Aug. 24, 2016

Best of the States

Historic flooding in Louisiana

Many media were slow to respond to the historic flooding in Louisiana this month, but not The Associated Press. AP journalists provided timely, perceptive and poignant spot and enterprise stories from the very first hours of the torrential rains.

Aggressive cross-format coverage by a staff focused on stories of real people were key to covering the disaster. In text, the reporters included New Orleans administrative correspondent Rebecca Santana; Baton Rouge correspondent Melinda Deslatte; and newsmen Mike Kunzelman in Baton Rouge and Kevin McGill in New Orleans. Freelance photographer Max Becherer and video journalists John Mone of Houston, and Josh Replogle of Miami rounded out AP's team on the ground.

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Jan. 05, 2018

Best of the States

ONLY ON AP: FEMA sells trailers for pennies on the dollar despite high demand from disaster victims

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas in August, Emily Schmall in Fort Worth, Texas, and Michael Sisak in Philadelphia teamed up to report exclusively that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had sold off scores of trailers with little to no damage in the days leading up to the storm. Their reporting had an immediate impact: FEMA said it had halted the auctions and would evaluate whether any of the units could be used for Harvey victims.

Fast forward to November, when Sisak noticed the auctions had resumed. Working with Central Desk editor Jeff McMurray, Sisak and Schmall took a pointed look at government waste, showing how FEMA was selling gently used trailers for pennies on the dollar rather than making them available for disaster victims.

For resourceful reporting that broke new ground, Schmall and Sisak share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Coming soon to natural park trails: motorized bicycles

For source reporting and collaboration that enabled AP to break the story about the Trump administration's plan to open national park trails to motorized bikes. Sharp got a tip that the Interior Department was expected to lift a decades-long ban on any vehicles with motors on National Park hiking and biking trails. He began reporting to get reaction even before the rule change was announced. Meanwhile, Knickmeyer got a tip that evening from a non-profit foundation that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had without any public notice signed an order lifting the ban immediately and classifying e-bikes as non-motor vehicles.

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Sept. 29, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP staffers surmount dual disasters in Mexico and Puerto Rico

First, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Mexico, killing hundreds. Then, a day later, a category 4 hurricane pummeled Puerto Rico, leaving millions of people without power and with little water.

Two major calamities, one sterling response: Staffers of The Associated Press went to heroic lengths to tell the world the stories of two places battered by disaster. Their efforts were led to extraordinary achievements – in text, photos and video – and the Beat of the Week.

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April 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats look at BP oil disaster, 10 years later

produced a comprehensive, multiformat Only on AP package marking 10 years since the fatal Deepwater Horizon explosion and massive oil spill. Three pieces ran over three days: investigative work that showed continued and increasing drilling risks, a personal look at how life has changed along the coast, and the lasting environmental impacts a decade after the disaster. https://apnews.com/DeepwaterHorizonSpill

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Nov. 23, 2018

Best of the States

Requiem for Paradise: Remembering the sweet life of a town wiped out by wildfire

It’s not often you have to write an obituary for a town. Yet that’s what Martha Mendoza and Jocelyn Gecker did, with Gillian Flaccus producing a compelling video component. Their tribute to Paradise, California – leveled by a devastating wildfire that killed so many residents – painted a picture of all that was lost. Paradise was a gold prospector’s town, then a lumber town, and until two weeks ago was the home of 27,000 people “who lived and loved here; they built homes and businesses, schools and houses of worship, parks and museums that proudly honored Paradise's place in American history.”

Mendoza worked from the field, in the ashes of the town, with Gecker in San Francisco tracking down leads, helping to write the finished piece and finding photographs to illustrate “the town’s history and spirit.” Their nuanced reporting, along with that of many colleagues, drew forth tales of town holidays, and residents ruminating whether those staples of small-town America would continue.

The accompanying video by Gillian Flaccus, recorded during a ride-along with a long-time resident, complemented the text piece by showing street after street of utter devastation over the man’s narration.

Paradise is gone, and until it rebuilds in some fashion, Mendoza, Gecker and Flaccus have given the world the definitive piece on what it represented. For their deft depiction of the town behind the headlines, the trio wins AP's Best of the States.

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Aug. 03, 2018

Best of the States

Aggressive photo coverage, sharp reporting on devastating California wildfire

San Francisco-based freelance photographer Noah Berger is one of the foremost wildfire photographers in California.

His experience helped put him in the right place to shoot stunning images as the Carr Fire swept into Redding and threatened to devour much of the Northern California city of 92,000. It also made AP the first major news outlet to have boots on the ground in the city, a competitive advantage that produced details other didn’t have, and enabled managers to quickly get Sacramento reporter Jonathan J. Cooper headed to the scene.

Berger described the Carr Fire as one of the most intense fire fights he has ever witnessed. His dramatic images put the AP ahead of key competitors by more than a day.

Cooper's reporting included a key measurement of a wildfire’s destructive force: the number of homes lost. When authorities kept saying 65 structures had been destroyed, Cooper went back to two neighborhoods he had visited and counted all the homes burned to the ground. He found 60 in one and 66 in the other. AP’s figure, and the context that the number would ultimately be much higher, quickly became the headline on the story.

A wildfire is among the toughest assignments for any photographer but Berger gave the AP a significant competitive advantage. Cooper’s savvy gave AP a figure others didn’t have. For their work, they share this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 15, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

All-formats coverage of deadly Guatemala volcano dominates play

After Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire erupted June 3, sending a fast-moving flow of superheated ash, rock and debris into villages, AP staffers sprang into action. Over the next week, they worked around the clock in difficult and often-perilous conditions to produce all-formats dispatches from the scene and from shelters and funerals. They told the stories of people who had lost dozens of family members in the explosion, authorities’ search for survivors and victims, and relatives’ own return to homes buried up to the rooftops in ash to dig, in many cases with their own hands.

For scoring numerous exclusives that included highly detailed drone video of the disaster and spectacular photos and video, Guatemala-based journalist Sonia Perez, Mexico City-based reporter Mark Stevenson, Bogota camera operator Marko Alvarez, Guatemala photographer Moises Castillo, Peru-based senior photographer Rodrigo Abd, and stringer photographer Luis Soto have earned the Beat of the Week.

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Feb. 22, 2019

Best of the States

Victims of the Paradise wildfire; stunning portraits of how they lived and died

The wildfire that consumed Paradise, California, claimed 85 lives while virtually burning the town off the map. But beyond those facts lay a rich narrative of the individuals who perished while calling Paradise home.

AP San Francisco reporters Janie Har and Jocelyn Gecker set out to tell the stories of the victims of the deadly Paradise fire far more comprehensively than was possible in the immediate aftermath: Who were they? Where and when did they die? Did they even have a chance to flee?

To paint a picture of how the tragedy unfolded, the pair spent months tracking down family members – many of whom were wary – to talk about their loved ones, assuring them that AP’s coverage would be more than a recitation of the grim facts. Interviews with California fire officials, a newly available simulation of the fire’s movement on the fateful morning and public records requests enabled AP to produce an interactive graphic giving the exact locations where people died and their approximate times of death.

The result was a riveting package that coupled intimate portraits of the victims with the circumstances of their death. Most never had a chance to flee their homes as the fast-moving fire barreled through.

The moving package was well-received by members throughout California and from coast-to-coast.

For carrying the Paradise story forward with enterprising, sensitive work that focused on the victims’ narratives, Har and Gecker share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 31, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Image of Hurricane Harvey rescue tells story of tenderness and unity, dominates front pages

Young Aiden Pham wasn't even awake for his brief moment in the spotlight. But Houston photographer David Phillip was there to capture the toddler in what would become an iconic image of Hurricane Harvey and the historic floods.

The photo of the sleeping 13-month-old, swaddled in a blanket and held in his mother's arms as they're carried to safety, was among the many dramatic rescues of the floods that have inundated southeast Texas.

The image – which appeared on the web and front pages across the country, including the Wall Street Journal – along with others taken by Phillip earn him the Beat of the Week.

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Dec. 06, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP all-formats crew provides unmatched coverage of Albania earthquake

Jolted out of bed by the 6.4-magnitude earthquake just before 4 a.m., correspondent Llazar Semini in Tirana knew immediately he was dealing with a major story. Communications networks were shaky, but he managed to reach colleagues in other formats by phone, triggering what would become a virtual sweep of the disaster coverage.

The quick decisions made in the early hours resulted in a compelling all-formats report and gave AP the clear advantage over competitive agencies. Nowhere was that advantage more evident than in live video – AP picked up live video within an hour of the quake, and several hours before any of the competition. 

Coverage was just as impressive in text, photo and video edits. AP’s dominance continued with drone video, and all-formats coverage of dramatic rescue efforts and anguished survivors. 

For resourceful work that powerfully conveyed the human toll and devastation while delivering a dominant competitive performance, the multinational all-formats team of Llazar Semini, Visar Kryeziu, Hektor Pustina, Amer Cohadzic, Erion Xhiabati, Florent Bajrami, Sylejman Klokkoqi and Petros Giannakouris shares AP’s Best of the Week.

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March 02, 2018

Best of the States

Texas effort to streamline hurricane recovery backfires

As the six-month mark approached of Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas, Austin Administrative Correspondent Will Weissert and Fort Worth Correspondent Emily Schmall teamed up to report exclusively that the state’s decision to lead housing recovery – meant to be faster and better than anything the federal government could muster – was actually resulting in backlogs that made the chaotic response after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina look good by comparison.

Acting on a tip, the duo dug into federal records and added field reporting to produce a multi-format report showing that delay by the governor, and the state land office’s steep learning curve, meant temporary shelter and quick-fix home repair programs were rolling out at a startlingly slow pace.

For excellent sourcing and taking a deeper look at Texas’ hurricane recovery process, Weissert and Schmall share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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March 13, 2020

Best of the States

Tennessee team does double duty when tornadoes strike on Super Tuesday

When tornadoes tore through Middle Tennessee in the early-morning hours of Super Tuesday, AP’s staff deftly pivoted from preparing for the state’s primary to covering a natural disaster. 

From first light on Tuesday and throughout the day, Nashville and Memphis staffers delivered compelling all-formats coverage of the devastation that left at least 24 dead statewide. The team also connected the disaster to the primary, monitoring the impact on voting.

Strong aftermath coverage followed, including a presidential visit on Friday and well-received pieces on recovery efforts and a worship service at a damaged church. With out-of-state staffers and the entire South Desk contributing to the coverage, the sustained effort showed the AP at its best.

For proving nimble, responsive and collaborative coverage on a major breaking news story under chaotic conditions, the multiformat Tennessee team of Travis Loller, Kristin Hall, Kimberlee Kruesi, Mark Humphrey, Jonathan Mattise, Adrian Sainz and Teresa Walker shares this week’s Best of the States award. 

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Aug. 28, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

Viral photo captures mood, fears, threats in pandemic-dominated 2020

For many in the U.S. and around the world, 2020 has been one of the most challenging years in recent memory – and a single wildfire photo by freelance photographer Noah Berger, on assignment for the AP, captured the danger, fear and uncertainty wrought by the pandemic. 

The ironic image of a sign, surrounded by flames while urging safety, was widely interpreted as a pointed commentary on 2020. The photo went viral and was among AP’s most downloaded images of the month.

And that was just one of many photos and videos by Berger that helped put the AP ahead of the competition in recent coverage of fires in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

For his courageous and committed work, and a remarkable photo that frames much of 2020 in the context of a raging wildfire, Noah Berger wins AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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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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June 07, 2019

Best of the States

Teamwork and drone visuals lead coverage after tornadoes rip western Ohio

There’s a real difference between straight aerial photography and the bird’s-eye view that AP’s audience had of the destruction after a series of tornados touched down in western Ohio late on Memorial Day. Using a drone, Cincinnati photographer John Minchillo and video journalist Angie Wang provided those images from a rare perspective – both still photos and video – showing residents coping with the wreckage and sorting through their gutted homes.

The resulting video coverage was our overall top U.S. video story for the week, and Minchillo’s still photos were widely played, including front pages of the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Two of his photos appeared in NBC’s The Week in Pictures.

From small details to sweeping landscapes of destruction, their dedication, teamwork and speed of delivery make John Minchillo and Angie Wang this week’s Best of the States winners.

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Sept. 08, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Fewer carrying flood insurance despite the risk

Floodwaters from Harvey were still rising in the Houston area and AP’s responsibilities to thoroughly cover breaking news developments across the region hadn’t diminished, but already there was an appetite for investigative reporting on the disaster. An AP team from across the company quickly mobilized.

Among the early efforts was a package of stories, data, photos and an interactive revealing that fewer Americans, in the Houston area and nationally, were buying flood insurance than just five years ago, despite serious risks from flooding.

The stories relied on federal data analyzed by Meghan Hoyer and reporting from Business writers Bernard Condon and Ken Sweet in New York as well as staff writers Terry Spencer in south Florida, Michael Kunzelman in Baton Rouge and Jeff Donn in Boston, with an interactive national map of flood insurance policies by Maureen Linke in Washington.

For their efforts that produced exclusive content with relevance to national and local media, Hoyer, Spencer, Kunzelman, Sweet, Condon, Donn and Linke will share this week’s Best of States award.

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