April 05, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Florida targeting massage parlor prostitution, trafficking

When police busted several massage parlors engaging in prostitution in Florida in February, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft drew all the attention, but hundreds of other men were also charged in what seemed like a new approach for Florida authorities.

AP Florida reporters Mike Schneider, Orlando, and Terry Spencer, West Palm Beach, seized on the Kraft-driven attention to dig into legal issues surrounding massage parlors and prostitution in Florida. With a deep dive into state records and a key interview with a local source, the pair landed an AP Exclusive that showed a change in strategy: Usually only low-level massage therapists were arrested. Owners were rarely charged and typically faced only fines and probation. Johns typically were not charged at all.

But the recent investigation had instead focused heavily on the possibility of widespread human trafficking. Several spa owners were charged with felonies, and authorities also charged 300 men accused of being patrons, including Kraft and the former president of Citigroup. The Martin County sheriff told Spencer that he wanted to shut down the sex-massage industry in part by targeting the demand side.

Strong play included prominent display in The Washington Post.

For their enterprising use of state records and source-building to find an AP Exclusive in a story that drew enormous global attention, Schneider and Spencer win this week’s Best of States award.

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May 10, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Video, photos lead competitive coverage of Florida crash

for speed and resourcefulness that gave AP video and photos a clear win over the competition, providing live, distinctive close-up visuals of a commercial jet that skidded into a river from a military base runway. Replogle broadcast first agency live video from a unique vantage point on a resident’s dock, then he and McCullough secured a speedboat for an even closer look, again sending live video and exclusive stills. https://bit.ly/2JgrtfYhttps://bit.ly/2V7ekaEhttps://bit.ly/2PQtCj1

July 02, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Powerful photos anchor all-formats coverage of Florida condo collapse

delivered standout photo coverage of the Surfside, Florida, condo collapse, anchoring an impressive AP response in all formats.Lee was at home a few blocks away when the tragic, catastrophic story broke early Thursday morning. He quickly made his way to the scene to make some of the first images the world would see of the pancaked Champlain Towers South. His fast work on the ground also earned him a text byline, with customers and readers across the country waking up to a comprehensive AP story with his images. More AP journalists were soon on the scene digging into spot developments as well as the history of the building, churning out urgent series after urgent series and sensitively reporting the human toll, finding names and details of the missing to round out a well-received vignettes package. Early video also scored heavily with AP customers. Throughout the coverage, the photo team, led by Lavandier and South regional photo editor Mike Stewart, fought restricted access and had to innovate visually. Herbert first chartered a plane, then a helicopter, making handheld aerial photos with an 800mm lens from as much as two miles offshore as flight restrictions tightened. Then the team hit on the idea of using a boat. That allowed closer access but still required long lenses from a moving craft, with the photographers effectively timing their shots to coincide with the peaks and troughs of the waves to minimize movement. Competitors scrambled to emulate AP's strategy with their own vessels. AP wins on visuals included powerful photos by Sladky and Lavandier of people comforting each other, and three different AP photos rotating as the lead photo on Saturday’s New York Times home page — images showing the destruction, the rescue operation and the emotional toll. The Miami Herald praised AP’s visuals and has used much of the work, even as its own photographers produced strong content. The Herald and other members have shared some of their best images in AP’s photo report. In addition to AP’s photography, members have praised the all-formats coverage, including the “microstories” AP published practically in real time, showcasing good nuggets of information throughout the news cycles. Coverage of the collapse topped AP’s measures of readership and reader engagement for the month. https://apnews.com/hub/buildin...

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March 24, 2017

Best of the States

Under radar, Florida spent about $250M on private lawyers, fees

AP Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout started noticing how often Florida under Republican Gov. Rick Scott was losing court cases over its policies and was forced to pay opposing attorney fees. He decided to start a tally. But those fees would be just the tip of a quarter-billion-dollar iceberg. The money the state spent on private law firms to defend itself dwarfed that initial amount.

Getting that overall tally was the hard part. When Gary asked what was spent on outside legal counsel during Scott’s half-dozen years in office, the state attorney general told him: “We do not have that information."

So, Gary set out to search through the documents himself, revealing the true cost to taxpayers. For bringing to light a huge chunk of opaque spending and hold state leaders to account, Gary wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Feb. 23, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP photo and reporting beats from Florida school shooting

– Photographer Joel Auerbach’s poignant image of two women crying outside a Florida high school as parents awaited news about their children after a gunman’s deadly rampage on the campus.

– Reporters Michael Biesecker and Collin Binkley’s exclusive reporting that the suspect was a “good shot” on a National Rifle Association-backed rifle team at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The two exclusives helped distinguish the coverage of the shooting at the school that left 17 dead. For capturing the human toll in a single iconic image and shedding light on the suspect’s marksmanship training, Auerbach, Biesecker and Binkley win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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June 14, 2018

Best of the States

Lobbyists – including House speaker’s brother – influence Florida’s payments to victims

In Florida, the Legislature has to approve court awards – beyond a capped amount – for lawsuits alleging wrongdoing by a state or local agency.

So when Florida Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout began hearing about a surge in payouts to victims and families harmed by government actions, he began digging into public and legislative records. What he found confirmed the influence of lobbyists, and of one lobbyist in particular: the House speaker’s brother.

Fineout found that claims lobbied by the speaker’s brother had a substantial rate of success. Of the $37.5 million in claims bills approved over the past two years, nearly half was awarded to victims represented by Michael Corcoran, brother of Florida’s House speaker.

One state lawmaker, a candidate for attorney general, said the process needs fixing, and said that Florida should have a codified, egalitarian process for awarding payments, one that doesn’t rely on who has the best lobbyist.

Fineout's story received extensive play, including a rare banner headline atop A1 in the state's largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. The Sun-Sentinel newspaper said in an editorial that “Florida owes thanks to Gary Fineout ... for shedding light on a dark side of Florida government.”

For work that South News Director Ravi Nessman called a “perfect example of the kind of tough, accountability reporting that we prize so much from our statehouses,” Fineout wins this week's Best of the States award.

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Feb. 21, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Florida has used ‘red flag’ law 3,500 times since Parkland

marked the anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. – where 17 people were killed, allegedly by a mentally disturbed man – with smart accountability journalism about a key Florida “red flag” bill passed in the massacre’s wake.

Working over several months to get county-by-county breakdowns that no other outlet had, Spencer found that the law had been used to get weapons away from people deemed dangerous no less than 3,500 times since the Parkland shooting. Even so, his analysis showed the law is applied inconsistently, with some counties and cities using it rarely and others not at all.

The story was a strong look at how red flag laws – now passed in nearly a dozen states – are playing out on the ground, and it drew widespread attention and engagement. https://bit.ly/2P7Zws2

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Aug. 06, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Deep reporting on a failed KKK murder plot reveals white supremacists working in Florida prison

Some stories just stick with a journalist. For AP investigative reporter Jason Dearen, a sparse 2015 announcement — three currrent or former Florida prison guards, identified by the FBI as Ku Klux Klansmen, had been arrested for plotting a former inmate’s murder — sparked a yearslong reporting effort.

Dearen’s big break came last summer when trial transcripts revealed an FBI informant was the star witness against the KKK members, his secret recordings providing a rare, detailed look at the inner workings of the klan cell and the domestic terrorism probe. Dearen and visual journalist David Goldman retraced the klansmen’s steps through Palatka, Florida, then producers Marshall Ritzel, Samantha Shotzbarger and Peter Hamlin stepped in to create a riveting online presentation.

The resulting all-formats package had immediate impact, with Florida papers featuring it on home pages and front pages, and prompting calls for investigations into white supremacy among prison workers. The story found 360,000 readers on AP News and kept them there for an average of more than five minutes — longer than any other AP story in memory.

For dogged reporting and an immersive all-formats narrative that exposes a salient, timely issue, Dearan, Goldman, Ritzel, Shotzbarger and Hamlin win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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July 09, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Resourceful crew stays out front on Surfside collapse coverage

found innovative ways to break news, tell important stories in all formats and stay ahead of the competition as the search for survivors in the Surfside condo collapse stretched into a second week.When the AP team — Florida staffers and out-of-state reinforcements — learned an implosion of the remaining structure was likely looming, they rented a 26-foot scissor lift, fastened a live broadcast unit to it with bungee cords and covered it from incoming weather with a tarp. This work by Bumsted, Ellgren and Lee allowed AP to get a clear view of the eventual implosion and deliver visuals over several news cycles that were picked up by major customers.Meanwhile, AP reporters found compelling narratives, including Kennedy’s story on the last dramatic moments of the collapse as told by people who barely escaped. This piece had a rare engagement score of 100 with a highly unusual average time on page of more than 3 minutes — holding readers’ attention with vivid detail and emotion.Gómez Licón’s story about the sensitive nature of dealing with remains also played widely. And her story about a missing widower was matched by several outlets that cited AP. AP also beat national and local competitors by an hour or more on breaking news of the death toll increasing, thanks to staffers finding a source of official briefings.https://apnews.com/hub/surfsid...https://aplink.news/0p5https://aplink.video/eklhttps://aplink.news/c9fhttps://aplink.news/wtkhttps://aplink.news/hk7

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Dec. 31, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

‘This is Joseph Moore’: FBI informant inside KKK reveals himself in riveting AP interview

AP investigative reporter Jason Dearen received a curious email on Dec. 1, claiming to be from Joseph Moore, a man Dearen had written about months earlier. Moore was an FBI undercover informant who had infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Florida and disrupted a murder plot by three klansmen working as prison guards.

Dearen and AP visual journalist Robert Bumsted soon found themselves in Florida interviewing Moore about his years in the klan.

Moore said he’d identified dozens of law enforcement officers who were either sympathetic to the klan, or active members, telling AP, “It is more prevalent and consequential than any of them are willing to admit.” Dearen also came away with details to further challenge Florida officials’ claims that they have no indication of wider klan or other criminal gang activity among their prison guards.

The “must read” story, accompanied by Bumsted's video, lit up online and numerous film producers inquired about film rights.

For chasing the story so long and covering it so well that it brought an underground FBI informant out of the shadows, Dearen and Bumsted earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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Oct. 26, 2018

Best of the States

Post-hurricane teamwork produces compelling story of newborn’s night in parking lot

Amid the chaos and broken lives after Hurricane Michael, photographer David Goldman was combing for images of how people were coping when he discovered a heartbreaking story in a Walmart parking lot: A newborn baby was spending one of his first nights in the back of a pickup with his parents.

Goldman knew he had a great visual story. And he knew there was a great story to write. Not being in a position to write the story himself, he turned to colleague Jay Reeves, also working in the hurricane zone.

Reeves wouldn’t be able to meet with the family, but Goldman knew the elements Reeves would need to write the text piece. He sent Reeves all his notes and an audio interview via email. From those pieces, Reeves crafted the narrative.

The moving words and compelling photo package resonated. Goldman’s Twitter lit up with responses, and readers hoping to find a way to help “baby Luke” reached out to the AP by email, phone and web. The story was carried by Time Magazine, USA Today, The New York Times and NPR, among others.

For their collaboration and unmatched story that reminded the world that the story of Hurricane Michael is far from over, Reeves and Goldman win this week’s Best of the States.

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March 17, 2017

Best of the States

From grave to lab, professor throws science, passion at cold cases

AP correspondent Tamara Lush first met renowned forensic anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle while reporting on Florida’s Dozier School for Boys – a now-shuttered site where former students accused officials of abuse and dozens of students died. Kimmerle was investigating graves, and local media paid plenty of attention to the positive, bubbly woman with a high-pitched voice – unexpected from someone who jumps in graves and scrubs bones with a toothbrush.

Lush found Kimmerle and her work fascinating – in a state full of colorful characters, she calls the professor one of Florida’s most interesting and brilliant women.

So Lush stayed in touch, and when her sources at the University of South Florida – where Kimmerle teaches and has a lab – offered an exclusive opportunity to follow Kimmerle as she investigated cold cases through a new grant, she jumped at the chance. Lush's all-formats Only on AP package wins this week's Best of States award.

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Oct. 13, 2017

Best of the States

Only on AP: Family – and journalist – rewarded with answers in 40-year-old cold case

Resolving cold cases can be thankless work for law enforcement – and an endless emotional journey for the families affected. Tamara Lush used the lens of one Florida cold case, and the relatives of a long-missing woman, to give life to the backlog of such cases nationwide.

After the publication of her first big takeout on an exhumation in a cold case, Lush turned her attention to two sisters who played just a small role in that piece. Lush met with the family numerous times – she was with them every step of the way through the drawn-out process of DNA tests, results, periods of silence from police, the day they finally got some answers about their missing family member, and the moment they shared that news with the woman's mother. The narrative story, teeming with emotion and details, can't be matched by any competitor.

For her Only on AP story that gave a face to the national backlog of cold cases, Lush wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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