May 31, 2018

Best of the States

Mentally disabled man made false confession to murder in 1998 – now it's used against him

A mentally disabled Louisiana man walked free last week after 20 years in prison for a killing his attorneys say he didn't commit. But New Orleans reporter Janet McConnaughey questioned why his plea agreement blames him for obstructing justice.

Corey Williams was a 16-year-old who still sucked his thumb, often wet himself and had been hospitalized for extreme lead poisoning when Shreveport, Louisiana, police brought him in for questioning in 1998 about a shooting that killed a pizza deliveryman.

For hours, he said he was innocent. Finally, Williams told police he did it and wanted to go home and lie down.

Two decades later, with doubts swirling around his murder conviction and the case submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court for review, Williams accepted a plea agreement, pleading guilty to manslaughter and obstructing justice.

McConnaughey asked the district attorney's office for documentation outlining the plea deal. There it was: Williams said he’d obstructed justice by removing evidence from the crime scene and by providing “a false inculpatory statement to police." Williams’ signature was in inch-high printing, with big circles over the i’s.

McConnaughey’s story received strong use by AP customers. For pursuing the underlying details and shining a light on a deal that set Williams free – but only after putting the blame on himself for a false confession – McConnaughey wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 16, 2019

Best of the States

Source’s tip, weeks of planning put AP at scene of massive Mississippi immigration raids

Because San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat received a tip that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were planning massive raids on food processing plants, AP was uniquely positioned – literally – when ICE stormed seven Mississippi chicken processing plants and arrested 680 people, the largest workplace raid in a decade.

ICE’s acting Director Matthew Albence said that the investigation was so secret that even the White House didn’t know.

On the day of the raids, weeks of persistence and planning put AP way ahead of local and national media in the speed and depth of the report. Photographer Rogelio V. Solis was the only journalist on scene when about 600 agents simultaneously hit the plants, while his Jackson colleague, reporter Jeff Amy, got an exclusive interview with Albence.

Their multiday coverage received monster play, including 3 million social interactions for the first-day story alone.

For scoring scoops on a major ICE operation, Spagat, Amy and Solis are the winners of this week’s Best of the States honors.

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May 17, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Schedules reveal West Virginia governor largely absent from work

Anthony Izaguirre began hearing the chatter about West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice as soon as he started work as the AP’s statehouse correspondent in Charleston, West Virginia, in late February. Sources told him Justice – a billionaire who owns mines, farms and a swanky resort – wasn’t fully engaged and hadn’t even been in the capital, Charleston, much since taking office in 2017.

Izaguirre's initial request for the governor’s schedules was declined, but he pressed with the help of AP’s legal department, finally getting the records. Armed with those calendars and his own resourceful reporting, he cobbled together a record of the governor’s activities, confirming what many suspected: Justice appeared to have better things to do than govern.

West Virginia media pounced on the exclusive story, which also played well outside the state.

For his resolute work to obtain public records and his thorough reporting to fill out a story no one else in the state could land, Izaguirre wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 05, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Florida targeting massage parlor prostitution, trafficking

When police busted several massage parlors engaging in prostitution in Florida in February, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft drew all the attention, but hundreds of other men were also charged in what seemed like a new approach for Florida authorities.

AP Florida reporters Mike Schneider, Orlando, and Terry Spencer, West Palm Beach, seized on the Kraft-driven attention to dig into legal issues surrounding massage parlors and prostitution in Florida. With a deep dive into state records and a key interview with a local source, the pair landed an AP Exclusive that showed a change in strategy: Usually only low-level massage therapists were arrested. Owners were rarely charged and typically faced only fines and probation. Johns typically were not charged at all.

But the recent investigation had instead focused heavily on the possibility of widespread human trafficking. Several spa owners were charged with felonies, and authorities also charged 300 men accused of being patrons, including Kraft and the former president of Citigroup. The Martin County sheriff told Spencer that he wanted to shut down the sex-massage industry in part by targeting the demand side.

Strong play included prominent display in The Washington Post.

For their enterprising use of state records and source-building to find an AP Exclusive in a story that drew enormous global attention, Schneider and Spencer win this week’s Best of States award.

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Oct. 19, 2018

Best of the States

High-profile Georgia race focuses national attention on voter ID requirements

In the current political and media environment, it’s not often that a state politics story without President Donald Trump’s name in it drives a national political conversation for almost a week.

But that’s what happened when Atlanta-based newsperson Ben Nadler published a look at Georgia’s “exact match” voter registration verification process and other policies backed by Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Kemp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, faces Democrat Stacey Abrams, vying to become the first black female governor of any state.

According to records obtained by Nadler from Kemps office through a public records request, 53,000 registrations – 70 percent of them from black applicants – were on hold with less than a month before the Nov. 6 election. Nadler also found that Kemp’s office has cancelled more than 1.4 million inactive voter registrations since 2012 – nearly 670,000 registrations in 2017 alone.

The story got tremendous play with AP customers over multiple news cycles and lit up social media.

For his deep look at a critical issue in Georgia’s high-stakes gubernatorial election and driving a national political discussion for days, Nadler wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 21, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP and partners document Puerto Rico hurricane deaths

Colleagues,

Welcome to Best of the Week.

This officially marks a rebirth of sorts for our weekly global staff contest, which celebrates some of the best work from around the AP world.

This week’s winner celebrates a great team effort by colleagues in Latin America and beyond, as well as a really productive partnership with two other news organizations. It’s creative and insightful work that breaks news and includes great visual journalism and innovative presentation. It rose to the top of an impressive field of entries.

Today, and each Friday going forward, the weekly winner is revealed at the Global News Meeting at 9:15 a.m. ET, which all AP staff are invited to attend.

Please join me in congratulating this week’s honorees.

BC

Since the early days after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, the debate over the death toll has raged. The Trump administration seized on initial reports that fewer than 100 people had died, but those numbers belied the scope of the devastation. The storm left the island without electricity for months, hospitals and other key infrastructure shuttered, roads unpassable and pharmacies closed.

In June, Caribbean News Director Mike Weissenstein in Havana forged a partnership with Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism and U.S.-based news site Quartz to undertake the most comprehensive list to date of Puerto Ricans who died in the wake of the storm.

For the project, Weissenstein, San Juan newswoman Danica Coto, Washington-based data journalist Larry Fenn, New York-based reporter Claudia Torrens, Miami-based reporter Gisela Salomon, Washington-based reporters Luis Alonso and Ben Fox, as well as senior Havana-based producer Chris Gillette, Havana photographer Ramon Espinosa, Santo Domingo reporter Ezequiel Lopez Blanco, Mexico-based digital producer Dario Lopez, New York-based motion graphics producer Peter Hamlin and enterprise editor Raghuram Vadarevu, based in Phoenix, share the Best of the Week award-

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Aug. 16, 2018

Best of the States

In Tuskegee, home to black achievement, a Confederate monument endures

The name “Tuskegee, Alabama” evokes images of black empowerment in a once-segregated nation.

Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver became legends of education at what is now Tuskegee University, and the nation’s first black fighter pilots were known as the Tuskegee Airmen after training in the town during World War II. Michelle Obama gave an impassioned speech there in 2015 while first lady.

So why is there a Confederate monument in the middle of the nearly all-black city?

Birmingham, Ala., correspondent Jay Reeves, using information gleaned from old newspaper accounts, local government records and interviews, reported that the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised money for the monument in the early 1900s. And the white-controlled county gave the heritage group land at the center of town for a whites-only park. It’s there that the statue still stands 109 years later.

Several efforts to relocate the monument have failed through the years, mainly because the Confederate heritage group still owns the land and refuses to move the statue.

In addition to text, Reeves shot photos and located archival images, as well as shooting and editing video for the multiformat package.

For digging in to examine why Confederate monuments are coming down nationwide but not in the historic, majority-black town of Tuskegee, Ala., Reeves wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 14, 2018

Best of the States

Lobbyists – including House speaker’s brother – influence Florida’s payments to victims

In Florida, the Legislature has to approve court awards – beyond a capped amount – for lawsuits alleging wrongdoing by a state or local agency.

So when Florida Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout began hearing about a surge in payouts to victims and families harmed by government actions, he began digging into public and legislative records. What he found confirmed the influence of lobbyists, and of one lobbyist in particular: the House speaker’s brother.

Fineout found that claims lobbied by the speaker’s brother had a substantial rate of success. Of the $37.5 million in claims bills approved over the past two years, nearly half was awarded to victims represented by Michael Corcoran, brother of Florida’s House speaker.

One state lawmaker, a candidate for attorney general, said the process needs fixing, and said that Florida should have a codified, egalitarian process for awarding payments, one that doesn’t rely on who has the best lobbyist.

Fineout's story received extensive play, including a rare banner headline atop A1 in the state's largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. The Sun-Sentinel newspaper said in an editorial that “Florida owes thanks to Gary Fineout ... for shedding light on a dark side of Florida government.”

For work that South News Director Ravi Nessman called a “perfect example of the kind of tough, accountability reporting that we prize so much from our statehouses,” Fineout wins this week's Best of the States award.

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April 21, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Must-read stories: UN sex abuse, El Faro sinking share Beat of the Week honors

The stories could not be more different. One revealed that United Nations peacekeepers had been accused of thousands of instances of sexual abuse over 12 years. The other recounted the last hours of a doomed freighter and its crew, as they sailed into a hurricane.

But both of these AP stories – by Paisley Dodds and Jason Dearen, respectively – drew extraordinary notice, captivating readers in a busy news week. And in a departure from usual practice, the two contrasting stories, a hard-hitting investigation and a powerful narrative, are being recognized as co-winners of the Beat of the Week.

Oct. 13, 2017

Best of the States

Only on AP: Family – and journalist – rewarded with answers in 40-year-old cold case

Resolving cold cases can be thankless work for law enforcement – and an endless emotional journey for the families affected. Tamara Lush used the lens of one Florida cold case, and the relatives of a long-missing woman, to give life to the backlog of such cases nationwide.

After the publication of her first big takeout on an exhumation in a cold case, Lush turned her attention to two sisters who played just a small role in that piece. Lush met with the family numerous times – she was with them every step of the way through the drawn-out process of DNA tests, results, periods of silence from police, the day they finally got some answers about their missing family member, and the moment they shared that news with the woman's mother. The narrative story, teeming with emotion and details, can't be matched by any competitor.

For her Only on AP story that gave a face to the national backlog of cold cases, Lush wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 02, 2017

Best of the States

​Death row inmates' last words: Apologies, thanks, defiance

To most, inmates facing execution in America are just names, mug shots and written descriptions of their crimes.

AP was interested in going beyond that, seeking to tell their stories in creative ways that reach beyond our traditional audiences. To make that happen, a unique interactive created by Atlanta-based reporter Kate Brumback, Interactive Editor Nathan Griffiths and Interactive Producer Roque Ruiz takes people inside Georgia’s execution chamber to actually hear the last words of inmates right before they were put to death.

For their resourceful and compelling work, the team of Brumback, Griffiths and Ruiz receives this week's Best of the States award.

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May 05, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

At middle-of-the-night removal of Confederate statue in New Orleans, AP offers exclusive

AP’s race and ethnicity beat writer Jesse J. Holland was on vacation in Mississippi when a source called with a tip: New Orleans’ mayor was ordering the removal of the first of four Confederate-related statues in the middle of the night to avoid a racially-charged scene in the city.

Holland’s quick work to negotiate an exclusive on the monument’s removal, including an interview with the mayor, and photographer Gerald Herbert’s dramatic pre-dawn photos and video, earn the Beat of the Week.

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