March 31, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Years of source work in Texas leads to power narrative enterprise story

Jake Bleiberg spent years reporting on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, including an investigation in September into the dropped cases. That story caught the attention of Irma Reyes, a South Texas mother, who reached out to Bleiberg to say that something similar was probably about to happen in the cases of two men charged with sex trafficking her daughter. Bleiberg checked sources and records and then headed to court, where he and Eric Gay witnessed Reyes’s worst fears come to pass.    

The resulting story became the most engaged story of the week on APNews. It also received extensive play across Texas and national media outlets, and won praise from elected officials critical of Paxton, as well as from prosecutors, and even a lawyer for one of the men accused in the case.    

For their compelling all-formats narrative story that put a human face on the dysfunction in Texas that led prosecutors to drop human trafficking and child sexual abuse cases, writer Jake Bleiberg, photographer Eric Gay and video journalist Lekan Oyekanmi are the first winners of this week’s Best of the Week award. 

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July 14, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Follow-up reporting after Texas mass shooting reveals long-standing complaints about police response

When a Texas sheriff’s story about a mass shooting didn’t add up, Dallas-based reporter Jake Bleiberg dug in.  

During the four-day search for a man accused of fatally shooting five of his neighbors in April, San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers told a crush of reporters that his deputies got to the scene in 11 minutes, but the suspect had vanished. Bleiberg was among the Texas reporters covering the shooting who heard from area residents that deputies rarely responded to calls faster than 30 minutes. As he worked the phone to get a fuller picture, Bleiberg connected with a source who provided him with the report of a police consultant who county officials hired to examine the sheriff’s office. Bleiberg quickly authenticated the document and headed down to the rural corner of East Texas to continue reporting along with video journalist Lekan Oyekanmi and freelance photographer Michael Wyke.  

They conducted more than 20 interviews with current and former deputies, county officials and residents. Bleiberg successfully pressed for the release of public records related to the shooting and obtained revealing court documents and evidence gathered in a whistleblower lawsuit against the sheriff. The reporting revealed that the latest inaccuracies were part of years’ worth of accusations against the sheriff, including neglecting basic police work, evidence of the improper seizure of tens of thousands of dollars of property, ignoring previous concerns over the alleged shooter, and his deputies failing to follow up on reports of 4,000 crimes — including sexual and child abuse.  

For a tireless effort to reveal years of corruption accusations and dysfunction previously unknown outside of the local area, Jake Bleiberg earns Best of the Week — First Winner. 

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Dec. 08, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Investigation uncovers private school selling diplomas, no classes required

In a package featuring multiple scoops and exclusives, an AP team investigating Louisiana’s rise in unapproved private schools stumbled on a school selling diplomas to anyone whose parents said they had completed their education — even years later. That revelation rocked the state and reverberated across the nation.

Education data reporter Sharon Lurye partnered with Charles Lussier of The (Louisiana) Advocate to secure stunning interviews with an operator of the school defending the practice as an extension of parents’ rights and also met multiple graduates who had gained their diplomas. On the other side of the investigation Lurye and Lussier demonstrated the depth of the risks in sending a child to such a school, landing a rare interview with a mom who says a teacher offered her teen daughter money for sexually explicit photos and wanted to warn others against enrolling their kids in an unapproved school.

Lurye and Lussier were the first to quantify the rise in popularity among Louisiana’s unapproved schools — over 21,000 students, nearly double the number before the pandemic. Many of the families using unapproved schools are homeschooling. But 30 of the schools have more than 50 students.

The project ran on the front page in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Arcadiana. Lurye did radio interviews on WWL in New Orleans and for the “Louisiana Considered” program on the public radio stations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Prominent pickups included Fox News, Newser and ABC News. The project was named one of the best stories of the week by “The Grade,” a well-read education blog.

For a strong investigation, securing multiple exclusives while providing a public service to the people of Louisiana, Lurye wins this week’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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May 17, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP discovers torture, the rape of girls and the deliberate capsizing of a boat of Rohingya refugees

When the boat of about 140 Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Bangladesh and Myanmar capsized off Indonesia, killing 67 people, the media focused on the rescued and the dead. No one understood why or how the boat capsized. Kristen Gelineau, AP’s Sydney-based global investigations reporter, suspected something had gone very wrong; there were no reports of storms or engine problems. She received tips from two sources that there might have been sexual assaults on board the boat and the captain may have deliberately sunk it. She wanted answers from the survivors themselves.

With Gelineau providing direction from Sydney, Jakarta-based reporter Edna Tarigan flew to Indonesia’s Aceh province to team up with freelance photographer Reza Saifullah, who had photographed the rescue.

The Rohingya are challenging to interview due to their extreme levels of trauma, and the lone survivor of the captain’s sexual assaults was no exception. The 12-year-old girl shared her vital, exclusive account of the horrors on that boat. Over a shaky Zoom connection, a Rohingya translator dialed into the interviews.

The team guaranteed those who wanted anonymity that AP would protect their privacy, and those who were reluctant to be photographed by a man eventually came to trust Saifullah and that his photographs would respect that agreement if that was their wish.

For bringing AP readers the first and only account of the trauma suffered by this group of Rohingya refugees, the reporting by Gelineau, Tarigan and Saifullah is this week’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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