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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April 07, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: North Carolina’s costs for ‘bathroom bill’ calculated in billions

It began as an anniversary story, but one that would break news. With North Carolina’s hotly-contested “bathroom bill,” HB2, in place for nearly a year, AP’s Raleigh bureau was asked by the South Desk to assess the economic impact of the law limiting protections for the LGBT community.

Reporters Jonathan Drew and Emery Dalesio created a spreadsheet tallying the results of their digging, including searches of public records, among them previously unseen state calculations of lost business; they interviewed corporate leaders and state and local officials. And they were able to put a hard minimum figure on huge losses to the state economy even as legislators were negotiating a revision of HB2. “The deal was struck,” The New York Times noted, “days after The Associated Press reported that the backlash against the law would cost North Carolina at least $3.7 billion in business over 12 years.”

The timely exclusive by Drew and Dalesio is the Beat of the Week.

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March 17, 2017

Best of the States

From grave to lab, professor throws science, passion at cold cases

AP correspondent Tamara Lush first met renowned forensic anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle while reporting on Florida’s Dozier School for Boys – a now-shuttered site where former students accused officials of abuse and dozens of students died. Kimmerle was investigating graves, and local media paid plenty of attention to the positive, bubbly woman with a high-pitched voice – unexpected from someone who jumps in graves and scrubs bones with a toothbrush.

Lush found Kimmerle and her work fascinating – in a state full of colorful characters, she calls the professor one of Florida’s most interesting and brilliant women.

So Lush stayed in touch, and when her sources at the University of South Florida – where Kimmerle teaches and has a lab – offered an exclusive opportunity to follow Kimmerle as she investigated cold cases through a new grant, she jumped at the chance. Lush's all-formats Only on AP package wins this week's Best of States award.

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Feb. 17, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

​All-formats team illuminates why a Democratic stronghold went for Trump

Last November, more than 200 counties across America, scores of them in the upper Midwest, turned from blue to red on the electoral map. Why did voters in once-Democratic strongholds support Donald Trump?

An all-formats AP team of Claire Galofaro, Martha Irvine, David Goldman and Angeliki Kastanis set out to find the answer by focusing on one rural Wisconsin county and getting into the lives and mindset of its people. The result was a revealing package that earns the Beat of the Week.

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Feb. 03, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP presses for details of judge's ruling on immigration ban

At a time when the very integrity of news is under attack in some corners, it is more important than ever that The Associated Press be a key champion of accuracy. This includes not only fighting back against false claims and false reporting, but sometimes simply waiting as we push for more specificity. New York City News Editor David Caruso did exactly that over the weekend, avoiding the missteps of other news organizations by pressing for details of a federal judge's emergency order temporarily staying part of President Donald Trump's travel ban for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations.

Caruso demanded, and got, a copy of U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly's order so the AP could be precise about reporting on its relatively narrow effects, even as other news outlets relied on tweets from advocates who made it seem more sweeping. Caruso’s careful, painstaking work is the Beat of the Week.

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Jan. 12, 2017

Best of the States

No family immune: A top US prosecutor talks exclusively to the AP about a heroin death: his son’s

In the course of source-building in early 2016, northeastern Pennsylvania correspondent Michael Rubinkam had lunch with a local lawyer. The lawyer mentioned that a member of the U.S. attorney's office had lost a son to heroin but had never spoken publicly about it.

Intrigued, Rubinkam asked the lawyer to approach the then-assistant prosecutor, Bruce Brandler, about an interview. Rubinkam had been looking for fresh ways to write about the scourge of heroin, and saw the prosecutor’s story as a powerful new example of how no family is immune.

But Brandler, he learned, was adamantly against going public with his family’s – and his son’s – story. It was too painful.

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Oct. 20, 2016

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Auto reporter uncovers government accusations against American air bag maker

for uncovering the government's mounting complaints against ARC Automotive Inc. He discovered the scoop while digging through routine filings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; they detailed the company's stonewalling and refusal to cooperate with a U.S. investigation into a fatal air bag death that could affect 8 million other cars. http://apne.ws/2en0EIO

Dec. 01, 2016

Best of the States

US moves to block mining near Yellowstone

The Obama administration is racing in its final days to keep industry out of natural and environmentally sensitive areas throughout the U.S. West, where the incoming Trump administration has raised fears of loosened regulations on federal lands.

Billings, Montana Correspondent Matt Brown _ who has an acute sense of the value in reporting on land out West _ has broken news repeatedly to keep the AP ahead.

Brown is deeply sourced with federal interior officials and consistently checks in with them. He was working on a story week about officials canceling oil and gas leases on land near Glacier National Park that's considered sacred to tribes – also an APNewsBreak – when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell mentioned she was coming back to Montana in a week.

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Nov. 25, 2016

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

$1,000 Vivitrol injections given inmate addicts to prevent relapses, but do the shots work?

for first spotting news in a single line in a state Medicaid waiver form, and then chasing down and chronicling in text and video how prisons in the U.S. are experimenting with $1,000-per-shot Vivitrol injections to keeps inmate from falling back into addictions, even without iron-clad medical evidence that they work. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/prisons-fight-opioids-...

Nov. 21, 2016

Best of the States

Innocent suspects face terrible choice: plead guilty or risk life in prison

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit. But as Richmond-based reporter Alanna Durkin Richer and Miami legal affairs reporter Curt Anderson found, it happens more often than you might think.

Digging through publicly available data on exonerations, they found alarming statistics: More than 300 of the roughly 1,900 people who have been exonerated in the U.S. since 1989 pleaded guilty. So Richer and Anderson set out to explain why anyone would plead guilty to a crime he or she didn’t commit ...

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