March 29, 2019

Best of the States

AP analysis: Partisan redistricting limited GOP losses in 2018 midterms

With two major cases over partisan redistricting coming before the Supreme Court, how could the AP’s coverage stand out?

Missouri-based reporter David Lieb of the state government team provided the answer, taking the results of last year’s midterm election and applying a formula called the “efficiency gap” to measure the potential effects of highly partisan map-making on races for the U.S. House and state legislatures. The efficiency gap, developed at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California and The University of Chicago, measures a party’s advantage on a statewide basis.

His finding: Democrats could have done even better last November had it not been for boundaries created by Republicans during the last round of redistricting – otherwise known as “gerrymandering.” His analysis showed that Republicans won about 16 more U.S. House seats – and held on to as many as seven state legislative chambers – than would have been expected based on their share of the vote.

Lieb and Data Team editor Meghan Hoyer previewed the state-by-state findings for customers and other AP reporters so the data could be used for localizations. The resulting package landed the week before the Supreme Court arguments, and the play was spectacular, both online and print.

The package was complemented by video and photos from national enterprise reporter Allen Breed, based in Raleigh, who traveled to a historically black college in North Carolina, where Republicans had split the campus between two districts, diluting the votes of the left-leaning student body.

Breed’s full-length video ran with the spot stories surrounding the Supreme Court arguments and parts of it were folded into a video graphic produced by New York deputy director for digital graphics Darrell Allen and Minneapolis-based video graphics newsperson Heidi Morrow. It became a key part of the extensive social promotion plan created by Alina Hartounian, the Phoenix-based multimedia coordinator for the beat teams.

For producing a distinctive multimedia package that made the AP stand out on one of the most important and competitive political topics of the day, Lieb, Hoyer, Breed, Allen, Morrow and Hartounian win this week’s Best of the States.

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Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP upends Venezuelan politics with scoop on secret US-socialist talks

for acting on a source’s tip to reveal the existence of a secret backchannel that the U.S. had opened up with socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello. The news was a shocking development in Venezuela’s grinding crisis and was bound to cause heartburn in Washington and Caracas because of Cabello’s alleged ties to drug trafficking — and allegations he ordered a hit on U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. Goodman took the off-the-record tip to senior Trump administration officials, who agreed to talk out of concern that the explosive scoop would make them look desperate.

The story dominated the week’s news cycle in Venezuela, and in a first for the AP’s aggressive coverage of the ongoing Venezuelan crisis, President Donald Trump confirmed the meetings from the White House, as did National Security Adviser John Bolton. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said that he had authorized the contacts – even though the U.S. said Cabello and others were negotiating behind his back. The story received top billing in the Miami Herald and other news organizations scrambled to match the AP story.

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March 19, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP story helps derail partisan effort to oust Tennessee judge

revealed a move by the Tennessee House to oust Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, a judge who allowed widespread access to absentee voting before the 2020 election.That ruling last summer by Lyle didn't sit well with Tennessee Republicans. So not long after the legislature reconvened for the first time after the 2020 election, an effort to remove her began in earnest. With GOP supermajorities in both chambers, the measure had a chance to pass despite concerns that it represented a breach of judicial independence.Mattise’s March 8 story went deep on the mounting criticism, including colorful context on Tennessee’s previous efforts to remove judges over the past 50 years. The day after the story hit the wire, the push to oust Lyle went down to defeat in a House subcommittee, demonstrating the power of sunshine to upend questionable policy making. https://bit.ly/3tvbttG

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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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Sept. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Making the signature photo, discreetly, as family mourns McCain

Sometimes it takes a team. And a resourceful photographer.

Phoenix photographer Ross Franklin made a stunning image of Cindy McCain resting her head on the casket of her late husband Sen. John McCain during a family service in the Arizona state Capitol. Getting to this moment was a team effort, starting with great Washington contacts and relationships that gave the AP not one but two exclusive spots in the rotunda in Phoenix.

But given the solemnity of the event, there was no way to shoot the private ceremony using a motor drive to take bursts of frames – it would have been too loud and would have echoed throughout the rotunda. So Franklin agreed to shoot the entire event balanced on a ladder overlooking the scene from the balcony, with his camera in a noise muffling blimp – basically operating a camera that is wrapped in a big pillow.

When Cindy McCain approached the casket, Franklin had just one or two frames to capture the signature moment. He nailed it, and the photo was used everywhere, including a stunning display on the front of the Arizona Republic.

For his exceptional work, Ross Franklin wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Draining the swamp? AP reporters find at least 37 Trump administration officials with ethics waivers

It was a major catchphrase of Donald Trump’s campaign: He would “drain the swamp” in Washington.

But once Trump took office, Washington’s Michael Biesecker wasn’t seeing it. Government officials, it appeared, were working on issues they lobbied for on behalf of private clients. He set out to track the administration’s hiring and measure it against Trump’s pledge.

It did not measure up.

Biesecker and colleagues Juliet Linderman and Richard Lardner found that at least 37 appointees across the government had been granted ethics waivers, allowing them to regulate the very industries in which they had worked. For plumbing the depths of the swamp, their story is Beat of the Week.

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May 19, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Where’s Comey? Sleuthing skills locate him, leading to exclusive AP photos

When major news breaks – such as President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey – journalism 101 dictates: Find the principals. We knew where the president was. Locating Comey, on the other hand, was more difficult.

The determined, diligent sleuthing efforts of news researcher Monika Mathur tracked Comey, allowing The Associated Press to get exclusive and widely used photos of him. Those efforts earn the Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Cuba mystery deepens: AP first with details of 'health attacks' against US diplomats

When news first broke in early August about mysterious incidents involving U.S. diplomats in Cuba, the AP was all over the story, beating the competition to several key early details. These included talk among officials about a possible “sonic attack” and suspicions that ranged from Cuban culpability to possible intervention by an outside culprit like Russia.

But so many questions were left unanswered. And with the FBI deep into one of the most perplexing investigations in modern diplomatic history, U.S. officials in the State Department, White House and elsewhere were saying as little as possible about what they were learning.

That’s when the Washington bureau put together a multi-beat team of reporters to try to put the pieces together. Their comprehensive work wins Beat of the Week.

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April 27, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Fast and furious: AP is hours ahead with sought-after Comey memos

The moment James Comey let slip that he had written “contemporaneous notes” detailing his dealings with President Donald Trump, those memos became the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The memos quickly became fodder for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections as it related to possible collusion with the Trump campaign – and in particular, whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Prosecutors perused them, members of Congress demanded them and the public speculated about them.

In the end, The Associated Press got them.

Thanks to the resourceful reporting of the Washington bureau’s Mary Clare Jalonick, Chad Day, Tom LoBianco and Eric Tucker, the AP was the first news organization to publish the contents of those 15 pages of notes, hours ahead of the competition. And that major scoop is the Beat of the Week.

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Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Records show Montana official’s misuse of state vehicle

When the Helena Police Department cited the statute of limitations in declining to bring charges against Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton for misuse of a state-owned vehicle, Helena reporter Amy Hanson dug deeper.

After multiple public-records requests Hanson found that Secretary of State Corey Stapleton traveled tens of thousands of miles more than what had been previously reported, including many times when he had no official events on his calendar. And she found that the misuse continued until he turned in the vehicle in March, well within the statute of limitations.

For determined reporting that resulted in a textbook example of accountability journalism, Amy Hanson wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 13, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: EPA's Pruitt spent millions on security, travel

Environmental Protection Administrator Scott Pruitt’s lavish spending and deep concerns about security had put his future in the Trump Cabinet in jeopardy. But what was the cost to taxpayers?

AP beat reporter Michael Biesecker, whose aggressive coverage of Pruitt began more than a year ago when Trump nominated him for the EPA post, began working sources still at the agency and those who had left in search of the answer. His findings – that Pruitt spent about a whopping $3 million on security in the first year – win the Beat of the Week award.

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Feb. 22, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP breaks global news with unprecedented Maduro interview

“How quickly can you and your boss get here?”

The curt text message to Andean News Director Joshua Goodman from Venezuela’s normally evasive communications minister promised a tantalizing scoop. It set Goodman and Ian Phillips, vice president for international news, on an intercontinental dash to Caracas to secure embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s first-ever interview with an English-language news agency.

Among the exclusives from the interview, Maduro revealed that his foreign minister had twice met secretly in New York with a Trump administration envoy. It came against a tense backdrop as the U.S. joined other Latin American nations in calling for the leader’s ouster.

The unprecedented access came as the result of Goodman’s years of source development with the Venezuelan government, including cultivating pro-government sources and making sure cabinet ministers saw that AP’s coverage of the nation was fair and balanced.

The package was a dominating all-formats beat for the AP and a massive draw for customers, with video of the interview downloaded more than 840 by clients around the world. And in a surprise first, Venezuelan state TV also carried the 42-minute interview in its entirety in prime time.

For his masterful source development, resourcefulness and quick work to put the AP ahead, Goodman wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 01, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Secret diplomacy behind Venezuela’s self-declared interim president

The world watched enthralled on Jan. 23 as little-known Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president of the struggling South American nation and called on socialist President Nicolas Maduro to resign. More surprising still, the United States, Canada and a host of Latin American countries recognized Guaido almost immediately as the country’s rightful leader.

The timing was clearly no coincidence, but what exactly had happened?

Andean News Director Josh Goodman, Canada Bureau Chief Rob Gillies and Washington newsman Luis Alonso shared first-rate source work to scoop everyone, revealing a coordinated behind-the-scenes push to back Guaido that read like a spy novel. For weeks, a coalition of Latin American governments had launched secret diplomatic efforts, including encrypted messages and a furtive trip by Guaido to Washington, Bogota and Brasilia to build a strategy around the baby-faced Assembly president.

So far, the AP is the only media outlet to have told this story, and it has been widely used inside and outside Venezuela. Even embattled President Maduro praised the AP scoop to supporters at a rally over the weekend.

For their resourceful and consequential news break on one of the top stories in the world, Goodman, Gillies and Alonso win AP’s Best of the Week.

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Dec. 01, 2017

Best of the States

AP staffers get exclusive interview with U.S. Rep. John Conyers

When BuzzFeed broke the news that the longest-serving current U.S. House member had settled a sexual harassment complaint, one notable thing missing was comment from U.S. Rep. John Conyers himself. The 88-year-old Conyers rarely gives interviews anymore, deferring to his staff to issue statements or simply not responding.

Congress was on Thanksgiving break, but News Editor Roger Schneider suggested that video journalist Mike Householder and reporter Corey Williams drop by Conyers’ Detroit home. They knew it was a long shot – Corey and Mike had been to Conyers’ house before, and knew it was gated.

To their surprise, Conyers answered their ring.

Conyers answered a few questions, giving Williams and Householder a major beat: He denied settling sexual harassment claims and other allegations of inappropriate touching of staffers.

For aggressive reporting that paid off with an exclusive on one of the week’s top stories, Williams and Householder share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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July 20, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Anti-outsourcing senator's family business uses Mexican labor

One of the most vulnerable senators up for re-election in 2018 – Democrat Joe Donnelly of Indiana - has staked his nearly two-decade political career on opposition to outsourcing and free-trade agreements that ship American jobs abroad.

Following up on a tip from Washington, D.C., colleague Erica Werner, Indiana Statehouse reporter Brian Slodysko pulled together public documents and customs records to reveal that Donnelly has benefited financially from the very free trade policies he has decried since his first run for Congress. As Slodysko reported in his “Only on AP” story, Donnelly earned thousands of dollars in 2016 alone from stock in the arts and crafts business his family has owned for generations, which ships raw materials to its Mexican factory that produces ink pads and other supplies.

For shining light on something a politician would have preferred left unknown to his constituents, Slodysko wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 14, 2018

Best of the States

Years of planning pay off in ‘picture perfect’ coverage of Bush funeral events

For more than a decade, Washington photo editor Jon Elswick has negotiated with the Department of Defense over coverage plans for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, while Houston photojournalist David Phillip fostered a relationship with the Bush family and their spokesman to secure AP’s shooting positions for the eventual funeral events.

Those relationships were crucial to arranging and executing coverage, paving the way for more than two dozen staffers to parachute into Washington, Houston and College Station, Texas, where they produced outstanding photos in real time and for the history books.

Among the highlights: Photographer Morry Gash fired a remote-controlled camera that captured a stunning bird’s-eye view of the U.S. Capitol rotunda during visitation and services, and David Phillip negotiated to shoot inside the railroad car carrying the coffin as the funeral train passed through Texas. Phillip called it “the most incredible event I have ever covered.”

The photo coverage was part of an impressive dayslong cross-format effort by scores of AP staff across the country and globe that included hours of live video and spot and breaking text, video, audio and graphics coverage that explored Bush’s life and presidency from every angle.

For exceptional planning and execution on one of the largest news events of the year, this week’s Best of the States goes to the team of photo staff covering the Bush funeral.

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June 29, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Kobach sought pardon for VP of a corporate donor

Topeka correspondent John Hanna had been hearing hints for weeks that there might be something in Kris Kobach’s record that could cause trouble for the Kansas secretary of state and candidate for governor.

At first, it was just that: hints. The suggestions were so vague that Hanna set off to review the nationally known Republican’s statements, but Hanna, whose reporting sense is informed by 30 years of statehouse reporting, found nothing.

So he kept digging. Eventually a source suggested there might be something to do with a pardon, and Hanna filed a records request.

The governor’s office released a copy of its file on a pardon request for Ryan Bader, the vice president of TriStar Arms, a firearms importer. Bader had faced an aggravated robbery charge over a 2009 incident but agreed to a plea bargain and received a light sentence. Now he wanted a pardon so that he could buy a gun again and get the licenses needed to take over the family business.

Bader’s attorney for the pardon request? Kobach. The records showed Kobach did not provide a key police affidavit that was later released by the office of GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer – whom Kobach is challenging. But there was more. Campaign finance records showed that TriStar had donated at least $7,000 to Kobach’s campaigns for secretary of state and governor. The company also helped sponsor a fundraiser with Donald Trump Jr.

Hanna’s APNewsBreak was well used, including a post on the homepage of a member that is usually hesitant to showcase work done outside its newsroom. It also became a topic of a gubernatorial debate, with Kobach defending the pardon request.

For smart digging and use of public records that helped drive the news agenda and political conversation, Hanna wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 26, 2019

Best of the States

When worlds collide: FOIA reveals ousted Iowa official’s fixation with Tupac Shakur

When Gov. Kim Reynolds abruptly fired Jerry Foxhoven, the head of the Iowa Department of Human Services, she refused to say why.

But within days of the firing, Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley got a startling tip: The ouster may have been due to Foxhoven’s over-the-top fondness for the late Tupac Shakur. A Freedom of Information Act request yielded 350 pages of official emails referencing the hip-hop artist, and on the day before Foxhoven was asked to resign he had sent a mass email to all 4,300 DHS employees telling them to commemorate Shakur’s birthday.

Foley’s story caused a nearly instant sensation in Iowa and among national outlets that credited the AP for the scoop while giving their own spin on the story.

For investigating a tip rather than laughing it off, and then writing a story that managed the rare feat of connecting state government to a 1990s rap icon, Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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