Nov. 30, 2018

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Acting AG Whitaker erroneously says NY-area bomber had help

for being first to report that acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker made a glaring error when he told an audience of law enforcement officials that a terrorist who set off bombs in New York City and New Jersey had two co-conspirators overseas and that one was in custody. They checked it out and found none of it was true. The Justice Department was forced to issue a correction and the reference to Rahimi having co-conspirators was taken out of a transcript posted on the Justice Department website. https://bit.ly/2DS1k3r

March 15, 2019

Best of the States

Between the lines of a press release: Gray wolves could lose federal protection

The passing reference in a draft statement on an unrelated topic would have been easy miss. But Billings, Montana, correspondent Matthew Brown instantly recognized its significance – the U.S. was planning to lift protections for gray wolves, an action that would reignite the emotional debate over the predators’ resurgence.

Brown was reporting on sage grouse when he came across the draft Interior Department press release. It mentioned remarks that Acting Secretary David Bernhardt planned to make the next day at a wildlife conference in Denver: Gray wolves had recovered across the Lower 48 states.

Brown recognized the implication of that one sentence, and teamed up with fellow environmental beat team writer John Flesher of Traverse City, Michigan, to begin a race against the clock. Brown and Flesher scrambled to break the news before Bernhardt took the stage the next morning at the closed-press wildlife conference. Finally a source confirmed: Protections for wolves were again in the agency’s crosshairs.

The APNewsAlert moved at 8:45 a.m., a full 15 minutes before Bernhardt was scheduled to speak. Other news outlets were forced to follow in AP’s wake, posting their own stories that relied on a statement put out by Interior.

For seizing on a stray reference and reporting it out into a significant APNewsBreak on wolves, Brown and Flesher win this week’s Best of the States.

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March 01, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Despite denials, US shares terror watchlist with private sector

For years, the federal government has denied widely sharing its terrorist watchlist with the private sector. But American Muslims have long had suspicions to the contrary, as those mistakenly placed on the list faced everyday difficulties ranging from making electronic bank transfers to boarding airplanes.

Source building and careful document review by Northern Virginia correspondent Matthew Barakat finally revealed that the federal government shares its terrorist watchlist with more than 1,400 private entities, including hospitals and universities. The government’s acknowledgement of the practice, buried in a civil lawsuit, was significant because officials have repeatedly denied that the list was given to private groups. Barakat’s sources and his thorough coverage of the 2-year-old case had him ready to jump on the filing as soon as it became public.

His APNewsBreak on Feb. 19 earned wide attention, including hundreds of members using the story. Others scrambled to catch up, with The Washington Post crediting AP for breaking the story when it ran its own version in the paper.

Over the next two days Barakat was also first to report on a call for a congressional probe, and he was the only reporter in court when a federal judge berated government lawyers, ordering them to disclose the private sector entities to the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.

For his methodical document work and source-building that helped hold the federal government accountable, Barakat wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 15, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

Multiple APNewsBreaks in Virginia capital scandals

The Virginia governor’s medical school yearbook page was stunning. A photo in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook showed two people looking at the camera – one in blackface wearing a hat, bow tie and plaid pants; the other in white Klan robes.

Hours after a conservative news outlet first reported the racist photo late on a Friday afternoon, Gov. Ralph Northam apologized and acknowledged that he appeared in the photo. The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and several Democratic presidential candidates called for his resignation.

By the next day, however, he had a change of heart and Virginia statehouse correspondent Alan Suderman broke the news ahead of everyone else. Through a hard-won source he had cultivated during his five years at the statehouse, Suderman revealed that Northam did not believe he was in the photo and would not resign, hours before the governor made that decision public.

Then the scandal took a turn as sexual assault allegations were made against Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat who is only the second African-American to win statewide office in the state. Suderman secured a denial from Fairfax after the second woman’s accusation.

But Suderman wasn’t done. Again working his sources, he revealed that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, the potential successor to Northam and Fairfax, had admitted that he wore blackface during a party when he was a 19-year-old student at the University of Virginia.

The stories drew tremendous play with readers and customers, with more than 1,000 website matches on several days and 103,000 social media interactions in one day.

For his deft source-building and strong reporting on this highly competitive series of stories, Alan Suderman wins the AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 01, 2019

Best of the States

Trump rollbacks benefit fossil fuel industry but carry steep cost

Over the past two years, the Trump administration has relentlessly moved to relax or repeal major environmental and safety rules for the fossil fuels industry to further its energy goals. Each change was reported by news outlets, including the AP. But Billings, Montana, correspondent and environment team member Matthew Brown decided to look more deeply into the highly touted savings to industry as well as the societal costs.

Brown painstakingly examined 11 major rules targeted by Trump’s administration, wading through many thousands of pages of government documents. Brown identified $11.6 billion in potential savings for companies that produce, use and transport fossil fuels, with billions more expected from a freeze of vehicle fuel efficiency standards that will hike fuel consumption.

But Brown also discovered that those savings will come at a steep cost, including more premature deaths and illnesses from air pollution, increased greenhouse gas emissions and additional derailments of trains carrying explosive fuels.

His Only on AP story ran on front pages of at least 16 newspapers and on numerous web sites. The Washington Post displayed both the main-bar the accompanying glance.

For in-depth reporting and comprehensive accounting of the administration’s actions on important environmental and safety issues, Brown wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Feb. 01, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Secret diplomacy behind Venezuela’s self-declared interim president

The world watched enthralled on Jan. 23 as little-known Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president of the struggling South American nation and called on socialist President Nicolas Maduro to resign. More surprising still, the United States, Canada and a host of Latin American countries recognized Guaido almost immediately as the country’s rightful leader.

The timing was clearly no coincidence, but what exactly had happened?

Andean News Director Josh Goodman, Canada Bureau Chief Rob Gillies and Washington newsman Luis Alonso shared first-rate source work to scoop everyone, revealing a coordinated behind-the-scenes push to back Guaido that read like a spy novel. For weeks, a coalition of Latin American governments had launched secret diplomatic efforts, including encrypted messages and a furtive trip by Guaido to Washington, Bogota and Brasilia to build a strategy around the baby-faced Assembly president.

So far, the AP is the only media outlet to have told this story, and it has been widely used inside and outside Venezuela. Even embattled President Maduro praised the AP scoop to supporters at a rally over the weekend.

For their resourceful and consequential news break on one of the top stories in the world, Goodman, Gillies and Alonso win AP’s Best of the Week.

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Jan. 25, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

All-formats team dominates coverage of Nairobi terror attack

From the first blasts, gunfire and panicked phone calls, the Nairobi bureau immediately assumed a terror attack, aggressively mobilizing resources in a textbook example of cross-format journalism that put the AP ahead on every element of a major breaking story: an extremist attack on a hotel complex that left 21 people dead, in addition to the five attackers.

Senior video producer Khaled Kazziha called freelance video journalist Joe Mwihia, who slipped into the scene with Kenyan special forces, filming exclusive footage as officers cleared rooms, guns drawn, and ran down rumors of a grenade. His three hours of exclusive reporting earned him the byline on the text story based on his detailed contributions.

Meanwhile, staff video journalist Josphat Kasire rushed to the scene with a LiveU and quickly scooped competitors with the first live shot showing burning cars, injured people, survivors fleeing in droves and witness accounts. His compelling footage became the heart of the text story, and the live images continued overnight as the attack unfolded.

Contributing to the outstanding video coverage were freelance cameraman Idi Ali Juma, freelance camera assistant Moses Ndungu and freelance producers Geoffrey Kaviti and Desmond Tiro.

“Sheer bravery,” international editor Ian Phillips said later of the team’s work.

Around the same time, Nairobi photographers Ben Curtis and Khalil Senosi captured gripping images of people fleeing the mayhem and security forces aiming weapons at attackers, among their standout photos.

The play for the photos, video and text was off the charts, including major client Sky News running live and packaged videos on a day busy with Brexit news.

For their formidable breaking news coverage across all formats, the Nairobi team of Kazziha, Curtis, Senosi, Mwihia, Kasire, Ali Juma, Tiro, Kavita and Ndungu wins AP’s Best of the Week.

Special Citation

The Best of the AP committee has also awarded a special lifetime citation to Libya freelance photographer and video journalist Mohamed Ben Khalifa, who died Jan. 19 when the military convoy with which he was traveling came under missile fire in southern Tripoli.

The committee honored Ben Khalifa for the body of his work, carried out with integrity and courage for The Associated Press and his other media clients.

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Dec. 21, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP first with exclusive video and photos of Strasbourg Christmas market attacker

For several intense weeks, AP’s all-formats Paris team had been contending with the violent street protests of the yellow vest movement. But a new threat to France’s peace suddenly arose when a man opened fire near the well-known Christmas market in Strasbourg.

On the evening of Dec. 11, the gunman shot and fatally wounded five people and injured a dozen more at the market. French authorities soon identified the suspect and said that the attack was being investigated as an act of terrorism. With that, France and Benelux Bureau Chief Angela Charlton and her all-formats crew quickly pivoted from the street protesters to focus on the attack, just as a massive manhunt was getting under way.

After AP confirmed that that police in Strasbourg had shot and killed the suspect on Dec. 13, Charlton scoured online white pages for potential witnesses, reaching a neighbor who, amazingly, was able to share images from directly across the street.

The exclusive video and photos that they negotiated were the result of teamwork and lessons learned from covering past attacks in identifying sources and deploying AP forces. And the close-up images told the story: the shooter’s body is seen slumped in a doorway as police and forensic officers move in.

The content, which had not yet appeared anywhere, was heavily used by broadcast and online clients around the world, both as video and for screengrabs.

For their resourceful, determined efforts to obtain exclusive images on this breaking story, the team of Angela Charlton, Alex Turnbull, Chris Noelting, Mstyslav Chernov, Jeff Schaeffer and Masha Macpherson receives the AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Dec. 14, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation reveals torture in Yemen’s Houthi rebel prisons

AP investigative reporter Maggie Michael has done landmark reporting on Yemen’s civil war throughout the past year, revealing abuses by the Saudi-led coalition that controls much of the south of the country.

But there had been a major gap in the coverage for all media: putting the same scrutiny on the other side in the conflict, the Houthi rebels who control the north. The Houthis impose strict controls on reporters, and sources are afraid to talk, problems that have prevented journalists from reporting in-depth on abuses carried out by the Houthis during the 4-year-old civil war.

Michael found another way. She and Cairo photographer Nariman El-Mofty travelled to the coalition-controlled city of Marib, where they could meet freely with victims of the Houthis who had fled the rebels’ rule. There, former prisoners described horrifying tortures at the hands of the Houthis. Nariman’s riveting visuals encapsulated the suffering, including photos of a man recovering from horrific acid burns, draped in red bandages.

The reporting, supported partly by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, was a breakthrough, as it has been rare to see atrocities by Houthis so prominently featured. Rather than denying the story, a top Houthi figure called for an investigation into allegations of torture in the movement’s prisons.

For their investigation that exposed in raw, excruciating detail the scope of torture committed by the Houthis, Michael and El-Mofty share AP's 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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Nov. 23, 2018

Best of the States

Requiem for Paradise: Remembering the sweet life of a town wiped out by wildfire

It’s not often you have to write an obituary for a town. Yet that’s what Martha Mendoza and Jocelyn Gecker did, with Gillian Flaccus producing a compelling video component. Their tribute to Paradise, California – leveled by a devastating wildfire that killed so many residents – painted a picture of all that was lost. Paradise was a gold prospector’s town, then a lumber town, and until two weeks ago was the home of 27,000 people “who lived and loved here; they built homes and businesses, schools and houses of worship, parks and museums that proudly honored Paradise's place in American history.”

Mendoza worked from the field, in the ashes of the town, with Gecker in San Francisco tracking down leads, helping to write the finished piece and finding photographs to illustrate “the town’s history and spirit.” Their nuanced reporting, along with that of many colleagues, drew forth tales of town holidays, and residents ruminating whether those staples of small-town America would continue.

The accompanying video by Gillian Flaccus, recorded during a ride-along with a long-time resident, complemented the text piece by showing street after street of utter devastation over the man’s narration.

Paradise is gone, and until it rebuilds in some fashion, Mendoza, Gecker and Flaccus have given the world the definitive piece on what it represented. For their deft depiction of the town behind the headlines, the trio wins AP's Best of the States.

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Oct. 12, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

All-formats team overcomes logistics to report devastation, heartbreak and heroism in Indonesia

An enormous story struck quickly on Sept 28 and unfolded at breathtaking speed – a magnitude 7.5 earthquake followed by a tsunami that washed over the Indonesian city of Palu. Communications collapsed and government reports were sketchy, but the few posts on social media provided the first indications of the enormous scope of the disaster.

The AP team shot into action to move cross-format personnel to the hardest-hit areas, texting details for the wire and squeezing out initial images for photos and video. In the days that followed, the breadth of coverage expanded to include rolling live video of rescues, grim portrayals of the retrieval of the dead, and personal stories of those whose homes and neighborhoods were now rubble.

For impressive work across all platforms despite enormous obstacles, the Best of the Week award goes to the following team:

– Jakarta staffers: office manager Elis Salim, reporter Niniek Karmini, photographers Tatan Syulfana, Dita Alangkara and Achmad Ibrahim, business writer Stephen Wright, newsperson Ali Kotarumalos, medical writer Margie Mason, videojournalist Fadlan Syam and senior producer Andi Jatmiko.

– Bangkok staffers: global enterprise writer Todd Pitman, videojournalist Tass Vejpongsa, video editor Jerry Harmer and special events coordinator Keiko Fujino.

– And: Kuala Lumpur videojournalist Syawall Zain, Manila photographer Aaron Favila, Malaysian correspondent Eileen Ng, Beijing facilities coordinator Xiao Wei Gong and Hanoi producer Hau Dinh.

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Oct. 05, 2018

Best of the States

Oklahoma Republicans targeted by GOP colleague, dark money

Oklahomans widely assumed that 12 Republican state lawmakers who lost their bids for re-election came up short at the polls because of their opposition to raising pay for the state’s public school teachers.

While opposition to education funding may have been one factor in incumbent losses in the GOP primaries, Oklahoma City-based reporter Sean Murphy began hearing scuttlebutt about an organized effort from within the Republican Party to kick out incumbents from their own party.

Using campaign finance reports and solid sourcing at the Capitol, Murphy was alone in showing that the rumors were true.

Public records showed a top state House GOP leader had given money to opponents of two of his own colleagues, and the opponents unseated the incumbents. Murphy also leveraged a relationship developed over years of reporting to get the lawmaker to talk. He acknowledged a plan to punish fellow Republicans for taking hardline stances that forced a compromise with Democrats on a plan to raise taxes to pay for teacher raises.

For combining shoe-leather reporting with smart document work, Murphy wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 14, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Trafficked Myanmar ‘bride’ escapes Chinese captivity – but loses her son

The team – Todd Pitman, Esther Htusan and Jerry Harmer – had gone to Kachin state to report on the war between Kachin rebels and Myanmar’s army. Near the end of their trip, they decided to look into a story Htusan wanted to do on bride trafficking. The lead was vague and the team wasn’t sure where it would take them.

But then, at a refugee camp, they met Marip Lu. And they knew immediately this was a story that had to be told.

With major contribution by Beijing staffers Shanshan Wang, Yanan Wang, Han Guan Ng and Dake Kang, they tell the harrowing tale of a woman who was kidnapped, held in captivity, raped and then forced to make the choice between freedom and her child. This powerful story, reported and told with great sensitivity, earns Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Making the signature photo, discreetly, as family mourns McCain

Sometimes it takes a team. And a resourceful photographer.

Phoenix photographer Ross Franklin made a stunning image of Cindy McCain resting her head on the casket of her late husband Sen. John McCain during a family service in the Arizona state Capitol. Getting to this moment was a team effort, starting with great Washington contacts and relationships that gave the AP not one but two exclusive spots in the rotunda in Phoenix.

But given the solemnity of the event, there was no way to shoot the private ceremony using a motor drive to take bursts of frames – it would have been too loud and would have echoed throughout the rotunda. So Franklin agreed to shoot the entire event balanced on a ladder overlooking the scene from the balcony, with his camera in a noise muffling blimp – basically operating a camera that is wrapped in a big pillow.

When Cindy McCain approached the casket, Franklin had just one or two frames to capture the signature moment. He nailed it, and the photo was used everywhere, including a stunning display on the front of the Arizona Republic.

For his exceptional work, Ross Franklin wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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