Dec. 16, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP spotlights remarkable rise of federal prison official accused of misconduct

Mike Balsamo in Washington and Mike Sisak in New York trained a lens on a single Bureau of Prisons official, Thomas Ray Hinkle, who received promotions across four decades despite repeated allegations of abuse, misconduct and even admissions by him that he’d beaten inmates in the past as part of a gang of guards called “The Cowboys.”

After being tipped earlier this year to Hinkle’s past, Sisak and Balsamo went about securing and scrutinizing 1,600 pages of documents that provided details of the allegations and developed key sources within the prisons system who corroborated the accusations. Finally, toward the end of the reporting process, they secured comment from Hinkle and the bureau, both of which acknowledged his previous excesses but said he was a changed man.

For a dogged and impactful investigation that caps a year in which their reporting has shaken the hierarchy of the federal prison systems and forced officials to confront abuses long out of public view, Balsamo and Sisak are Best of the Week 1st Winners.

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Aug. 04, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

A photo and source work spark a compelling, emotional tale on migration

Migration-focused video journalist Renata Brito in Barcelona took note of a heartbreaking photo on social media to spark a story about the situation at the Tunisia-Libya border — and she used her years of source work, expertise on the border and help from around AP to confirm the story.

On July 19, the photo of a woman and child lying dead, barefoot and face down in the tawny desert sand began circulating on social media. It was retweeted by activists who accused Tunisia of abandoning migrants to their fates on the other side of Tunisia’s desert border with Libya.

But little was known about the photo or the stories of the two who had died.

On social media, some said the photo spoke to that growing crisis, but others insisted it was an old image from another country.

Three days after the photo surfaced, a source of Brito’s in Libya messaged her, saying he knew the woman and child in the photo. From afar, Brito had developed a relationship with the source for years. For this story, Brito asked the source: How did he know it was them? Could she speak to friends or family? With whom did they travel?

That resulted in a tale of dashed hope and tragedy as told to the AP by the late woman’s husband, with additional details and key context contributed by Elaine Ganley and Samy Magdy, who together are Best of the Week — First Winner.

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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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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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March 17, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP shows why young Americans are shunning college

News outlets had widely reported a drop in U.S. college enrollment, but nobody had really explained why. Education reporter Collin Binkley and Ohio-based video journalist Patrick Orsagos figured the best way to find out was to talk with young adults themselves.   

Binkley won a grant from the Education Writers Association and traveled with Orsagos to western Tennessee, where the pair conducted cross-format interviews with high school graduates whose stories exposed the reasons behind the trend: The high cost of higher education. Fear of student debt. A hot job market. General disillusionment with education after high school experiences disrupted by the pandemic and school closures.   

The story sparked wide discussion about the cost of college, the need for reform in higher education and the relevance of a bachelor’s degree in today’s economy. The day after publication the story landed on Reddit’s “popular” page, thanks to a post on the “Futurology” subreddit that received more than 25,000 upvotes and 3,000 comments. It appeared on at least 21 newspaper front pages, with good play on The Tennessean, The Jackson Sun, The Columbus Dispatch, The Roanoke Times and the Ithaca Journal, among others.

The story was tweeted by several members of Congress, including Sen. Marco Rubio. Parents, professors and other readers reached out via email and social media, saying the story resonated with them and demonstrated the need for America’s colleges to offer something young people see value in. And the former admissions director at Jackson State Community College offered to advise one of the students in the story on her college options; that student said she plans to contact him.  

For going to the source to find the reasons behind a major trend, Binkley and Orsagos share this week’s Best of the Week — First Place honors.

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Feb. 03, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP scores exclusive interview with Pope Francis, making news worldwide with a papal call to decriminalize homosexuality

Vatican Correspondent Nicole Winfield's tenacious reporting has already delivered numerous exclusives over a two-decade career covering three popes. Yet an on-camera, sit-down interview with a pontiff had eluded the AP.

That changed dramatically Jan. 24. After years of lobbying, the pope sat down for an historic interview with Winfield, whom Francis has for years called the “prima della classe,” or “first in class,” as a sign of respect for her tough but fair reporting on his pontificate. In fact, during the interview, he mentioned how Winfield’s questions about sex abuse during a 2018 airborne press conference led to his “conversion” moment when he realized that Chilean bishops had been covering up cases of abuse for decades.

For weeks, Winfield prepared the interview with Rome Senior Producer Maria Grazia Murru, who for decades has led the Vatican video operations. They coordinated every detail and prepared the right questions and approach for the interview. Murru designed the video coverage plan and spearheaded the production of social media promotion material. And together, they wrote letters in the most formal Italian to Francis’ private secretaries, until a date was finally arranged — for late January, a time that seemed ripe to make news. It was one week ahead of his planned trip to Africa and just over a month ahead of the 10th anniversary of his pontificate.

Video’s Paolo Santalucia and Photos’ Domenico Stinellis planned the lighting at the venue and sorted out technical details, and photographer Andrew Medichini’s images captured the historic event. Spanish language editor Cristina Fuentes-Cantillana transcribed and translated the full interview, conducted in the pope’s native Spanish.

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Dec. 23, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP's Winfield holds Pope Francis’ Jesuit order to account by challenging superior to tell truth

held Pope Francis’ Jesuit order to account by challenging the superior general to come clean with the truth about a famous Jesuit artist accused of sexual and spiritual abuse of women under his care. The superior’s admission to Winfield – during a Christmas reception-turned-press conference – made headlines, and Winfield and AP were credited widely with having forced the Jesuits to answer uncomfortable questions and essentially admit they had lied. Read more.

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May 06, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Standout coverage on rape trial of former Idaho lawmaker

delivered comprehensive gavel-to-gavel coverage from the dramatic trial of a former Idaho lawmaker charged with the rape of a 19-year-old intern. Reporting with authority and sensitivity, Boise correspondent Boone beat the competition with news of the verdict, then set about placing the case in broader context, speaking to experts who detailed the trauma of court proceedings for victims and pointed to national statistics showing very low rates of conviction in such cases.Read more

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Sept. 23, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Informant raped during unmonitored drug sting; AP finds little regulation of common police tactic

Investigative reporter Jim Mustian told the exclusive story of a female informant raped twice in an undercover drug sting after her law enforcement handlers left her alone and unmonitored — a case that revealed the perils such informants can face while seeking to “work off” criminal charges in often secretive arrangements.

Mustian spent weeks interviewing sources and obtaining confidential documents after receiving a tip about the incident which took place in central Louisiana early last year. His reporting showed authorities’ apparent disregard for the safety of the informant, while experts told him that such drug stings are conducted countless times a day across the country, but they are notoriously unregulated.

Mustian’s story was among the most-read stories of the week on AP News and earned prominent play by AP members and customers.

For deep reporting that exposed a horrific case and took a hard look at a common police practice, Mustian earns AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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Sept. 09, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reports on election deniers and the people who believe them

teamed up on a revealing story about the influence of conspiracy theories on countless Republicans across the country. Election administration reporter Cassidy researched the “Nebraska Election Integrity Forum,” determining the event was indeed part of the election conspiracy movement. Omaha reporter Beck and freelance photographer covered the event, engaging with attendees even as one prominent speaker complained about journalists who are “election fraud deniers.”The result was a comprehensive look at those who are continuing to peddle lies about the nation’s elections and the people who fervently believe those lies. The story also described how violence is woven into the conspiracies — from statements about civil war to calls for putting certain election officials before firing squads. The piece engaged readers online and landed on more than a dozen front pages.Read more

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Sept. 09, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: US ‘red flag’ laws little-used despite gun violence surge

used exhaustive data gathering and analysis, as well as interviews with experts and authorities across the country, to produce an exclusive, first-ever count that shows U.S. states barely using the much-touted “red flag” laws that give them the power to take guns away from people who threaten to kill. The trend is traced to lack of awareness of the laws and outright resistance by some police to enforce them, even as shootings and gun deaths soar.Condon’s deeply reported story adds data and clarity to the debate over red flag laws, which are promoted as the most powerful tools available to prevent gun violence before it happens. But as the piece shows, such laws are only useful if they are actually enforced.Read more

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Sept. 09, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation: Police can track your phone with ‘Fog’ tech tool

delivered an all-formats package revealing a startling truth: U.S. law enforcement agencies have used a smartphone tracking tool called “Fog Reveal” — made by a company that has no website or public information — to track people’s movements going back months, if not years, sometimes without search warrants.A tip to AP early this year launched the in-depth investigation of Fog Data Science, a company whose marketing materials said it drew from data generated by thousands of popular apps. Police have used the company’s Fog Reveal to search hundreds of billions of records from some 250 million mobile devices, according to documents reviewed by AP.The exclusive package, with an engaging presentation of illustrations, video and photos, attracted a global audience online, in broadcast and in print.Read more

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July 22, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Smart source work delivers exclusive on Polanski case transcript

scooped everyone by obtaining the first copy of a newly unsealed transcript in Roman Polanski's long-running underage sex abuse case, filing a story before anyone else had it, including prosecutors and the director's attorney.Melley drew on experience to quickly find the court reporter and arrange to electronically obtain the 400-page transcript of testimony by a former prosecutor who handled the case. In the previously sealed testimony, the former prosecutor said that the judge in the 1977 case was reneging on a promise not to jail Polanski, prompting the director to flee the country on the eve of sentencing.After receiving the files, Melley worked late into the night to deliver the news, putting AP significantly ahead on a high profile, internationally competitive celebrity court case.Read more

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July 08, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP out-hustles the competition on Maxwell, Kelly sentencings

used thorough preparation and planning to overcome access hurdles, putting the AP ahead of the competition on the sentencings in two of the highest-profile cases of the #MeToo era: Ghislaine Maxwell and R. Kelly.With no cameras and no electronics of any kind allowed in the federal courtroom, teamwork, careful execution and a quick sprint enabled AP to get the news out first on two consecutive days.Read More

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July 01, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Fin-tastic! AP dives deep into the world of mermaiding

reported from the Philippines and Australia for this engaging package that introduced readers and viewers to the growing subculture of mermaiding, and how it has come to represent diversity.The piece, as enlightening as it is entertaining, celebrates the range and spirit of the merfolk community with writing both amusing and sensitive, complemented by distinctive photos and video including striking underwater and drone images. The piece was the second-most-read on the AP News platform, elicting compliments from no less than the actress who voiced Disney’s mermaid Ariel.Read more

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June 24, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: FDA skipped most baby formula plant inspections in 2020

turned seemingly mundane testimony of a legislative hearing into a timely scoop, breaking the news that the Food and Drug Administration had skipped nearly all its inspections of baby formula plants during the first year of COVID, likely contributing to the severe shortage of formula in the U.S. and raising questions about what the federal government could have done to prevent it.Using information he gleaned from Capitol Hill testimony by the three top baby formula manufacturers, Washington-based health writer Perrone identified the companies’ plants in the FDA’s online database and discovered the agency hadn’t inspected Abbott’s plant — responsible for a recall of formula that exacerbated the nationwide shortage — for two years between 2019 and 2021. In fact, the FDA later acknowledged only three of the nation’s 23 formula plants were inspected in the first year of the pandemic.Read more

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May 13, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Acute shortage of public defenders in Oregon and beyond

picked up on a seemingly mundane local story: A state working group was looking into problems with Oregon’s public defense system. That seed led the Portland-based reporter to interview attorneys, private investigators and a suspect in an attempted murder, revealing that the combination of a post-pandemic glut of delayed cases and the state’s severe shortage of public defenders means hundreds of low-income defendants don’t have legal representation — sometimes in serious felony cases — and judges have dismissed several dozen cases.Flaccus found similar crises unfolding from Maine to New Mexico. And she showed the many painful repercussions of the problem, highlighting how young victims of sex abuse and trafficking are hesitant to come forward because of disillusionment with the system.Read more

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