March 09, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

​Ex-sect members tell AP that prosecutors obstructed abuse cases

It’s one of the most important lessons of investigative journalism: One good story can lead to another. Don’t give up after the first round. Keep digging.

That’s what Mitch Weiss of the national investigative team did after his explosive first story on the Word of Faith Fellowship. His follow-up story earns the Beat of the Week.

It took Weiss many months to persuade 43 former members of the Fellowship to open up – on the record and identified – with stories of adults and children being slapped, punched, choked and slammed to the floor in the name of the Lord. But getting so many of the reluctant ex-congregants to talk was only the start of his journalistic journey.

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March 09, 2017

Best of the States

Minnesota: Projecting the GOP health plan's statewide impact

It’s no secret that the repeal and replacement of Obamacare could have a significant impact both on those holding insurance and on the finances of states that have embraced the health care law. But over the last few months, few details had emerged on what that precise impact might be.

In an “Only on AP” story, St. Paul, Minnesota, statehouse reporter Kyle Potter revealed that Minnesota officials were bracing for additional costs that could reach $6 billion by 2029 to maintain a low-income health care program that covers more than 900,000 state residents. For providing one of the first concrete glimpses into the possible ramifications states envision, Potter wins this week's Best of States recognition.

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Feb. 27, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Ex-congregants reveal years of ungodly abuse

This story begins in 2014, when five members of Word of Faith Fellowship, an evangelical congregation in western North Carolina, were indicted for beating a young man because they thought he was gay. Mitch Weiss, an investigative reporter based in Charlotte, reached out to the man, Matthew Fenner, who told a harrowing tale.

For Weiss, that conversation was the beginning of a nearly two-year quest to tell the story of Word of Faith and its controlling leader, Jane Whaley, a 77-year-old petite former math teacher with a thick Southern accent. Working alongside Atlanta-based video journalist Alex Sanz, Weiss eventually pieced together a startling and comprehensive look at a religious community that promised its members peace and prosperity. What they got was violence and abuse, administered in the name of God, former followers told him.

Part one of that series, published this week, wins Best of the States, and there is more to come.

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Feb. 09, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

A Super Bowl week scoop: Emails detailing Falcons' reliance on painkillers

It was just a coincidence: Emails from 2010, showing that the Atlanta Falcons were worried about the team’s reliance on painkillers, were quietly entered into the court record as the Falcons were making just their second Super Bowl appearance. But AP sports columnist Jim Litke was prepared, and the result was a Super Bowl week scoop.

Litke's story is the Beat of the Week.

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Feb. 03, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP presses for details of judge's ruling on immigration ban

At a time when the very integrity of news is under attack in some corners, it is more important than ever that The Associated Press be a key champion of accuracy. This includes not only fighting back against false claims and false reporting, but sometimes simply waiting as we push for more specificity. New York City News Editor David Caruso did exactly that over the weekend, avoiding the missteps of other news organizations by pressing for details of a federal judge's emergency order temporarily staying part of President Donald Trump's travel ban for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations.

Caruso demanded, and got, a copy of U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly's order so the AP could be precise about reporting on its relatively narrow effects, even as other news outlets relied on tweets from advocates who made it seem more sweeping. Caruso’s careful, painstaking work is the Beat of the Week.

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Jan. 27, 2017

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Feds advise Virginia on how to get around ban on using seized funds for salary hikes

for reporting that, despite a ban on using assets seized in criminal investigations to raise salaries for law enforcement, the federal government told the Virginia state government how to get around the rule. The resulting worker pay raises of up to 30 percent became the subject of a heated floor speech in the state Senate and a disapproving editorial. https://yhoo.it/2jRl90P

Jan. 20, 2017

Best of the States

Lie detectors trip up border agency applicants

San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat was chatting with a longtime government source and she mentioned her son applied to Customs and Border Protection but was rejected after failing a polygraph test. She and her son were mystified by the result. Soon after, a member of Spagat’s running group – a military veteran with a stellar resume – told the same story of a failed Border Patrol test.

Intrigued, Spagat brought up the issue during a regular check-in call with an official involved in recruiting for the Border Patrol. The official told him the polygraph failure rate was very high. Spagat knew he was on to something and kept pressing, next talking to Border Patrol Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, who gave him a failure rate – 65 percent.

But Kerlikowske didn’t see the number as a negative – it meant the agency was applying tough standards to find its officers. Still, a two-thirds failure rate struck Spagat as abnormal but how could he prove it? Comparable data was hard to find.

So Spagat set about creating it.

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Nov. 11, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Melania Trump modeled in US prior to getting work visa

The exclusive story's foundation was laid months ago, when questions arose about Melania Trump's immigration history and AP contacted employees at the modeling firm where she worked in the 1990s. No office records from the time were found at first. But AP's questions were asked, and one ex-worker kept searching through storage.

Finally, the documents turned up, and when the worker pointed AP to them, they became the basis of a story showing that the future wife of Donald Trump, who has taken strict stands on immigration enforcement, was paid for modeling jobs worth tens of thousands of dollars before she had permission to work in the U.S.

The AP's investigation, by Alicia Caldwell, Chad Day and Jake Pearson, earns the Beat of the Week.

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Jan. 12, 2017

Best of the States

No family immune: A top US prosecutor talks exclusively to the AP about a heroin death: his son’s

In the course of source-building in early 2016, northeastern Pennsylvania correspondent Michael Rubinkam had lunch with a local lawyer. The lawyer mentioned that a member of the U.S. attorney's office had lost a son to heroin but had never spoken publicly about it.

Intrigued, Rubinkam asked the lawyer to approach the then-assistant prosecutor, Bruce Brandler, about an interview. Rubinkam had been looking for fresh ways to write about the scourge of heroin, and saw the prosecutor’s story as a powerful new example of how no family is immune.

But Brandler, he learned, was adamantly against going public with his family’s – and his son’s – story. It was too painful.

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Jan. 13, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP first with word US taxpayers to pay for US-Mexico wall

“Build the wall!" That chant became a frequent rallying cry at rallies for Donald Trump, who vowed to stem illegal immigration by building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The candidate, now president-elect, would routinely engage in a back-and-forth with crowds. "Who's going to pay for it?" Trump would ask. "Mexico!" they'd shout back.

Not so, as it turns out. In an APNewsBreak, congressional correspondent Erica Werner and new White House reporter Jill Colvin were the first to report that Trump and congressional Republicans were exploring ways to use existing law – and U.S. taxpayer dollars – to build the border wall.

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Jan. 06, 2017

Best of the States

Disability and desperation

When federal prosecutors alleged that Kentucky attorney Eric Conn had funneled $600 million in fraudulent disability claims to Appalachia, Claire Galofaro saw a chance to tell a much bigger story.

Over a period of months, Galofaro, the AP’s administrative correspondent in Louisville, sat in on federal hearings and heard the anguish of Conn’s former clients, some severely disabled, others who seemed like they might be able-bodied enough to be working. She met with many who were being asked to prove their disability years after it had first been approved by the government, forced to go searching for old medical records in order to make a case they thought they had already made.

She learned about three people who killed themselves rather than face the prospect of demonstrating, once again, that they were disabled and unable to work.

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Dec. 15, 2016

Best of the States

AP provides superior coverage of Oakland warehouse fire that killed 36

As soon as the flames were doused on an Oakland, California, warehouse known as the Ghost Ship two things were clear: The death toll would be huge, and telling the story would be complicated. It took a cross-format team effort to tell the story, and the staff in California rose to the occasion, including incoming San Francisco news editor Juliet Williams, who got an early start on her new job, dashing to the bureau from Sacramento to run the story.

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Nov. 25, 2016

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Innocent suspects face terrible choice: Plead guilty or risk life in prison

for using data and shoe-leather reporting to spotlight a terrible choice faced by many innocent people in a judicial system full of overworked defense lawyers and expedient judges and prosecutors: Plead guilty or risk going to prison for life. Last year, they found, 68 of 157 exonerations were in cases in which the defendant had pleaded guilty after facing that choice. http://apne.ws/2fVEf1O

Nov. 21, 2016

Best of the States

Innocent suspects face terrible choice: plead guilty or risk life in prison

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit. But as Richmond-based reporter Alanna Durkin Richer and Miami legal affairs reporter Curt Anderson found, it happens more often than you might think.

Digging through publicly available data on exonerations, they found alarming statistics: More than 300 of the roughly 1,900 people who have been exonerated in the U.S. since 1989 pleaded guilty. So Richer and Anderson set out to explain why anyone would plead guilty to a crime he or she didn’t commit ...

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Nov. 17, 2016

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Members of a group honoring FBI boss have longtime Trump ties

for reporting exclusively that FBI Director James Comey accepted a lifetime achievement award from a nonprofit law enforcement organization whose board includes several people with longtime ties to Donald Trump. Democrats had criticized Comey for injecting himself into the final days of the presidential campaign with his now-concluded review of Hillary Clinton's email practices. http://bit.ly/2gelZ7Z