March 30, 2018

Best of the States

Multi-format team dominates coverage of Austin serial bombing

Three previous bombings had put Austin on edge for weeks, triggering a manhunt involving 500-plus federal agents and prompting residents to flood 911 operators with calls about suspicious-looking packages. Reporters soon inundated Texas’ capital.

When emergency personnel reported another explosion late on a Sunday night, Austin correspondent Will Weissert quickly called sources and reported that the blast was a bomb. Newsman Paul J. Weber rushed to the scene and soon confirmed the same bomber had struck a fourth time.

In the days that followed, Weber and Houston video journalist John Mone drove continuous coverage across all formats as another bomb exploded inside a FedEx processing center, and Weber broke the news that authorities were predicting an imminent arrest. As authorities closed in, the suspected bomber blew himself up around 2 a.m. the following day. A coordinated effort by Weissert, Weber and Mone, joined by Austin newsman Jim Vertuno, San Antonio photographer Eric Gay, Fort Worth correspondent Emily Schmall and Iowa City's Ryan J. Foley continued to break news and dominate play.

Throughout the week, AP also produced nuanced, multi-platform reporting on how police track cell phones, shipping facilities screen packages and how the bombings shook Austin’s chill attitude.

For their tireless and aggressive efforts to break news by mining sources, searching records and knocking on countless doors, journalists Will Weissert, Jim Vertuno, Paul Weber, Eric Gay, John L. Mone, Emily Schmall and Ryan Foley share this week’s Best of the States.

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June 22, 2018

Best of the States

Chicago gangs embrace social media – often with deadly results

Chicago legal affairs writer Michael Tarm had been anticipating the release of a 400-page report on gangs, compiled about once every six years by the Chicago Crime Commission. He touched base with the commission every few months for years, asking for advanced access to the documents.

It paid off.

Tarm obtained exclusive access to new law enforcement gang intelligence before its official release, then he spent weeks going through police and court records to find a gang-related killing to serve as a narrative of the findings. He uncovered the case of Lamanta Reese, a story illustrating how social media is transforming the city’s street-gang culture with deadly consequences. Gang member Reese, 19, had posted a smiley-face emoji on Facebook in response to an off-color joke about the mother of a rival gang member. Days later, that rival crossed the street between their gang factions, sneaked up on Reese and fatally shot him 11 times.

The story got strong play, with more than 10,000 page views on AP’s site the first day – almost 17,000 overall. The main story was published by 220 sites, including The New York Times and Washington Post, as well as the hometown Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times. The Sun-Times and Daily Herald also ran it in their papers.

For obtaining exclusive access to law enforcement gang intelligence before its official release, poring over police and court records, and drawing on in-depth sourcing to produce a multiformat, compelling narrative, Tarm wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 17, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Russian hackers posed as Islamic State to harass US military wives

The threat over her phone to Army wife Angela Ricketts was terrifying. “Dear Angela!” it said. “Bloody Valentine’s Day!”

“We know everything about you, your husband and your children,” it continued, claiming that Islamic State militants had penetrated her computer. “We’re much closer than you can even imagine.”

More than three years after Ricketts and four other military wives received this and other alarming messages, AP London-based cybersecurity reporter Raphael Satter unraveled the secret behind it all. Satter drew on a massive hit list of Russian hacking targets, focusing on a group of five women whose names were clustered together on the list. All reported having received death threats from a mysterious group calling itself CyberCaliphate back in 2015.

The threats were not from Middle Eastern terrorists at all, but hackers from the Russian group widely dubbed Fancy Bear – the same gang who later broke into the Democratic Party’s emails and interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

For revealing the latest wrinkle in the Russian hacking story, Satter earns the Beat of the Week.

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May 17, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Texas biker accused of killing man who was shot by police

In the three years since the deadliest biker shooting in U.S. history, Fort Worth correspondent Emily Schmall has meticulously gathered documents, reports and court records to put together a spreadsheet that integrates autopsy reports, firearms analyses and ballistics evidence, including the names and serial numbers of the weapons, to whom they were traced, where they were recovered from and whether they were linked to a death or injury.

Her work paid off last week when prosecutors handed down the first murder charges in the case. Schmall was able to exclusively report that prosecutors had charged one of the bikers for murdering a man who was shot twice by a SWAT officer.

For persistent, investigative reporting that exclusively illuminated potential problems with a shifting strategy in a closely-watched case, Schmall wins this week’s Best of the States.

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April 27, 2018

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP journalists collaborate to break news after emergency plane landing

for detailing the confusion, chaos and fear inside the plane when a Southwest Airlines plane’s engine exploded, breaking a window and pulling one passenger halfway out the aircraft to her death. In other stories, they profiled the heroic pilot who landed the plane and broke news that the FAA would order inspections of engine fan blades like the one that caused the accident. https://bit.ly/2Kixp5z

April 13, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: EPA's Pruitt spent millions on security, travel

Environmental Protection Administrator Scott Pruitt’s lavish spending and deep concerns about security had put his future in the Trump Cabinet in jeopardy. But what was the cost to taxpayers?

AP beat reporter Michael Biesecker, whose aggressive coverage of Pruitt began more than a year ago when Trump nominated him for the EPA post, began working sources still at the agency and those who had left in search of the answer. His findings – that Pruitt spent about a whopping $3 million on security in the first year – win the Beat of the Week award.

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April 06, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Confidential toxicology report details Prince overdose

In the nearly two years since Prince’s sudden drug overdose death in 2016, Minneapolis reporter Amy Forliti has closely tracked the criminal investigation into his death, cultivating sources who could help her break developments along the way, including the possibility of criminal charges.

A medical examiner's scant one-page report had cited an accidental overdose of fentanyl as the cause of Prince’s death, but provided almost no other detail. Forliti had pursued a copy of the autopsy and toxicology report ever since from multiple sources. She finally obtained the confidential toxicology report on March 26.

Forliti talked to three experts not involved in the case who analyzed blood and liver readings in the report and characterized them as “exceedingly high” – as one expert put it, they were very high even for a chronic pain patient. The details were something no other media could match.

Forliti's exclusive was widely played. It led the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website for hours and made the printed paper, a rarity for a story on which they compete with AP. CNN referenced the story on-air and online with credit to AP.

For relentlessly working her sources to break news on a long-simmering story, Amy Forliti wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 05, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP NewsBreak: US soldier fought to the end after ambush in Niger

The horror tales from Niger – as reported by some of the world’s most reputable media – were gruesome: Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four Americans who died on a mysterious U.S. Army Special Forces mission in early October, had been captured alive, tortured, killed execution-style at close range and his remains had been mutilated.

The details were all erroneous, it turned out.

It took the AP’s Pentagon reporter Lita Baldor to set the record straight with a stunning scoop on an otherwise quiet Washington Sunday in December, revealing the findings of a still confidential Pentagon report.

For an unmatched story that revealed the heroism of an American soldier who died in the line of duty, Baldor wins this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 03, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Myanmar attacks, sea voyage rob young father of everything

Asia's worst refugee crisis in decades is a tragedy of epic proportions as more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled state-led violence.

Beyond the enormous scope of the exodus are the individual harrowing stories of life, death and the struggle for survival. Reporter Todd Pitman and photographer Gemunu Amarasinghe from Bangkok, videojournalist Rishabh Jain from Delhi and photographer Dar Yasin from Kashmir teamed up to produce a riveting package that reconstructed the heartbreaking journey of one Rohingya man and his family from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

Their package earns the Beat of the Week.

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Oct. 20, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP team delivers exclusive all-formats coverage of Somalia’s deadliest attack

It was the deadliest single attack in Somalia’s history, and one of the world’s worst in years.

When the massive blast occurred on Saturday, Oct. 14, Associated Press video journalist Mohamed Sheikh Nor was playing with his 10-month-old daughter at their home. He immediately knew it was not an average Mogadishu bombing.

He grabbed his wife and wailing daughter and, covered in dust, escaped unharmed. “Outside, we could see the explosion was close to us. It was just 70 steps away from our home.”

Recognizing the unprecedented force of the explosion in a city long targeted by the Islamic extremist rebels of al-Shabab, Sheikh Nor insisted to editors that the casualties would be well over 100. He and his AP colleagues hurried to the scene, where buildings had been mangled and overturned cars were ablaze. The all-formats team – comprising Sheikh Nor in video, AP photographer Farah Abdi Warsameh and AP text reporter Abdi Guled – delivered the first stunning images and stories of grief from the smoking scene. Their courageous, traumatic and heart-rending effort earns this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 15, 2017

Best of the States

Smaller US cities struggle with high teen gun violence rates

Shootings in Chicago have captured national headlines, and for good reason: The city has among the highest rates of teenage gun violence in the nation. But where else in the U.S. are teenagers most likely to be killed or injured by gunfire? Baltimore, Detroit, Los Angeles?

In an exclusive analysis, journalists from the AP, working jointly with the USA Today Network, arrived at an unexpected answer: Except for Chicago, the places with the highest rates of teen gun violence in America are smaller and mid-sized cities – towns like Wilmington, Delaware, population 72,000.

AP data journalists Meghan Hoyer and Larry Fenn led the analysis of 3½ years’ worth of shooting cases provided by the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. Baltimore reporter Juliet Linderman, with significant assists from Albany reporter Michael Hill and Savannah correspondent Russ Bynum, picked it up from there. Video journalist Allen Breed produced a powerful video that illustrates the danger and despair, along with the difficulties that WIlmington is having in addressing the problems. The package also was enhanced with graphics from interactives producer Maureen Linke.

For their work revealing a surprising side of teenage gun violence in America, state reporters Linderman, Bynum and Hill, video journalist Breed, data journalists Hoyer and Fenn, and graphic artist Linke share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 25, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Deep reporting, startling images reveal shaky faith and depths of despair in Trump Country

It’s a difficult thing, interviewing people about their desolation. But an Associated Press team went to Grays Harbor County, Washington, and came away with a deeply reported portrait of a place that had voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1932, but placed a bet on Donald Trump in November as its rescuer from addiction and economic malaise.

Sensitively and penetratingly, the team of Claire Galofaro, David Goldman and Martha Irvine used text, photos and video to tell the tale of an old logging county that “answered Donald Trump's call to the country's forgotten corners.” A half-year into the Republican’s term, they found varying degrees of faith in his ability to make a difference in their lives.

The latest installment in the AP’s Trump Country series is the 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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