Nov. 16, 2018

Best of the States

Multiple AP exclusives in all formats from mass shooting at California bar

Just before midnight on the day after California staffers were up late covering the midterm election came reports of a shooting at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Over the next 12 hours, as the scale of the carnage emerged, Sacramento correspondent Kathleen Ronayne, Washington-based reporters Mike Balsamo and Tami Abdollah, and photographer Mark Terrill and video journalist Krysta Fauria, both based in Los Angeles, combined to provide exclusive all-formats content for AP customers.

Despite the hour, Fauria and Terrill were on the scene within 90 minutes of the first reports coming in. Terrill made tight shots of the scene that no one else could match – his photos were used heavily by numerous outlets. Meanwhile, Fauria quickly set up a live shot, the first of four she would do over 12 hours at three locations. She also got AP’s first interview from a survivor.

Reporter Ronayne, bleary-eyed from the long election night, provided the first live video of authorities searching the shooter's home, while Balsamo used a source to break the widely played news that the murder weapon was a handgun, not an assault weapon.

As other news organizations pulled photos of the gunman from social media, Balsamo’s Washington colleague – and fellow AP-Los Angeles alumnus – Tami Abdollah used a source to obtain a driver’s license photo that is believed to be the first and still perhaps the only rights-cleared image of the gunman.

For providing news, photos and video that others couldn’t, Ronayne, Terrill, Balsamo, Abdollah and Fauria win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 13, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Exclusive visuals, reporting distinguish Vegas shooting coverage

It was just one of the many mysteries surrounding the Las Vegas concert shooting: How did the gunman, perched up on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort, fire off as many as 90 rounds onto thousands of concert-goers in just 10 seconds, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds?

Reporters Sadie Gurman and Mike Balsamo found the answer. Through sourcework, they learned that Stephen Paddock was able to carry out his assault in moments because he had used two “bump stocks,” devices that allow a semi-automatic rifle to repeatedly fire like a machine gun.

The scoop was part of an impressive week of coverage by staff in the Las Vegas bureau and across the AP that also included photographer John Locher’s dramatic images of police screaming for people to take cover as the gunman sprayed the crowd with bullets.

For their work in bringing critical details and images of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Gurman, Balsamo and Locher win this week’s Beat of the Week prize.

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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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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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Feb. 12, 2021

Best of the States

AP analysis: In the US, a centuries-old race war continues to rage against people of color

As AP race and ethnicity writer Aaron Morrison covered the protests that grew out of the 2020 killings of George Floyd and others, he also saw President Donald Trump on TV, trying to undermine the racial reckoning at every turn.

Fast forward to Jan. 6, when a mob of mostly white rioters, upset that Trump wasn't reelected, violently breached the U.S. Capitol. Morrison connected the dots of what he described as a war of white aggression. “A war rages on in America,” Morrison wrote in this analysis piece, “It started with slavery and never ended ...” 

With powerful video by Noreen Nasir, portraits by Chris Carlson and presentation by Alyssa Goodman, the package received prominent play and sparked discussion both online and within the AP.

For a timely, compelling package that looks at the state of race relations with historical context and thoughtful analysis, the team of Morrison, Nasir, Carlson and Goodman earns 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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March 12, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Solid sourcing leads to AP’s most-used story of 2021: 6 Dr. Seuss books retired for racist images

Mark Pratt, a breaking news staffer in Boston, has written several stories exploring the complicated past of Theodor Seuss Geisel — Dr. Seuss. The company that preserves and protects the author’s legacy knew it could trust him.

So Dr. Seuss Enterprises gave Pratt early word on a story that would become a global bestseller for AP, generating off-the-charts customer use for three days and eventually becoming the single most-used AP story of 2021 to date: The company was ceasing publication and sales of six Seuss books because of their offensive imagery.

Pratt’s story instantly rocketed to the very top of a hectic news cycle, touching off a firestorm of commentary and conservative claims of “cancel culture.” The piece exceeded 2.5 million pageviews — catapulting it past the Capitol insurrection coverage in terms of customer use and clicks.

For nurturing trust with a newsmaker that yielded an AP exclusive still resonating with customers and news consumers, Pratt wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 25, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Source work, reporting, exclusive data modeling put AP ahead on omicron immunity

For two years, as COVID-19 ravaged the world, AP health and science reporter Carla Johnson stayed in constant contact with disease modelers who were using careful analysis to predict what the coronavirus would do next.

This time her subject was the omicron wave — millions were infected and millions more had immunity through vaccination and/or past infection. Johnson knew those numbers might answer one of the most vexing questions of the pandemic: How much immunity had Americans developed from omicron?

Johnson leaned on her sources and asked one influential analyst to produce projections for the AP. The result was a key finding that gave the country the earliest and clearest sense yet of how the U.S. is navigating the pandemic: 73% of the country is believed to be protected from omicron.

Her deeply reported but straightforward story, explaining why future waves may be far less disruptive in the U.S., played widely with credit to AP’s exclusive reporting.

For recognizing that the data might hold answers on COVID immunity, and resourceful source work that delivered a unique projection of future infection, Johnson is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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July 31, 2020

Best of the States

AP all-formats team delivers stunning coverage of Portland protests

When the arrival of militarized federal agents in Portland, Oregon, escalated tensions in the state’s largest city – energizing the racial justice movement and inflaming protests outside the federal courthouse – AP’s all-formats coverage shined all week. 

The AP team, often at risk themselves, delivered a steady stream of breaking news developments, searing images of nightly clashes involving lasers, fires, homemade bombs and tear gas, as well as exclusive coverage from inside the courthouse.

For a week’s worth of powerful, revealing stories and startling images that provided insight into the events in Portland, the team of Flaccus, Berger, Sanchez, Ranen, Balsamo, Selsky, Cline and Fauria wins AP’s Best of the States award.

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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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Feb. 14, 2020

Best of the States

Records reveal Virginia attorney-lawmaker privilege that delays court proceedings

Sometimes accountability stories are hiding in plain sight, but getting to them requires first recognizing the potential and then doing a whole lot of digging. Virginia reporter Sarah Rankin did both of those things. 

After seeing a one-sentence mention in a legal trade publication, Rankin began the hunt for a deeper story about a continuance privilege granted to lawyer-legislators, and how one Virginia lawmaker used the privilege to consistently delay court hearings. 

Rankin plowed through records of cases that involved Virginia lawmaker Jeff Campbell, the defense attorney for a one-time NASCAR race driver accused of domestic violence. She found that Campbell had employed the continuance privilege at least 30 times over three years, more than double any other lawyer-legislator.

For seizing on the brief mention, then following up with determined reporting that revealed a potential for abuse by lawyer-lawmakers in Virginia and elsewhere, Rankin wins the week’s Best of the States award.

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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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May 13, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Unique AP visual investigation points to 600 dead in airstrike on Mariupol theater

A deeply reported, innovative and meticulous AP investigation determined that the deadliest apparent war crime so far in Ukraine — the March 16 Mariupol theater airstrike — likely killed about 600 people, twice as many as previously reported.

AP’s first full-blown visual investigation drew on survivors’ accounts, photos, video, experts and a 3D digital model of the theater to reconstruct what happened that day. The resulting package offered a vivid, detailed narrative of the events inside the theater, including elements that had not previously been reported, all delivered in an arresting presentation.

For a remarkable investigation that harnessed the power of all formats to break news, the team of Hinnant, Ritzel, Chernov, Stepanenko and Goodman is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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March 30, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP analysis: At least 19,000 in Iraq detained for terrorism, thousands sentenced to death

Prisons in Iraq held thousands of Islamic State group militants, but few outside the government knew exactly how many. Baghdad-based reporter Qassim Abdul-Zahra set out to find out – and he wasn’t going to take a rough estimate for an answer.

With Baghdad correspondent Susannah George and Mideast enterprise editor Lee Keath, Abdul-Zahara analyzed documents he obtained from a Justice Ministry official, finding that the government was holding at least 19,000 people accused of ISIS connections or other terror-related offenses and that more than 3,000 of them had been sentenced to death.

For intrepid source work and analysis to establish the facts around the imprisonment of thousands of Islamic State group militants in Iraq, Abdul-Zahra, George and Keath win Beat of the Week.

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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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Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the States

Request denied? Sunshine Hub sheds light on state efforts to block public access

Beyond its dramatic effects, the audio from 911 calls can provide the kind of context that is essential to the public's understanding of what happened during a newsworthy crime or emergency. Those recordings are, with few exceptions, a matter of public record. That almost changed this year in Iowa, where the state House passed – unanimously – a bill that would end the public's ability to access many 911 calls. The bill eventually died after an outcry from the media, watchdog groups and civil rights organizations, but it was not unusual. A months-long project by AP reporters and data journalists found more than 150 bills introduced in state legislatures this year that were intended to eliminate or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings.

To help reporters find, track and provide input on those bills, Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen of the data team created a unique online tool that provided full access to AP customers.

Called the Sunshine Hub, it helps users keep track of legislative activity related to government transparency, suggest new bills, search for and categorize bills for research purposes, and discuss legislation with others. The Sunshine Hub directly complemented stories by Ryan Foley in Iowa, Andrew DeMillo in Arkansas and Laurie Kellman in Washington.

For their groundbreaking reporting and software development, Tumgoren, Rasmussen, Foley, DeMillo and Kellman win this week's Best of the States award.

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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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