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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Oct. 07, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Churches defend clergy loophole on child sex abuse reporting

joined forces to reveal how religious lobbying across the U.S. has protected a loophole that exempts clergy from reporting child abuse if the abuse is revealed in a spiritual setting. The subject had surfaced in Rezendes’ August investigation into the mishandling and coverup of child sex abuse cases by the Mormon church.The investigative reporters found similar dynamics playing out in all 33 states that have the loophole: The Catholic and Mormon churches, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses successfully defeated more than 130 bills seeking to create or amend child sex abuse reporting laws.AP’s reporting brought attention to the loophole and prompted at least one state lawmaker to say he would introduce a bill to close the exemption.Read more

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Jan. 25, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Like an episode of ‘Narcos’: Rogue DEA agent in Colombia conspires to steal millions

for their APNewsBreak on the biggest scandal in the DEA’s recent history, detailing how a rogue agent in Colombia teamed up with a top money launderer to allegedly steal $7 million over six years. The story, built on sourcework and solid reporting, was the second-most read on the APNews app on a Trump-dominated news day, and on its second day was still garnering 35,000 readers. In Colombia, it was front-page news and spurred a police investigation into the rogue agent’s Colombian wife. https://bit.ly/2FZtPgD

April 08, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Trooper gave recorded interview on Greene’s fatal arrest

obtained a never-before-released, internal affairs interview with the Louisiana state trooper considered the most violent in the deadly 2019 arrest of Black motorist Ronald Greene. This was the latest in a string of AP exclusives on Greene’s death — even federal prosecutors did not know the recording existed until AP published it.In the two-hour interview. Hollingsworth admits to holding Greene down and bashing him in the head with a flashlight. But Hollingsworth portrays himself as the victim, saying he feared for his life, even as video played over and over shows the white troopers stunning, punching and dragging Greene as he appeared to surrender.Read more

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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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June 03, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Governor saw Greene arrest video months before prosecutors

scored their latest in a string of exclusives on the deadly 2019 arrest of Black motorist Ronald Greene, finding that Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards watched a key video of Greene taking his final breaths — a full six months before prosecutors were aware the footage even existed.While the Democrat has distanced himself from allegations of a cover-up in the explosive case by contending evidence was promptly turned over to authorities, AP’s monthslong investigation involving dozens of interviews and hundreds of pages of documents found that wasn’t the case with the 30-minute video he privately viewed in the fall of 2020.Response to the story was swift. A bipartisan legislative committee investigating the case in response to AP’s previous reporting indicated that it would move quickly to call Edwards and key members of his staff to testify under oath.Read more

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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. 04, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Exclusive and explosive: WHO leader in Western Pacific accused of racism and abuse

London-based medical writer Maria Cheng, drawing on leaked emails, interviews, recordings and her deep understanding of the World Health Organization, revealed that dozens of staffers have accused Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the U.N. agency’s regional director for much of Asia, of racism and abuse, and that his actions allegedly hampered WHO’s efforts to curb the COVID pandemic in the region.

Cheng obtained internal complaints and talked to current and former staffers who said Kasai had engaged in racist, unethical and abusive behavior. Staffers said the departure of more than 55 WHO personnel from this critical region, most not replaced, significantly contributing to a surge in cases in many countries. Kasai was also accused of sharing COVID information improperly with his home country, Japan, for its political gain.

In an email to the AP, Kasai denied charges of racism and unethical behavior and said he had taken steps to communicate with all his staff.

Cheng’s story was explosive. At Saturday’s closing session of WHO’s board meeting, several countries pressured the organization to investigate the allegations reported by the AP. By Monday, the WHO director-general said an investigation had started.

For deeply reported, groundbreaking work that has had an impact, Cheng is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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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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June 17, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation of Louisiana State Police triggers federal probe

fittingly beat the competition with news of the biggest impact yet from their two-year investigation of beatings and cover-ups by the Louisiana State Police: The U.S. Justice Department is launching a sweeping civil rights probe of the agency to see if there is a pattern of excessive force and racial discrimination.Based on their deep sourcing, Mustian and Bleiberg were able to exclusively report the federal “pattern-or-practice” investigation as a news alert about an hour before the official announcement in Baton Rouge. It marked the first such action against a statewide law enforcement agency in more than two decades. All the examples cited by the assistant attorney general as justitification for the probe came from a string of AP scoops that exposed (often with video) beatings of mostly Black men and the Louisiana agency’s instinct to protect troopers rather than investigate them.Read more

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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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