at an ICE detention center

The reason the warden at a large San Diego detention center gave for not wearing masks amid the pandemic was astonishing – and likely helped fuel a large outbreak.

“Well, you can’t wear the mask because we don’t want to scare the employees and we don’t want to scare the inmates and detainees,” a guard recalled being told.

That’s just the lead of the story by AP’s Elliot Spagat, who landed the first detailed interviews with employees and detainees about the situation at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. Spagat also reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents and government data to provide the most complete account yet of the first major outbreak at a U.S. immigration facility.

For giving readers a behind-the-scenes look at some of the factors that surely contributed to the virus outbreak, and for holding the warden and other officials accountable, Spagat wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 23, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

South Africa team delivers in all formats as violence spreads

drew on experience and stamina for comprehensive all-formats coverage of the worst civil unrest in the country's post-apartheid history.Starting with a weeklong stakeout and fast, accurate reporting on the midnight arrest of former President Jacob Zuma for contempt of court, the story quickly shifted: Zuma’s supporters burned trucks on a main highway, blocking it and severing the port city Durban from other parts of the country — the first sign of worse trouble to come.With violence spreading to various locations through KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, leaving scores of people dead, the crew of staff and freelancers delivered strong, distinctive visuals, including multiple video edits, live video of rioting at a Soweto mall, drone images and dramatic photos despite attacks on journalists.Amid the chaos, multiple reports of violence, deaths, looting were deftly edited day after day into a comprehensive report that also provided political and societal context referencing South Africa’s underlying economic problems. The story “‘I was in tears’: South Africans take stand against rioting” stands out in the week’s strong body of work.https://aplink.news/qqjhttps://aplink.news/436https://aplink.news/brxhttps://aplink.video/q6ghttps://aplink.video/uchhttps://aplink.video/6uk

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July 23, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Dedicated source work produces rare video as Tigray forces retake regional capital

Through months of patient contacts, Nairobi-based senior producer Khaled Kazziha built trust with an Ethiopian freelancer who promised AP first refusal on video and photos he made as events unfolded in the embattled Tigray region. That promise was fulfilled recently with images that included celebrations as Tigrayan forces retook the regional capital Mekele, prisoners of war in detention and an on-camera interview with Tigray's leader, among other rare scenes.

Kazziha had trained the freelancer and knew he was in Mekele when Ethiopian government forces fled Tigray, allowing the region's former leaders, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, to return. But with communication and transportation blocked, Kazziha had to wait almost two weeks for the footage to reach him. He then worked tirelessly with colleagues in Addis Ababa to cut multiple video packages that have been widely used by AP’s global video clients and platforms.

“This is a reminder that a journalist never knows whose help might prove critically useful in the future, and training and teaching people wherever one goes ... especially in the world’s trouble spots,” said Andy Drake, deputy director of newsgathering for Africa.

For exceptional collaboration and video production work that led to multiple world exclusives, Kazziha and the video freelancer — unnamed for his security — share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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April 23, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP uses sourcing, deep reporting to break news of Madoff death

teamed up to break the news of the prison death of Bernie Madoff, the pair delivering a deeply reported obituary on the notorious Ponzi-schemer whose massive securities swindle wiped out people’s fortunes and ruined charities.Washington-based Justice Department reporter Balsamo called his editor Colleen Long early last Wednesday, calmly asking, “Hey, I’m driving. Can you help me with something? Bernie Madoff is dead.” Balsamo’s deep network of sources had tipped him off, and within minutes an alert moved, followed by a short story. Balsamo and New York reporter Hays worked to fill out the story, Hays layering it with details gleaned from experience covering Madoff and his trial. AP was ahead of the competition by 25 minutes to an hour, and many major outlets — including ABC, CBS and Fox — relied on the AP pair’s quick, exclusive reporting.https://bit.ly/3sGlP9mhttps://apnews.com/hub/bernard-madoff

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Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP exposes likely superspreader at federal executions

have covered the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, as well as every federal execution of the last year. That reporting and insight led them to the stunning realization that the Trump administration’s unprecedented string of executions likely became a superspreader event at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.Tarm first learned about the case spread when he heard that he had been exposed — although the Bureau of Prisons did not notify him or others attending the executions. Through rigorous, painstaking reporting, the three Michaels discovered that fully 70% of death row inmates had COVID during the 13 executions in six months, but the Bureau of Prisons felt it wasn’t their responsibility to ensure that everyone was told about the spread or whether their employees were following protocols.The trio’s riveting story detailed how cases spread rapidly through the federal prison complex and likely helped spread infections around the country during a critical time in the pandemic as deaths were skyrocketing. The Friday evening scoop lit up social media and was a top news story well into the weekend. https://bit.ly/3qmh0Sh

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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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Jan. 11, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Sourcing lands exclusive on pardoned Blackwater contractor

scored an exclusive interview with one of the four former Blackwater security contractors pardoned by President Donald Trump for a shooting rampage in Iraq that killed more than a dozen civilians. The interview, the only one granted by any of the contractors, was the result of years of ongoing source work with the contractors’ legal team, who knew that Tucker would be fair and accurate, and that he was intimately familiar with the case from having covered it extensively.

Evan Liberty revealed he was not remorseful for his actions, believed that he had “acted correctly,” and shared details about the moment he learned he had received a pardon, including the three personal items he took with him when he left prison. Tucker made clear the pardons inspired broad condemnation in the U.S. and Middle East and included the perspective of the prosecutors who charged him, the jury who convicted himand the judge who sentenced him. https://bit.ly/3okz4et

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Dec. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Breaking news on US ramp-up of federal executions

have broken exclusives on this year’s resumption of federal executions following a 17-year hiatus, and the accelerated pace of executions during President Donald Trump’s lame-duck period. They have also witnessed every federal execution.Their stories have revealed that the Justice Department considered using firing squads or borrowing electric chairs due to a possible shortage of drugs used for lethal injection, and that the execution team at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where the executions are carried out, was sickened with COVID-19, even as they planned more deaths.But above all, the AP witnesses have risked their own health to enter the federal prison in Terre Haute to attend every execution. The team has been unstoppable, delivering fast, accurate reporting that has made AP the definitive source for news on this topic.https://bit.ly/3nlUxTHhttps://bit.ly/2ITQTkShttps://bit.ly/3ahw91Lhttps://bit.ly/3h13Shl

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Oct. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

In Mississippi, ‘Looking for America’ examines Black voting rights

looked at at the circumstances faced by Mississippi’s Black voters for the third installment of AP’s “Looking For America” road trip series.The highly evocative package was framed in the context of the “Mississippi Burning” murders of three civil rights activists in 1964 – and it found that too little has changed. The AP team saw the issue through the eyes of a now-elderly activist who was close to two of the murder victims more than 50 years ago. They reported that while poll taxes and tests on the state constitution may be gone, Black voters still face obstacles such as state-mandated ID laws and the disenfranchisement tens of thousands of former prisoners.The text, photos and video, with digital presentation by multimedia journalist Samantha Shotzbarger, perfectly captured the frustration that so many decades later, Black voters are still challenged by the state.The work was highlighted in a long entry in Politico’s Playbook, and attracted attention in the U.S. and internationally.https://bit.ly/31THAI1https://bit.ly/3jzaKCphttps://bit.ly/3oCX50E

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