Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the States

Request denied? Sunshine Hub sheds light on state efforts to block public access

Beyond its dramatic effects, the audio from 911 calls can provide the kind of context that is essential to the public's understanding of what happened during a newsworthy crime or emergency. Those recordings are, with few exceptions, a matter of public record. That almost changed this year in Iowa, where the state House passed – unanimously – a bill that would end the public's ability to access many 911 calls. The bill eventually died after an outcry from the media, watchdog groups and civil rights organizations, but it was not unusual. A months-long project by AP reporters and data journalists found more than 150 bills introduced in state legislatures this year that were intended to eliminate or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings.

To help reporters find, track and provide input on those bills, Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen of the data team created a unique online tool that provided full access to AP customers.

Called the Sunshine Hub, it helps users keep track of legislative activity related to government transparency, suggest new bills, search for and categorize bills for research purposes, and discuss legislation with others. The Sunshine Hub directly complemented stories by Ryan Foley in Iowa, Andrew DeMillo in Arkansas and Laurie Kellman in Washington.

For their groundbreaking reporting and software development, Tumgoren, Rasmussen, Foley, DeMillo and Kellman win this week's Best of the States award.

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Nov. 10, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Inside story: How Russia hacked the Democrats’ emails and Putin’s foes

“Hi,” the email from Google began, before turning more ominous. “Someone just used your password to try to sign in to your Google Account.” Change your password immediately, it urged, by clicking here. But the email wasn’t actually from Google, and it wasn’t sent randomly. It was from hackers connected to Russia who were targeting Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

What eventually emerged from the successful hack – thousands of embarrassing emails from campaign chairman John Podesta and others – was widely reported in the summer and fall of 2016. But the anatomy of how that hack occurred had never been revealed, until now. That investigative story, by Raphael Satter, Justin Myers, Jeff Donn and Chad Day, and a companion piece about wider Russian efforts targeting an array of Kremlin opponents, is this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Oct. 27, 2017

Best of the States

​APNewsBreak: Mike Pence's brother plans to run for Congress

Indiana political reporter Brian Slodysko knew Vice President Mike Pence’s older brother Greg, who for months had been eyeing a run for Congress, would soon announce that he was jumping into the race for his brother’s old seat.

Slodysko wanted to get the news out first and had been pushing Greg Pence’s advisers. But Slodysko became increasingly concerned the campaign would seek to bypass the media with an announcement directly to their supporters.

Looking for another way to get at the story, Slodysko found an IRS form submitted just days before to establish the Greg Pence for Congress political organization. Armed with that info, Slodysko was able to pull together a story, drawing not only on the IRS filing, but also his own in-depth research of the Pence family.

For finding a way to break a competitive story, Slodysko wins this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Sept. 29, 2017

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Girls abused by UN peacekeepers in Congo still await justice

for their searing look at the sexual abuse of young women and girls by UN peacekeepers in Congo and their quest for justice years later. Paisley Dodds, investigative reporter, London, Krista Larson, West Africa bureau chief, Dakar, Andy Drake, senior producer, Rabat, and Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro, reporter, Mavivi, Congo, for their searing look at the sexual abuse of young women and girls by UN peacekeepers in Congo and their quest for justice years later. http://bit.ly/2fwVk2I

June 02, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

How Sri Lanka let U.N. peacekeepers get away with sexual abuse in Haiti

When The Associated Press last year started to look into the issue of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers, one finding was a leaked investigative report detailing how a group of 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers preyed upon young Haitian children in a sex ring that lasted for three years. Beyond that was another startling find: The U.N. accepted a Sri Lankan general who was accused of being a war criminal to lead the investigation of another rape in the Caribbean country.

AP’s Katy Daigle traveled to Sri Lanka to score a rare, extended interview with Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias and question him about his role – and to press government and military officials on how they'd followed up on the allegations. In London, meanwhile, investigative reporter Paisley Dodds was tipped by sources to a State Department memo on the WikiLeaks site in which a former U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka raised concerns that that country’s military and government were complicit in war crimes during the 26-year civil war.

Their disclosures earn the Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Cuba mystery deepens: AP first with details of 'health attacks' against US diplomats

When news first broke in early August about mysterious incidents involving U.S. diplomats in Cuba, the AP was all over the story, beating the competition to several key early details. These included talk among officials about a possible “sonic attack” and suspicions that ranged from Cuban culpability to possible intervention by an outside culprit like Russia.

But so many questions were left unanswered. And with the FBI deep into one of the most perplexing investigations in modern diplomatic history, U.S. officials in the State Department, White House and elsewhere were saying as little as possible about what they were learning.

That’s when the Washington bureau put together a multi-beat team of reporters to try to put the pieces together. Their comprehensive work wins Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 08, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Fewer carrying flood insurance despite the risk

Floodwaters from Harvey were still rising in the Houston area and AP’s responsibilities to thoroughly cover breaking news developments across the region hadn’t diminished, but already there was an appetite for investigative reporting on the disaster. An AP team from across the company quickly mobilized.

Among the early efforts was a package of stories, data, photos and an interactive revealing that fewer Americans, in the Houston area and nationally, were buying flood insurance than just five years ago, despite serious risks from flooding.

The stories relied on federal data analyzed by Meghan Hoyer and reporting from Business writers Bernard Condon and Ken Sweet in New York as well as staff writers Terry Spencer in south Florida, Michael Kunzelman in Baton Rouge and Jeff Donn in Boston, with an interactive national map of flood insurance policies by Maureen Linke in Washington.

For their efforts that produced exclusive content with relevance to national and local media, Hoyer, Spencer, Kunzelman, Sweet, Condon, Donn and Linke will share this week’s Best of States award.

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Sept. 08, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Toxic waste sites flooded; AP on the scene ahead of EPA

Hurricane Harvey inundated homes, flooded freeways and swamped entire neighborhoods. Florida-based reporter Jason Dearen, who was deployed to Houston to help cover the disaster, knew there might be something else submerged beneath the turbid floodwaters. Superfund sites, some of the nation’s most contaminated places, are scattered along the low-lying Gulf coastline, including in the Houston area.

Dearen had been trying to obtain a copy of a federal study about the risks of flooding at those sites from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but had been stonewalled for two weeks. Harvey’s destruction provided new urgency to his request. For help, he reached out to Washington investigative reporter Michael Biesecker, a fellow member of the AP’s environmental beat team.

Through creative reporting that relied on data, collaboration and Dearen’s newfound skills as a boat man, they became the first journalists to report on the extent of flooding at contaminated waste sites in and around Houston. The on-site observations by Dearen and freelance 360-video producer Claudia Prat raised concerns that some of the decades-old toxic stew left over from the oil, gas and chemical industries may have mixed with floodwaters. They also were on the ground – and on the water – before the EPA’s own inspectors. For their efforts, Dearen, Biesecker and Prat win Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 10, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

50-state investigation reveals arbitrary patchwork of justice for juvenile lifers

After the U.S. Supreme Court told states that juveniles who had been given mandatory life without parole sentences should get the chance to argue for their release, national writers Sharon Cohen and Adam Geller wanted to know how judges, prosecutors, lawmakers and parole boards were dealing with the inmates.

Aided by reporters in all 50 states, their exhaustive investigation showed for the first time that the high court’s mandate in 2016 to give inmates a chance at freedom is being applied inconsistently, varying from state to state, even county to county, “in a pattern that can make justice seem arbitrary.”

The resulting three-day series featured deeply reported text stories, an expansive photo report of inmates from across the country, a 16-minute audio extra, a video animation on teen brain development, a video story, and a searchable trove of state-by-state details – all hosted in a dynamic hub on APNews.com.

Cohen and Geller’s work wins this week’s Beat of the Week prize.

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Aug. 04, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

'They kept us as slaves': AP Exclusive reveals abuse claims against church

"They kept us as slaves."

One man's tearful revelation to AP national investigative reporter Mitch Weiss helped unravel a horrible secret – the former congregant of the World of Faith Fellowship sect was among hundreds who'd been dispatched from the church's two Brazilian branches to the U.S., where many say they were forced to work for little or no pay and physically or verbally assaulted.

Dozens of former congregants told similar stories of abuse and exploitation in an exclusive AP multi-format story that earns Weiss, national investigative reporter Holbrook Mohr, and Peter Prengaman, news director in Rio de Janeiro, the Beat of the Week.

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July 14, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

​AP investigation: Children suffered as Vatican hospital chased profits

The approach to Vatican Correspondent Nicole Winfield came from a member of a task force that had investigated care at Italy’s foremost pediatric facility, known as “the pope’s hospital.” The contact feared that serious concerns raised by the task force hadn’t been addressed two years later.

That tip, in late 2015, set the AP on a 20-month investigation of the Bambino Gesu (Baby Jesus) Pediatric Hospital. Winfield teamed up with London-based Medical Writer Maria Cheng to reveal a dark chapter in the facility's history. They found that children sometimes paid the price as administrators tried to make the money-losing enterprise turn a profit, and Vatican officials took pains to keep the concerns quiet.

Their work earns the Beat of the Week.

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June 29, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP analysis: How gerrymandering benefited GOP in 2016

How is it that Republicans and Democrats can split the vote about equally in races for Congress and state legislatures, yet the GOP wins significant majorities in the House of Representatives and in statehouses across the country? Partisan gerrymandering, which manipulates legislative districts for one party’s benefit, has been suspected, but there has been no way to actually quantify it – until now.

An Associated Press team of David Lieb, Meghan Hoyer and Maureen Linke, applying a new statistical method that calculates partisan advantage, analyzed U.S. House and state legislative races across the country last year and found that redistricting controlled by Republicans had given their party a distinct advantage and one that will be hard for Democrats to overcome in upcoming election cycles.

Their multi-format report – including easy-to-grasp interactives and a trove of localized data – is the Beat of the Week.

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June 23, 2017

Best of the States

AP gets first juror comment in Philando Castile trial

When Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in the fatal shooting of black motorist Philando Castile, a question on the mind of every reporter in the courtroom was this: How did jurors reach their verdict?

One of those reporters, Minneapolis’ Amy Forliti, had been laying the groundwork to answer that question for two weeks. Her efforts paid off with The Associated Press getting the first interview with a juror – critical insight into a case that had generated global interest since millions of people saw the aftermath of Castile's death from his girlfriend's livestream on Facebook.

Meanwhile, colleague Steve Karnowski’s subsequent interview provided details in AP’s story that no one else had: The jury had been split 10-2 earlier in the week in favor of an acquittal, and neither of the two jurors who favored conviction was black.

For smart reporting and strong execution that put the AP ahead on a competitive aspect of a competitive story, Forliti and Karnowski win this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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