July 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: US Catholic Church lobbies, gets windfall in federal PPP funds

Based on a tip following AP’s previous reporting on the Paycheck Protection Program, AP anticipated that the Roman Catholic Church might be one of the program’s biggest winners. 

Investigative reporters Reese Dunklin and Michael Rezendes started digging, first showing how the church had successfully lobbied for special treatment under the program, then, when the federal data dropped, the full extent of the church’s windfall. An analysis on deadline revealed $1.4 billion to $3.5 billion in forgivable loans, with many millions going to dioceses that paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy because of sexual abuse claims.

The story had an immediate impact with strong play and engagement in digital, print and broadcast outlets.

For being both first and authoritative on this highly competitive story, and for holding a remarkably powerful institution accountable, Dunklin and Rezendes share this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 22, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Kushner organization routinely filed false NYC housing documents

It started with a tip about tenants being harassed at a cluster of New York apartment buildings owned by Jared Kushner's family.

Bernard Condon, a New York-based business writer, began reporting the story last year, visiting buildings and interviewing the tenants, some of whom told similar stories of being subjected to loud construction at all hours, dust, rodents, lead paint in the air and heat suddenly shut off in the winter. Then, some were approached with offers of money to get them to move so the company could install higher-paying tenants.

But the tip did not truly develop until a tenant advocate source told Condon that Kushner Cos. had filed false paperwork for two buildings elsewhere in the city that made it easier to harass tenants during construction. Further, the organization had filed paperwork saying it had zero rent-regulated tenants in buildings throughout the city when, in fact, it had hundreds.

If the Kushner Cos. had disclosed those rent-regulated tenants, it could have triggered stricter city oversight, including possibly unscheduled "sweeps" on site by inspectors to keep the company from harassing tenants.

For dogged reporting that exposed the falsehoods of a company led by the president's son-in-law and trusted adviser, Condon earns the Beat of the Week.

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May 31, 2019

Best of the States

The one that got away: Survivor of serial killer adds emotion, depth to execution coverage

Execution coverage often focuses on the condemned inmate or the manner of death. So, faced with covering his eighth execution – a Florida serial killer – Tallahassee correspondent Brendan Farrington told the extraordinary personal story of a victim who escaped and helped police find the man after he raped her decades ago. That woman had chosen to witness the man’s execution.

Farrington doggedly tracked down the woman, now a sheriff’s deputy, who finally agreed to an interview on the eve of the execution. Her compelling story resonated with readers everywhere.

For his persistence and sensitivity in telling a personal and emotional victim’s story in what could have been a rote story on a serial killer’s execution, Farrington wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 11, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP traces child labor from Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields to major brands, Girl Scout cookies

For the third installment of their groundbreaking investigation into labor abuse in Asia’s palm oil industry, reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason linked child labor to the supply chains of the makers of popular cereals, candies and ice creams, including KitKats, Oreos and Cap’n Crunch. They also traced the oil to that most American treat: Girl Scout cookies. 

Joined by photographers Binsar Bakkara and Mark Humphrey, and video journalist Allen Breed, their reporting found that some tens of thousands of children toil in the palm fields, some kept from school and forced to work for free or for little pay. Some are trafficked.

The framing of the story — through the eyes of a young girl in the fields in Indonesia and a Tennessee Girl Scout campaigning to have palm oil removed from the cookies — resonated with readers; reaction on social media led the Girl Scouts to address the issue with their suppliers.

For shedding unprecedented light on the children toiling in Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields, and connecting the abusive practice to major consumer brands, McDowell, Mason, Bakkara, Breed and Humphrey share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 28.

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Jan. 21, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Sensitive reporting, compelling storytelling on spike in Zimbabwe teen pregnancy amid pandemic

Writing about teen pregnancy is difficult under any circumstances, requiring equal parts thoughtfulness and responsibility. That is how AP’s team in Zimbabwe, photographer Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi and writer Farai Mutsaka, joined by South Africa video journalist Sebabatso Mosamo, approached the story of how pandemic lockdowns led to a sharp rise in teen pregnancies and the consequent loss of girls’ educational opportunities, a problem affecting many southern African countries.

Gathering facts to support the story took months, as Mutsaka worked with officials to access the available data. Then the team faced the challenge of finding families willing to speak on the record. Most wouldn't talk publicly, but Mukwazhi and Mutsaka found a 13-year-old who wanted her story told. The pair repeatedly explained the possible consequences to her family and others they met with, ensuring the story’s subjects fully understood what it meant to have their names and photos published.

The months of care and persistence paid off with compelling text and images, including a sensitive video by Mosamo. For responsible coverage providing insight into a difficult, important and often painful subject, the team of Mutsaka, Mukwazhi and Mosamo is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Dec. 20, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

How tramadol, touted as the safer opioid, became a 3rd world peril

It was supposed to be the safer opioid, a way to fight pain with little risk of addiction. That promise has meant much less regulation of tramadol than other opioids. And its relatively low cost has made tramadol the drug of choice in many developing countries, becoming what the United Nations calls “the other opioid crisis.”

National writer Claire Galofaro spent months researching the issue – but how to illustrate the story from a fresh perspective?

Galofaro turned to New Delhi-based correspondent Emily Schmall, who traveled to India’s Punjab state, where she talked to people struggling with addiction, visited a treatment center and gained unprecedented access to officials trying to stem the crisis. 

The deeply reported story, one of the top-read pieces on AP News, also delved into tramadol’s heavy toll in Africa, and its trafficking among terrorist groups. 

For their work exposing an aspect of the international opioid crisis that has received far less attention, Galofaro and Schmall win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Oct. 02, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP exposes palm oil labor abuses linked to the world’s top brands, major banks

While covering the Rohingya crisis, investigative reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason knew tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Myanmar were vulnerable to exploitation. They suspected desperate men were being tricked or sold into the massive palm oil industry that supplies some of America’s most iconic food and cosmetic brands.

Working with photographers Gemunu Amarasinghe and Binsar Bakkara, they vividly documented the horrors some workers in Malyasia and Indonesia face. Workers spoke of brutal conditions including child labor, outright slavery and allegations of rape.

Reaction was swift, with the  U.S. government saying it would block shipments from a major Malaysian producer mentioned in the story.

For exposing abuses affecting tens of thousands of workers in a global industry that manufactures a vast array of products we buy and use daily, McDowell, Mason, Amarasinghe and Bakkara win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 04, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

A nightmare in South Sudan

The scene was nightmarish. Women and girls fleeing fighting in South Sudan had taken refuge in a United Nations camp. As fighting subsided, they ventured out in search of food, but just outside the camp, they were dragged off by soldiers and raped. Two died of their injuries. At least one attack was said to have occurred within sight of U.N. peacekeepers.

The details in Jason Patinkin’s only-on-AP story could not have been reported without getting into the camp – but the U.N. at first blocked journalists from entering. Demanding access along with other journalists – and winning – in the midst of already challenging coverage allowed Patinkin to produce an exclusive that prompted outrage around the world. It earns Beat of the Week.

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May 25, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: a look inside the 'pie car' and the last days of Ringling Bros.

New York City photographer Julie Jacobson and Michelle Smith, Providence, Rhode Island, correspondent, spent weeks negotiating with the parent company of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus about what sort of access they could get to the performers and crew as “The Greatest Show on Earth” drew to a close after 146 years.

What they really wanted was to get on the train where the workers lived, the last of its kind in the world. Finally the word came down: We could get on the “pie car” for the clowns’ last breakfast, but they would not be in costume, and we could absolutely not see the rest of the train, out of respect for the privacy of the performers.

But Jacobson and Smith don’t take no for an answer. The access they got, the stories they heard and the images they saw formed the basis for an exclusive and heart-tugging package of photos, traditional and 360 video, and text.

For their resourceful and revealing behind-the-scenes look at the end of a cultural icon, Jacobson and Smith receive this week's Best of the State honors.

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