Jan. 11, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Documenting the US surge in identifying molester Catholic priests

In the months after a shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report on sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests, scattered dioceses across the country started putting out their own lists of molester priests. Some state and local authorities also announced they would investigate the church.

News outlets began reporting the varied efforts piecemeal. But no one was capturing the big picture – including the sudden urgency being shown by the church to open its books on past abuse.

Reporter Claudia Lauer in the Philadelphia bureau set out to fix that. Starting in November, she began systematically documenting every investigation taking place around the country and every instance of a diocese naming abusive priests in the wake of the Pennsylvania report.

With the number of US dioceses totaling 187, it was a time-consuming task. But that work paid off with her Jan. 3 exclusive. Lauer tallied more than 1,000 names publicized by 50 or so dioceses and established that over 50 more dioceses were committed to naming names. She also identified nearly 20 outside investigations taking place across the country, both criminal and civil.

The story won phenomenal play online and in print and generated huge interest on social media. Some Catholic publications used her story to provide an update on developments in the church.

For her painstaking and dogged work to document what has been happening in the church nationally in the wake of the Pennsylvania report, Lauer wins this week’s Best of the States.

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July 30, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP gets first look inside China’s largest detention center, breaks news on Uyghur incarceration

The sprawling Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center in Xinjiang, China, is the largest such facility in China (possibly the world), holding perhaps 10,000 or more and embodying the plight of the Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities. Western news organizations have only been able to report from the outside. But the Beijing-based team of enterprise journalist Dake Kang, photographer Mark Schiefelbein and news director Ken Moritsugu managed to get a tour, making the AP the first Western news organization to report inside the facility.

They delivered a vivid package on life inside the detention center, from numbered and tagged Uyghurs sitting ramrod straight to the instructions on force-feeding in the medical room. The journalists also revealed a disturbing new trend: China is moving from the temporary detention of Uyghurs to more permanent mass incarceration of people who have committed no real crime.

The story topped AP’s reader engagement for the week and drew comment from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who called China’s repression of the Uyghurs “horrific.”

For bringing the world rare insight into the detention centers where China holds Uyghurs, the team of Kang, Schiefelbein and Moritsugu earns AP’s Best of the Week 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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May 20, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Inside the 11-day search for escaped Alabama inmate and his jailer accomplice

As the search for Alabama fugitives Casey White and Vicky White captured the attention of the world, Washington-based federal law enforcement reporter Mike Balsamo reached out, working his network of sources in the Justice Department and the U.S. Marshals Service for details.

Balsamo also connected with the U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Alabama, knowing he would be the person most likely to have the inside information that would enable AP to put together a clear timeline of a messy escape saga littered with gaps and confusing accounts.

That contact turned out to be pivotal after the pursuit came to a violent end in Indiana on May 9. The marshal’s exclusive account of the 11-day search, coupled with details Balsamo picked up from other sources, gave AP a story rich with previously unreported detail and context. It also made for an exceptionally easy-to-follow narrative. The resulting story played widely, from Alabama to Australia.

For using all his resources to distinguish AP’s coverage on this extremely competitive story, Mike Balsamo is AP’s Best of the Week – First Winner.

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March 29, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

Planning, execution and teamwork deliver outstanding coverage of Mueller report

For weeks, journalists in Washington had been chasing tips that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 race for the White House was winding down. Knowing that appetite for the story was huge, our Washington team created a comprehensive coverage plan for the day the report would be delivered to Attorney General William Barr.

Eric Tucker, Justice Department reporter, and Chad Day, Trump investigations reporter, kicked off the coverage with “Mueller in Plain Sight,” a sweeping narrative of everything that had already been revealed by Mueller in his public indictments.

As speculation intensified, Tucker and law enforcement reporter Mike Balsamo alternated shifts at the Justice Department, while AP photographers and videojournalists staked out Mueller and Barr. Photographer Andrew Harnik scored with images of Mueller arriving at the Justice Department, the first image of Mueller by a news photographer in more than a year.

Word finally came on Friday, March 22 that Mueller’s work had ended. Within minutes of moving an alert, the AP sent a series of richly reported stories by the team that led AP’s coverage for months: Tucker, Day, Balsamo and Congress reporter Mary Clare Jalonick.

And on Sunday morning AP scored another visual scoop when freelance photographer Cliff Owen learned that Mueller was at church. Owen’s photos of Mueller exiting St. John’s church ricocheted around the internet.

Later Sunday, when a Justice Department official handed reporters copies of Barr’s summary, Tucker calmly read the highlights over an open phone line to the bureau while Balsamo sent full quotes. AP’s first alert, that Mueller had not exonerated Trump on obstruction of justice, moved a full 10 minutes before the Washington Post and five minutes before the New York Times.

The video team also provided unmatched live coverage from a wide range of locations in Washington, at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and in New York throughout the weekend.

For exceptional planning, teamwork and execution, Eric Tucker, Chad Day, Mike Balsamo, Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Harnik and Cliff Owen win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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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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June 29, 2017

Best of the States

Enterprising desk work puts AP out front on amusement park rescue

Colleen Long was by herself on the New York City desk this past Sunday with plenty to do, including taking feeds from two different stringers to update national stories on gay pride parades and a graduation at a suburban high school shattered by killings blamed on the violent MS-13 gang.

But she still managed to jump into action on what turned out to be one of the day’s most clickable stories – of a teenager who dangled and then fell 25 feet from a gondola ride at an upstate New York amusement park.

Not only did Long land an interview with a father and daughter who scrambled to safely catch the 14-year-old girl, she also got the man to send in video that a friend took of the entire event, a reporting tour de force that singlehandedly put the AP out front across all formats.

For doggedly working a story from the desk to keep the AP competitive, Colleen Long wins this week’s Best of the States Award.

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July 13, 2018

Best of the States

Two stories focus on young victims impacted by US immigration policy

In two moving pieces of journalism in the last week, Associated Press journalists cast a powerful spotlight on the toll of White House immigration policies on young children.

One story started with a question posed by immigration beat team reporter Nomaan Merchant: Could we profile a single block or community where multiple immigrants had been picked up, and explore the impact of those arrests?

Merchant, joined by video journalist Manuel Valdes and photographer Greg Bull, zeroed in on a community in Kentucky that was the site of a two-day Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid last December.

Their reporting turned up examples of people who were arrested by happenstance, and with no criminal records – despite the administration’s mantra that the raids are for public safety. Perhaps the most poignant reporting and images focused on a 4-year-old boy whose father was arrested.

Meanwhile, Arizona immigration reporter Astrid Galvan was looking for ways to tell the stories of children separated from their parents at the border. She found a juvenile docket in Phoenix immigration court and camped out there for the day.

What she found was a major story that affected the national debate on immigration – a 1-year-old boy who had a court appearance with a lawyer. Galvan described in vivid detail how he nursed from his bottle, asked his care giver for “agua” and cried when the care giver retrieved his diaper bag. And she captured the money quote as a judge expressed his bafflement at having to advise a defendant of his rights when the defendant was a 1-year-old boy in diapers.

For exclusive, compelling stories that drove the narrative on a subject of prevailing interest, Galvan, Merchant, Valdes and Bull win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 25, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP’s Brexit team delivers ambitious, insightful coverage during crucial week

The Brexit break-up has dominated Europe for months. Audience demands are high for each development, yet it’s hard for any news organization to stand out because so many media outlets are pursuing the same stories.

But AP’s Brexit team rose to the occasion by combining exceptional planning and reporting skills to deliver extraordinary coverage in every format during a crucial week in which the European Union and the British Parliament were set to decide the UK’s future in Europe. In the process, they dominated on a very competitive story with ambitious and comprehensive coverage from the UK to Brussels and Northern Ireland.

For collaborating in all formats to deliver lively, ambitious, insightful and comprehensive coverage of the Brexit drama and its broader implications, the team of Jill Lawless, Danica Kirka, Greg Katz, David Keyton, Raf Casert, Virginia Mayo, Sylvain Plazy, Martin Cleaver and Susie Blann earn AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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March 19, 2021

Best of the States

Skeleton found in mountains leads to a family’s story of Japanese internment tragedy

Los Angeles-based reporter Brian Melley reported the initial news of a human skeleton discovered near California’s second-highest peak in 2019, and he broke the news connecting the find to the World War II internment of 110,000 people of Japanese descent. But Melley didn't stop there. He persisted in tracking down family members of Giichi Matsumura, whose body had lain in the mountains for almost 75 years.

Melley found and earned the trust of Matsumura’s granddaughter Lori. In this beautifully elegiac exclusive he reveals how the family’s life in the U.S. was abruptly upended by the Japanese internment, the tragedy compounded by the death of Giichi and the inability to give him a proper burial. It was Lori Matsumura who managed to bring him home for reburial 75 years later, reuniting three generations in a Santa Monica cemetery.

For his determination to follow Giichi Matsumura’s narrative to conclusion, breaking news while telling one family’s poignant story, Melley wins AP’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 22, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Assassination of the Russian Ambassador

On his way home, AP photographer Burhan Ozbilici stopped at the opening of a photo exhibit at Ankara’s Contemporary Arts Center. The Russian ambassador to Turkey was to speak, and Ozbilici figured the AP could use images of the envoy for its archives.

Shockingly, Ozbilici instead found himself a witness to an assassination. With cool head and steady hands, he documented the killing of Ambassador Andrei Karlov, capturing some of the most astonishing images of this or any other year. His photo of the raging gunman _ one hand holding the gun, the other pointed to the ceiling, his lifeless victim on the floor _ would appear on countless front pages and broadcasts and websites. Within hours, it was seen by some 18 million people on Facebook alone.

Even in a year of remarkable work by AP staffers, Ozbilici’s photos and actions were extraordinary _ and richly deserving of the final Beat of the Week award of 2016.

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June 02, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

As Olympics loom, violence flares in Rio's slums, even those termed ‘pacified’

Ahead of the Olympics, an AP team in Rio wanted a close look at the city's slums, which have long been plagued with violence, to learn whether high-profile community policing programs are working in areas deemed `pacified.' Braving gunfire in what is considered a no-go area for reporters, AP produced up-close, all-formats coverage showing deadly violence continues to flare.

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April 10, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

Rare glimpses inside the pandemic: An ICU in Spain, a New York funeral home

“No.”

“Never.”

“Not possible.”  

“Can't be done.”

Photographer Felipe Dana and video journalist Renata Brito were told in no uncertain terms that Spanish hospitals and their intensive care units in particular would not allow access to journalists reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. And in New York, the all-formats team of John Minchillo, Robert Bumsted and Jake Seiner was given largely the same answer when they tried to get into a funeral home to document the surge of victims literally piling up.

Neither team took no for an answer. Both teams produced haunting images and text documenting the stark reality wrought by the pandemic.

The tenacity, skill and bravery on display from both teams was the difference between getting the story out to the world and revealing the human cost of the crisis – or not. It’s the latest example of AP journalists proving that “No. Never. Not Possible,” does not apply to them. And it is why Dana, Brito, Minchillo, Bumsted and Seiner share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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May 31, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Mind-blowing exclusive: Security troops on US nuclear base took LSD

After five years exposing the struggles of the U.S. Air Force’s nuclear missile corps – security lapses, leadership and training failures, morale problems – Bob Burns uncovered an exclusive that was mind-blowing in every sense of the word: Airmen guarding a base in Wyoming had bought, distributed and used LSD.

Burns, a Washington-based national security writer, knew from his previous reporting on the missile corps that illegal drug use was a recurring problem and that the Air Force was reluctant to discuss it.

When the court martial proceedings began in 2016 he started filing FOIA requests for the transcripts and supporting legal documents. It took the Air Force well over a year to finish responding to Burns’ requests, but by January 2018 he had the bulk of the records he needed to piece together the story, including trial transcripts and related documents, with descriptions of drug experiences of airmen, ranging from panic to euphoria.

For his extraordinary revelation that some of the nation’s most deadly weapons were in the hands of hallucinating airmen, Burns takes this week's Beat of the Week 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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Dec. 01, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP releases mini-documentary package about the US opioid crisis

How best to capture the story of recovering opioid users?

Chicago-based medical writer Lindsey Tanner and Atlanta-based photographer/videographer David Goldman teamed up to produce an intimate look at a diverse group of people – among them, a lawyer, a businessman and a trucker – who got caught up in the worst opioid epidemic in U.S. history.

Their illuminating package – combining Tanner's powerful text and Goldman's photos with a haunting mini-documentary – earns the Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 20, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

‘We went straight to the border’: AP documents Armenians burning their homes in conflict zone

For more than a month, video journalist Mstyslav Chernov and photographer Dmitri Lovetsky tirelessly documented fierce fighting over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Then, as they were wrapping up their assignment, Armenia signed an agreement ceding the territory to Azerbaijan, triggering protests in Armenia and an exodus of ethnic Armenians from the region now falling into enemy hands. When Chernov and Lovetsky learned that Armenians were burning their own homes as they fled the region, the AP pair repeatedly made risky and arduous trips into the territory, producing powerful, emotionally charged reporting and images, including the moving story of a family abandoning its home.

For displaying exceptional commitment and courage in their coverage of last week’s dramatic developments — as they have throughout this weekslong story — Chernov and Lovetsky earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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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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Nov. 15, 2019

Best of the States

AP Investigation: At least 1,680 aging US dams pose a risk to thousands

Severe storms, extreme flooding and aging infrastructure present a rising peril throughout much of the U.S., but trying to assess the risks has been extremely difficult. The reason: The federal agency overseeing the nation’s dams has sealed off the most essential information about their condition and the potential threats to those living downstream.

Prying that information loose took the kind of dedicated, 50-state effort that the AP is uniquely positioned to pursue. Data journalist Michelle Minkoff and Northern New England correspondent Michael Casey, collaborating with state government team member David Lieb and a visual team led by video journalist Allen Breed – as well as a cast of AP state reporters, photographers and data journalists – produced a deeply reported and visually stunning package revealing the dangers of nearly 1,700 aging dams, from Hawaii to Massachusetts.

Some two years in the making, the package resulted in explosive play – more than 100,000 page views on AP News and more than 80 front pages. 

For their exhaustive efforts to unlock critical public information and relay the findings in an engaging fashion, Minkoff, Casey, Lieb and Breed win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 23, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Pro-painkiller echo chamber shaped policy amid drug epidemic

Combine the capabilities of The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity, and this is what you can get: A two-part blockbuster that exposed the efforts of the opioid industry and allied groups to stymie limits on the use of its powerful drugs, and detailed how they spent more than $880 million on lobbying and political contributions over the past decade.

The genesis of the project was a conversation between Tom Verdin, editor of AP’s state government team, and Geoff Mulvihill, a member of that team. Mulvihill, based in Mount Laurel, N.J., has covered the opioid crisis sweeping the nation, and the two hit upon the idea of trying to determine the extent of the pharmaceutical industry’s exerting influence in state legislatures across the country.

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