April 23, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP uses sourcing, deep reporting to break news of Madoff death

teamed up to break the news of the prison death of Bernie Madoff, the pair delivering a deeply reported obituary on the notorious Ponzi-schemer whose massive securities swindle wiped out people’s fortunes and ruined charities.Washington-based Justice Department reporter Balsamo called his editor Colleen Long early last Wednesday, calmly asking, “Hey, I’m driving. Can you help me with something? Bernie Madoff is dead.” Balsamo’s deep network of sources had tipped him off, and within minutes an alert moved, followed by a short story. Balsamo and New York reporter Hays worked to fill out the story, Hays layering it with details gleaned from experience covering Madoff and his trial. AP was ahead of the competition by 25 minutes to an hour, and many major outlets — including ABC, CBS and Fox — relied on the AP pair’s quick, exclusive reporting.https://bit.ly/3sGlP9mhttps://apnews.com/hub/bernard-madoff

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March 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive: Why compensation denied for tortured US veteran

broke the news that a former Iran detainee, Amir Hekmati, a U.S. citizen, Marine and Iraq war veteran whose 2016 release had been widely lauded during the Obama administration, had been denied compensation as a result of suspicions he had gone to Iran to sell secrets, not to visit his grandmother.The exclusive solved the mystery of why the Justice Department had refused to pay Hekmati $20 million in compensation for years of imprisonment that included brutal torture. National security writer Tucker read through hundreds of pages of documents filed in the obscure Court of Federal Claims to piece together the narrative, accompanied by photos and a video from Washington video journalist Nathan Ellgren, which had roughly 2,000 views on YouTube.https://bit.ly/3lJ91wQhttps://bit.ly/3rfjaT6

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March 19, 2021

Best of the States

Skeleton found in mountains leads to a family’s story of Japanese internment tragedy

Los Angeles-based reporter Brian Melley reported the initial news of a human skeleton discovered near California’s second-highest peak in 2019, and he broke the news connecting the find to the World War II internment of 110,000 people of Japanese descent. But Melley didn't stop there. He persisted in tracking down family members of Giichi Matsumura, whose body had lain in the mountains for almost 75 years.

Melley found and earned the trust of Matsumura’s granddaughter Lori. In this beautifully elegiac exclusive he reveals how the family’s life in the U.S. was abruptly upended by the Japanese internment, the tragedy compounded by the death of Giichi and the inability to give him a proper burial. It was Lori Matsumura who managed to bring him home for reburial 75 years later, reuniting three generations in a Santa Monica cemetery.

For his determination to follow Giichi Matsumura’s narrative to conclusion, breaking news while telling one family’s poignant story, Melley wins AP’s Best of the States award.

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March 05, 2021

Best of the Week

Conspiracy, lies and social media: AP finds state, local GOP officials promoting online disinformation

After the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, investigative reporters Garance Burke, Martha Mendoza and Juliet Linderman wanted to know if local, county and state Republican officials across the country were continuing to amplify online messages similar to those that had inspired the riot, and what they hoped to accomplish by doing so.

The trio turned to data journalist Larry Fenn, AP statehouse reporters and a comprehensive archive of the Parler social media platform. A third-party algorithm matched public officials to their Parler accounts, allowing an unprecedented look at GOP officials’ unfiltered posts on the right-wing aligned site. The analysis of Parler and other alternative platforms identified a faction of lower-level Republican officials that have pushed lies, misinformation and QAnon conspiracy theories echoing those that fueled the violent U.S. Capitol siege.

For harnessing the power of social media analysis, data science and AP’s state-level expertise to reveal how lies and misinformation from the 2020 election have reached deep into the GOP’s state apparatus, Burke, Mendoza, Linderman and Fenn win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Giving voice to Native Americans on historic Cabinet pick

produced a vignettes package that provided an unparalleled, inside look at a historic moment in Indian Country: the potential first Native American Cabinet secretary. In the days leading up to the Senate confirmation hearing for Deb Haaland, President Joe Biden’s choice to lead the Interior Department, Fonseca, AP’s correspondent based in Flagstaff, Arizona, captured what this nomination meant to Native Americans on a personal level. Interviewing people of different ages, genders and tribes across the U.S., she compiled their stories into a series of vignettes and took extra steps to arrange for each source to share a photo that represented their tale. The result was a richly layered, insightful package that brought a range of unique voices to the forefront and offered a window into an important moment in Native American history.https://bit.ly/3sPv7QJhttps://bit.ly/3e9Lvr9

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Feb. 19, 2021

Best of the Week

Latest on New York COVID policy: State sent more than 9,000 virus patients to nursing homes

For nine months, AP has led all media on the story of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial directive to return recovering coronavirus patients from hospitals to nursing homes during the pandemic.

Last week, reporters Bernard Condon and Jennifer Peltz added to that record. Using data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, they reported exclusively that more than 9,000 patients in New York were released under the state’s policy, amid criticism that it accelerated nursing home outbreaks. The latest AP scoop has helped put Cuomo and his administration on the defensive at home and nationally.

For keeping AP at the forefront of this accountability story for the better part of a year — including their latest break documenting the release of COVID patients into nursing homes — Condon and Peltz earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Tip leads to scoop on end of family separation policy

broke the news that the Biden-era Justice Department was about to undo the infamous “zero tolerance policy” that led to family separations.When national security reporter Tucker received a tip on the policy change from a longtime source, he quickly relayed the information to DOJ reporter Balsamo. Working with Colleen Long, who covered Homeland Security and zero tolerance extensively, they pieced together an analytical story that broke the news and added crucial context about the challenge Biden faces to undo Donald Trump’s policies on immigration. https://bit.ly/3jDWny1

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Feb. 05, 2021

Best of the States

AP months ahead of New York state in identifying undercount of nursing home deaths

When AP reported exclusively last August that New York state was undercounting its COVID nursing home death toll by thousands, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ripped the story as part of a politically motivated “blame game.”

But the state’s own investigation, announced last week, reached a nearly identical conclusion, affirming AP’s reporting.

AP’s 2020 investigation had seized on the fact that New York counts just residents who died at nursing homes, not those who were transported to hospitals and died there. AP’s analysis of federal data indicated that the state’s official toll was undercounted by 65%, or well over 4,000 deaths. 

For sharp reporting that led the media pack, withstood criticism from the governor and months later was vindicated, this week’s Best of the States award goes to Bernard Condon, Matt Sedensky and Meghan Hoyer (now data director at The Washington Post).

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals details of Eritrean atrocities in Tigray region

reported the first detailed account of crimes being committed by Eritrean military forces within Ethiopia’s isolated Tigray region. Journalists following the crisis in the defiant region have struggled to find credible eyewitness accounts of the Eritreans’ presence. But the relentless work by Anna, AP’s East African correspondent based in Kenya, finally paid off: A source put her in touch with a woman, normally a resident of Colorado, who, while on a trip to Ethiopia, witnessed Eritrean troops and their crimes firsthand in the remote village where her mother lives. Anna was able to draw out shocking details of the killing of children, mass graves and the looting of homes.The story, widely used by AP clients, was hailed as the first to document Eritrean activity in Tigray. Anna followed up with a second scoop in which the U.S. State Department called for all Eritrean forces to leave Tigray immediately, citing “credible reports” of atrocities.https://bit.ly/3rqiyuehttps://bit.ly/3cOrDsKhttps://bit.ly/3jeRRpK

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Jan. 22, 2021

Best of the States

AP investigation: Capitol rioters included highly trained ex-military, law enforcement

AP reporters Michael Biesecker Jake Bleiberg and James LaPorta joined with colleagues across the country to reveal the influence of current and former members of the military or law enforcement on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The AP team surveyed public records, social media posts and videos, and the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies, finding at least 22 current or former members of the U.S. military or law enforcement have been identified as part of Capitol riot, with more under investigation. The story gave specific examples of how such training played out in rioters’ tactics and equipment during the attack.

The all-formats package received prominent play from AP customers and was the top offering on the AP News app on a busy news day. 

For timely and insightful reporting that sheds light on the backgrounds and capabilities of Capitol Hill rioters, Biesecker, Bleiberg and LaPorta win AP’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source work breaks news of attorney general nominee

had been asking around for weeks about President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for attorney general. They pressed their sources inside the transition once it became clear that the decision came down to just a few names.Finally, Tucker scored — a transition source gave AP the entire slate of nominees for the department, and not just the stunning choice of Merrick Garland, the former candidate for the Supreme Court who had been spurned by Republicans during the Obama administration. Also included were names for the second in command and leaders of top offices at the Department of Justice.Tucker had prepped for this and gathered his material while Balsamo checked in with another source and came back with confirmation. They swiftly filed a news alert and story, beating major news outlets by a solid half-hour. This all came two hours before the Capitol siege. The pair’s story was still picked up 580 times with some 200,000 pageviews — especially strong considering the U.S. Capitol was ransacked by rioters the same day. https://bit.ly/2XCjOOe

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Jan. 01, 2021

Best of the Week

Fast response, resourceful work breaks news on Nashville’s Christmas Day bombing

When a bomb exploded in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, early on Christmas morning, AP’s local staff upended their holiday plans and sprang into action. They were soon joined by colleagues, many working remotely, who jumped in to help coordinate coverage and piece together what had happened. 

The team overcame severely limited access and communications to quickly deliver photos and break stories over several days, including the news that human tissue had been found at the explosion site, and the bomber’s chilling prediction of fame. 

The outstanding work attracted heavy play and readership. 

For mobilizing quickly and resourcefully over the Christmas holiday, Kimberlee Kruesi, Mark Humphrey, Eric Tucker, Mike Balsamo, Denise Lavoie and Mike Kunzelman share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the last full week of 2020.

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Dec. 24, 2020

Best of the States

Joint investigation reveals ‘leadership vacuum’ after backlash against public health officials

AP reporter Michelle Smith was working on another project in June when she came up with the names of a dozen or so public health officials who had quit, retired or been fired. Sensing a trend, Smith and reporters at Kaiser Health News continued to track those departures as the pandemic worsened and the backlash against public health restrictions became more strident.

The journalists contacted officials in all 50 states and interviewed dozens of people, finding a public health leadership vacuum developing at a critical time in the pandemic. They told the stories of public servants who toiled through the pandemic only to be reviled by their neighbors — including the wrenching story of an official whose husband would not even follow her recommendation to require masks in the family store. The timely all-formats story included a data distribution, interactive graphics and a sidebar with portraits and quotes of public health officials. 

For a deeply reported package that examines a vital component of the pandemic response, Smith, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Hannah Recht and Lauren Weber earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation: States spent billions on medical supplies

took the lead in obtaining and analyzing public records that disclosed state coronavirus-related spending that had largely been kept from the public. The reporters filed Freedom of Information Act requests in all 50 states seeking purchase order records to determine how much was being spent on what items, which suppliers the states were using and how the spending compared across the states.The findings revealed that overall the states spent at least $7 billion on medical gear in the first few months of the pandemic, a massive amount that had not been reported until AP’s investigation. Even lawmakers in most states did not know the scope of spending, much of which was inflated by competition between states and huge price markups for routine items.The project reflected a signature goal of the AP news department this year: to “connect the dots” across the states for our U.S. customers in a way that only AP can. After months spent analyzing the state-by-state information, the data team made all the information available in an easy-to-use format for AP members and for our own state reporters. In addition to the national stories, more than a dozen AP reporters wrote state sidebars, receiving prominent play online and in print. https://bit.ly/37HJS07

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Dec. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Breaking news on US ramp-up of federal executions

have broken exclusives on this year’s resumption of federal executions following a 17-year hiatus, and the accelerated pace of executions during President Donald Trump’s lame-duck period. They have also witnessed every federal execution.Their stories have revealed that the Justice Department considered using firing squads or borrowing electric chairs due to a possible shortage of drugs used for lethal injection, and that the execution team at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where the executions are carried out, was sickened with COVID-19, even as they planned more deaths.But above all, the AP witnesses have risked their own health to enter the federal prison in Terre Haute to attend every execution. The team has been unstoppable, delivering fast, accurate reporting that has made AP the definitive source for news on this topic.https://bit.ly/3nlUxTHhttps://bit.ly/2ITQTkShttps://bit.ly/3ahw91Lhttps://bit.ly/3h13Shl

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Dec. 11, 2020

Best of the Week

In exclusive AP interview, AG Barr says no evidence of widespread election fraud, undermining Trump

Justice Department reporter Mike Balsamo has spent months cultivating sources at the Department of Justice, earning a reputation as an objective journalist who reports fairly and accurately. 

His relationships paid off with an exclusive interview of U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in which Barr said the DOJ could find no evidence of widespread voting fraud, dramatically undercutting President Donald Trump’s insistence to the contrary.

“I knew ... he had made probably the biggest news he has in his tenure as AG,” said Balsamo. His story topped the news cycle and resonated for days. No other news outlet could match it and AP was widely cited for the scoop.

For persistent, evenhanded reporting on the Justice Department beat resulting in the interview that netted one of AP’s most consequential news coups of the year, Balsamo wins AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Sources: Trump liaison banned from Justice Department

delivered a widely read scoop after working their sources to confirm a curious rumor: An official serving as President Donald Trump’s eyes and ears at the Department of Justice was banned from the building after pressuring Justice Department staffers to reveal insider information about ongoing cases and the department’s work on election fraud.Heidi Stirrup, an ally of top Trump adviser Stephen Miller, had also extended job offers to political allies for positions at some of the highest levels of the DOJ without consulting senior department officials or the White House counsel’s office, and also attempted to interfere in the hiring process for career staffers, a violation of the government’s human resources policies, a source told the AP. https://bit.ly/374EDaH

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals how major terrorism prosecution almost fell apart

delivered an exclusive, deeply reported account of how the Department of Justice’s biggest terrorism prosecution in years almost didn't happen. The case involves two alleged Islamic State militants dubbed “The Beatles,” British citizens blamed for the jailing, torture and murder of Western hostages in Syria.Tucker spoke to roughly a dozen current and former U.S. and British officials — many of whom rarely, if ever, grant interviews — as well as relatives of slain hostages. The story broke news in several areas, revealing for the first time how grieving families reached a gradual consensus to take the death penalty off the table, a major sticking point. Tucker also reported the behind-the-scenes involvement of current and former FBI officials who encouraged the families to prod the administration into action, and never-before-seen email correspondence from a senior Justice Department official to one of the victims’ relatives.https://bit.ly/3m1IcCOhttps://bit.ly/37Std99

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Nov. 20, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP breaks news on Justice Department election investigations

both delivered scoops on the U.S. Department of Justice and election investigations.Balsamo kept hearing rumors of the DOJ looking into election cases, but he knew there were rules prohibiting such investigations during an ongoing election. He kept asking until a source revealed a memo Attorney General William Barr had sent to prosecutors nationwide authorizing federal prosecutors across the U.S. to pursue any “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities before the election is certified, despite the fact there was no evidence of widespread fraud giving prosecutors the ability to go around the longstanding policy. The scoop reverberated nationwide, especially as concerns grew over Trump’s ability to use the levers of government to hang on to power. The story was widely used, with Politico, Axios and NBC citing AP in their coverage of Barr’s memo. AP’s alert and a full story were on the wire more than 40 minutes before other major news organizations obtained a copy of the memo.Meanwhile, Las Vegas reporter Michelle Price was digging into how the DOJ was pursuing allegations from the Trump campaign that voters may have cast improper ballots in Nevada. Price and Balsamo teamed up with voting reporter Anthony Izaguirre to report out two ongoing investigations, and how they may not hold up to scrutiny. Price used her contacts to get exclusive first-person accounts from U.S. military members who thought they’d been wrongly accused of fraud for voting by mail from out of state by Nevada authorities and DOJ officials.https://bit.ly/2Kqu09ehttps://bit.ly/3lOlxKR

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Nov. 13, 2020

Best of the Week

Count every vote, call the winners and report fast, accurate election news: There’s an AP for that

Coverage of U.S. elections is one of the AP’s most crucial missions, carried out in a sprawling but hyper-meticulous operation that stretches company-wide and brings order and clarity to the nation’s patchwork voting system.

In this year’s election cycle, upended by partisan feuding, a steady stream of disinformation and a global pandemic, the AP built on 172 years of election experience to deliver stories, photos, videos and graphics in innovative ways that didn’t just tell the story of who won, but why as well. Among the highlights was a new feature called Explainer that offered contextual looks at the reasons behind race calls for each state, bringing greater transparency to AP’s decisions when it has never mattered more.

Success on a story this massive can happen only with months, even years, of diligent planning, strong execution and the dedication of hundreds of AP journalists and support staff. For coverage that distinguished the AP in a momentous election year, the collective work of AP’s staff earns this week’s Best of the Week honors.

Jessica Hill 2000