Sept. 10, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Resourceful post-hurricane reporting yields exclusives on Louisiana oil spills

As Hurricane Ida slammed into Louisiana — launching strong AP coverage that would stretch from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast — Washington-based investigative reporter Michael Biesecker contacted federal and state officials who kept telling him they had no confirmed reports of oil or chemical spills along the coast.

But Biesecker’s inspection of aerial photos by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told a different story. He found a worrying miles-long oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico off the region’s main oil and gas port, and another sheen coming from a massive oil refinery along the Mississippi River.

His persistence led to a series of exclusives on the two oil spills, including the news that divers had identified a broken undersea pipeline as the apparent source of the offshore slick.

For smart reporting that put AP ahead of the competition — and even ahead of the government and energy companies themselves — on an important environmental story in the wake of Ida, Biesecker is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Oct. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats team leads coverage of California oil spill

provided a week of outstanding coverage on one of the largest oil spills in modern California history after oil leaked from a damaged underwater pipeline, washing up on Huntington Beach, otherwise known as “Surf City USA.” The all-formats coverage, including reporting on potential lapses in response by the pipeline company and the Coast Guard, kept the the story among AP’s most popular of AP’s offerings.Among the highlights, reporters Melley and Brown chased documents to find that the response by the company, Amplify Energy, and the Coast Guard was apparently delayed by hours despite reports of a suspected spill.Dazio pressed company and Coast Guard officials, both in news conferences and one-on-one, to clarify often conflicting or evasive information on the response. Taxin, meanwhile, who lives in Huntington Beach, had been first on the scene and delivered daily reporting on the cleanup. A week after the leak she wrote that while the long-term environmental effects aren’t known, the spill wasn’t the catastrophe first feared by conservationists and city officials.Video and photos virtually owned this story. Freelance photographer Chiu captured photos of oiled birds and workers painstakingly cleaning the beach, as well as drone video and stills for perspective. Video journalists Garcia and Daley offered clients a morning live shot each day and hustled to cover everything from news conferences to the cleanup effort, and reaction from local residents and business owners.https://aplink.news/yochttps://aplink.news/1qehttps://aplink.news/pznhttps://aplink.photos/udchttps://aplink.video/h9zhttps://aplink.video/5g2https://aplink.video/glu

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Oct. 18, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Venezuelan fishermen live, work in oil industry wasteland

for a beautifully shot all-formats package that captures the collapse of Venezuela’s once-prosperous oil industry through fishermen and women who scratch out an existence on the blackened, sticky shores of Lake Maracaibo. People cast their nets and lines in waters fouled by black gunk seeping from broken rigs that once fueled the country’s wealth. Abd spent several days in the villages of Cabimas, documenting the home life and workday of the fishers. He returned with a team including Smith and Nunes. They watched the fishermen struggle with oily nets, and interviewed women who scrub oil from fish and crabs before eating or selling them. On his second trip to Cabimas, Abd brought a 19th century-style box camera to make black and white portraits of the fishermen and industrial decay around them. The package played widely on web sites including the Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, The Seattle Times, MSN and Yahoo.https://bit.ly/2pd49quhttps://bit.ly/2Bnd5wwhttps://bit.ly/2MqwenJ

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP connects palm oil industry, top brands to abuse of women

followed up on their initial reporting that exposed widespread labor abuse in the palm oil industry, conducting a comprehensive investigation into the brutal treatment of women in the production of the omnipresent ingredient, including rapes by plantation supervisors, serious health issues from toxic chemicals and injuries from back-breaking loads. The pair then traced the oil produced by these women to the supply chains of top Western beauty brands — including conglomerates that make billions of dollars as they market the empowerment of women.Mason and McDowell persuaded dozens of female workers to tell their searing stories, spending months getting the women to trust them and then arranging clandestine meetings in an effort to protect the workers from retaliation by plantation owners. They bypassed the stonewalling of major Western brands that refused to say whether their products contain palm oil by using company data and U.S. Customs records to link the workers’ abuse to the brands’ palm oil supply chains.The package featured striking digital display, video and evocative photos by Indonesia-based stringer Binsar Bakkara, as well as a powerful series of closeups of workers’ hands cradling familiar products containing the fruits of their labor.The story is nearing 250,000 page views on AP News. The Clorox Company, which owns Burt’s Bees Inc., said it would raise the allegations of abuses with its suppliers, calling AP’s findings “incredibly disturbing.” https://bit.ly/3liKAV3https://bit.ly/2VeVUXRhttps://bit.ly/3mlXgfd

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Jan. 11, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP traces child labor from Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields to major brands, Girl Scout cookies

For the third installment of their groundbreaking investigation into labor abuse in Asia’s palm oil industry, reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason linked child labor to the supply chains of the makers of popular cereals, candies and ice creams, including KitKats, Oreos and Cap’n Crunch. They also traced the oil to that most American treat: Girl Scout cookies. 

Joined by photographers Binsar Bakkara and Mark Humphrey, and video journalist Allen Breed, their reporting found that some tens of thousands of children toil in the palm fields, some kept from school and forced to work for free or for little pay. Some are trafficked.

The framing of the story — through the eyes of a young girl in the fields in Indonesia and a Tennessee Girl Scout campaigning to have palm oil removed from the cookies — resonated with readers; reaction on social media led the Girl Scouts to address the issue with their suppliers.

For shedding unprecedented light on the children toiling in Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields, and connecting the abusive practice to major consumer brands, McDowell, Mason, Bakkara, Breed and Humphrey share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 28.

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Sept. 02, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Private lives are exposed as WikiLeaks spills its secrets

When WikiLeaks announced the release of hundreds of Saudi diplomatic documents last year, AP’s Raphael Satter in Paris and Maggie Michael in Cairo provided some of the most aggressive coverage of the leak. They broke news about everything from the secretive kingdom’s checkbook diplomacy to unpaid limousine bills and cheating students.

But as they plowed through the documents, they also noticed medical and identity documents -- potentially serious privacy violations. Satter flagged the issue but never got a formal response from WikiLeaks; with other stories on the horizon and only a handful of questionable documents in hand, Satter and Michael shelved the subject.

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April 14, 2017

Best of the States

Brown reveals thousands of safety defects on oil train lines in 44 states

As domestic production of oil has increased in recent years, Billings, Montana, Correspondent Matthew Brown closely followed derailments of trains carrying volatile crude. A train from North Dakota jumped the track, exploded and killed 47 people in Canada in 2013. In Brown’s own state, a derailment near the town of Culbertson spilled 27,000 gallons of oil in 2015. Last year, Brown reported that more than 800 potential safety violations were discovered on Union Pacific freight lines after a fiery June 2016 oil train derailment in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

But Brown wanted to know how widespread the problem really was. By pushing repeatedly for public records and working with a longtime source, Brown was able to exclusively report the results of a two-year federal inspection program for the nation’s oil trains – and he revealed that some safety defects uncovered where similar to ones blamed in derailments that triggered huge fires or oil spills in Oregon, Virginia, Montana and elsewhere. For his AP NewsBreak, Brown wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 06, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Chief Texas oil regulator vacationed at the height of hurricane

Hurricane Harvey killed more than 80 people and triggered historic flooding in Houston and across large swaths of Texas. But it also sparked oil spills and gasoline shortages. Those presented major tests for the state’s Railroad Commission, which, despite its peculiar name, actually regulates the energy industry – with historically lax enforcement.

So when the commission’s executive director, Kim Corley, abruptly resigned, the timing and circumstances made Austin newsman Paul Weber curious. He began making calls and soon secured a tip: Corley had been on vacation and unreachable at the height of the Category 4 hurricane that walloped the industry she was paid $180,000 annually to safeguard.

For his exclusive on a hyper-competitive story, Weber wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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Oct. 02, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP exposes palm oil labor abuses linked to the world’s top brands, major banks

While covering the Rohingya crisis, investigative reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason knew tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Myanmar were vulnerable to exploitation. They suspected desperate men were being tricked or sold into the massive palm oil industry that supplies some of America’s most iconic food and cosmetic brands.

Working with photographers Gemunu Amarasinghe and Binsar Bakkara, they vividly documented the horrors some workers in Malyasia and Indonesia face. Workers spoke of brutal conditions including child labor, outright slavery and allegations of rape.

Reaction was swift, with the  U.S. government saying it would block shipments from a major Malaysian producer mentioned in the story.

For exposing abuses affecting tens of thousands of workers in a global industry that manufactures a vast array of products we buy and use daily, McDowell, Mason, Amarasinghe and Bakkara win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 18, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Aggressive AP coverage as Venezuela releases 1 of 6 US oil executives

A team of AP reporters delivered two straight days of deeply reported, distinctive and aggressive coverage on the release by Venezuela of two American detainees, including one of the group of oil executives known as the Citgo 6 — an internationally competitive story.AP’s coverage depended on cross-border coordination between Goodman in Miami, Garcia Cano in Caracas and Tucker in Washington, all leaning on sources and hustling to track fast-moving developments in Venezuela. Read more

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March 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: One man’s fight against an oil pipeline on his land

reported on a land grab for a proposed oil pipeline, conveying the news in the most compelling way possible, from the perspective of the people involved. The story is told largely through the eyes of Clyde Robinson, a 80-year-old Memphis, Tennessee, landowner fighting against larger forces to keep his land in what advocates say is textbook environmental racism.Robinson, who is Black, compared the effort to seize his land through eminent domain to slavery, when members of his own family were not compensated for their work. He vowed that no amount of money would convince him to change his mind.Environmental lawyers who have taken up Robinson’s cause say there’s no public interest that would justify seizure of the land for a business project, while a spokeswoman for the pipeline project walked back a statement by a land agent that the company had chosen “a point of least resistance” for the pipeline's proposed path. That statement was interpreted by the project’s opponents as having discriminatory undertones. https://bit.ly/3bDr1VZ

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Aug. 06, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals threat of abandoned, leaking oil and gas wells in US

teamed up in all-formats to highlight the environmental crisis of an estimated 2 million abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States.Overcoming the reluctance of landowners fearful their property values would decline if they went public, energy and climate reporter Bussewitz found a fourth-generation Texas rancher who described her beloved land as a “swiss cheese of old oil wells that are just falling apart.” Bussewitz shared the byline with national writer and visual journalist Irvine, who shot video of the site where the rancher had moved 600 head of cattle that may have drunk contaminated water, then combined it with drone footage from the ranch, along with historical photos and footage of abandoned wells. Photographer Gay made striking images of that ranch and another where the rancher had to sue the state of Texas to plug orphaned wells.Data analyst Fenn and digital artist Duckett leveraged that data into interactives, including an exclusive nationwide map that depicted the known orphaned wells in each state, and producers Hamlin and Shotzbarger, with photo editor Goodman, built a powerful presentation on AP News.https://aplink.news/nr5https://aplink.video/rwuhttps://interactives.ap.org/em...https://interactives.ap.org/te...

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