May 06, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Flawless source work, preparation deliver all-formats scoop on US-Russia prisoner swap

In a textbook display of outstanding source work and planning, Eric Tucker and Matthew Lee acted on a tip to score a massive scoop on a stunning U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange that happened despite heightened tensions between the countries.

In the process, the pair showed the rewards of careful, long-term source-building, a model of how to prepare in all formats to put the AP ahead of the competition the moment the news broke, and examples of how to build on a big story with smart sidebars in-cycle and a compelling follow-up story that offered new, behind-the-scenes details.

Their efforts paid off handsomely on Wednesday when Lee got the green light that the exchange had taken place, allowing AP to push out an alert and full story accompanied by photos and video, well before any Western media competitors were even aware the swap had happened.

For their exhaustive, comprehensive work that scooped everyone on the surprising swap, Tucker and Lee share AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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Nov. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP presses F1 racing on human rights; helps free political prisoner

has kept human rights on the media agenda while covering the international Formula One auto racing series. His reporting has had impact and is now credited with helping free a political prisoner in Bahrain, site of one of the races.Paris-based Pugmire, long aware of governmental efforts at “sportswashing” in authoritarian countries hosting the series, had been one of the first journalists to press world champion Lewis Hamilton last season about jailed dissidents after discovering that Hamilton had received letters with harrowing descriptions of torture and sexual abuse by authorities in Bahrain. When an 11-year-old boy whose father is on Bahrain's death row sent Hamilton a drawing of the driver’s Mercedes race car, Pugmire had asked the driver publicly what he would do it about the case. Hamilton pledged to raise the cases with Bahraini authorities, saying the boy’s letter “really hits home.” Such questioning by reporters is rare and risky at sports events in such tightly controlled countries, but Pugmire kept at it for months.Then, this past September, an 18-year-old man was released from prison in Bahrain after being allegedly being tortured since 2019, an apparent reprisal against his family. His mother had spent more than two years in prison for criticizing the Bahrain F1 race on social media.The family’s supporters credit Pugmire’s reporting for helping lead to the release.Pugmire raised the rights issue again at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix last week, asking Hamilton about a doctor on a 138-day hunger strike. The driver, who wore a rainbow helmet in support of LGBTQ rights in Qatar, said F1 is “duty bound” to call attention to human rights.AP’s reporting emboldened other media, including the BBC and Britain’s The Times, to follow Pugmire’s lead, questioning drivers and F1’s governing body about such issues. Pugmire won praise from a Bahraini human rights advocacy group as well as AP’s news leadership.https://aplink.news/etyhttps://aplink.news/gnghttps://aplink.news/xzehttps://aplink.news/ba9

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May 20, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Inside the 11-day search for escaped Alabama inmate and his jailer accomplice

As the search for Alabama fugitives Casey White and Vicky White captured the attention of the world, Washington-based federal law enforcement reporter Mike Balsamo reached out, working his network of sources in the Justice Department and the U.S. Marshals Service for details.

Balsamo also connected with the U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Alabama, knowing he would be the person most likely to have the inside information that would enable AP to put together a clear timeline of a messy escape saga littered with gaps and confusing accounts.

That contact turned out to be pivotal after the pursuit came to a violent end in Indiana on May 9. The marshal’s exclusive account of the 11-day search, coupled with details Balsamo picked up from other sources, gave AP a story rich with previously unreported detail and context. It also made for an exceptionally easy-to-follow narrative. The resulting story played widely, from Alabama to Australia.

For using all his resources to distinguish AP’s coverage on this extremely competitive story, Mike Balsamo is AP’s Best of the Week – First Winner.

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July 23, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Dedicated source work produces rare video as Tigray forces retake regional capital

Through months of patient contacts, Nairobi-based senior producer Khaled Kazziha built trust with an Ethiopian freelancer who promised AP first refusal on video and photos he made as events unfolded in the embattled Tigray region. That promise was fulfilled recently with images that included celebrations as Tigrayan forces retook the regional capital Mekele, prisoners of war in detention and an on-camera interview with Tigray's leader, among other rare scenes.

Kazziha had trained the freelancer and knew he was in Mekele when Ethiopian government forces fled Tigray, allowing the region's former leaders, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, to return. But with communication and transportation blocked, Kazziha had to wait almost two weeks for the footage to reach him. He then worked tirelessly with colleagues in Addis Ababa to cut multiple video packages that have been widely used by AP’s global video clients and platforms.

“This is a reminder that a journalist never knows whose help might prove critically useful in the future, and training and teaching people wherever one goes ... especially in the world’s trouble spots,” said Andy Drake, deputy director of newsgathering for Africa.

For exceptional collaboration and video production work that led to multiple world exclusives, Kazziha and the video freelancer — unnamed for his security — share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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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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June 02, 2017

Best of the States

​Death row inmates' last words: Apologies, thanks, defiance

To most, inmates facing execution in America are just names, mug shots and written descriptions of their crimes.

AP was interested in going beyond that, seeking to tell their stories in creative ways that reach beyond our traditional audiences. To make that happen, a unique interactive created by Atlanta-based reporter Kate Brumback, Interactive Editor Nathan Griffiths and Interactive Producer Roque Ruiz takes people inside Georgia’s execution chamber to actually hear the last words of inmates right before they were put to death.

For their resourceful and compelling work, the team of Brumback, Griffiths and Ruiz receives this week's Best of the States award.

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Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 01, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

F1 races in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia; AP raises human rights

continues to hold Formula One accountable for racing in countries where human rights are routinely trampled. While covering the exceptionally intense and challenging kickoff to the F1 racing season in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Pugmire, AP’s Paris-based auto racing writer, held exclusive interviews with a released torture survivor and the 12-year-old son of a man on death row, and pressured Formula One heavyweights to advocate for human rights in both countries.Pugmire’s persistence led seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton to tell him, “You sure don’t make it easy for me.” To which Pugmire replied, “That’s because you’re the only one who doesn’t duck questions.” In the private conversation that followed, the two shared experiences of meeting released prisoners, and Hamilton complimented Pugmire on his commitment to the issue. Read more

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July 09, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

15-month data collaboration yields exclusives on COVID in prisons

collaborated with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focusing on criminal justice, for 15 months during the pandemic, tracking coronavirus in prisons in all 50 states.The reporters tracked virus sickness, death and vaccinations from every prison system and the federal government. Each week they entered the data into the system that editors refined into what became the definitive picture of COVID-19 and incarceration. They filed exclusives off the data along the way, detailing how 1 in 5 prisoners were sickened nationwide, thousands had died, how prisons and jails emptied out and then started to fill up again, and how the uniquely grueling conditions of prison — close quarters, poor health and hygiene, would make for a breeding ground like no other for the virus.The journalists reported how prisoners, despite being in an extremely high-risk environment, were often put lower on the vaccination list out of political fears over public perception. They also discovered how the prison systems were able to adapt to meet the moment in some cases, increasing transparency and letting prisoners go free without an increase in crime — only to draw the curtains closed once the virus abated. Every single story was an exclusive based on the team’s exhaustive data.https://aplink.news/vajhttps://aplink.news/404https://bit.ly/3dS34evhttps://aplink.news/pxuhttps://aplink.news/9p5https://aplink.news/7c5

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Jan. 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP reveals chronic problems, personal stories behind a deadly period in Mississippi prisons

The Associated Press began chronicling rising violence across Mississippi’s troubled prison system in late 2019, but after four deaths in four days it became clear that something bigger was going on.

Reporters Jeff Amy and Emily Wagster Pettus explored the history of underfunding and other problems in the state’s prison system. In addition to official documents describing understaffing, the pair obtained photos and video shot by a prisoner that showed the conditions inside the infamous penitentiary at Parchman. 

AP also published all-formats interviews with grieving mothers of prisoners killed, and reported on the state’s decision to house inmates at a private prison.

For bringing much-needed insight and context to a chaotic, evolving situation and giving voice to those affected by the deadly violence, Amy and Wagster Pettus receive this week’s Best of the States award.

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