July 23, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Dedicated source work produces rare video as Tigray forces retake regional capital

Through months of patient contacts, Nairobi-based senior producer Khaled Kazziha built trust with an Ethiopian freelancer who promised AP first refusal on video and photos he made as events unfolded in the embattled Tigray region. That promise was fulfilled recently with images that included celebrations as Tigrayan forces retook the regional capital Mekele, prisoners of war in detention and an on-camera interview with Tigray's leader, among other rare scenes.

Kazziha had trained the freelancer and knew he was in Mekele when Ethiopian government forces fled Tigray, allowing the region's former leaders, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, to return. But with communication and transportation blocked, Kazziha had to wait almost two weeks for the footage to reach him. He then worked tirelessly with colleagues in Addis Ababa to cut multiple video packages that have been widely used by AP’s global video clients and platforms.

“This is a reminder that a journalist never knows whose help might prove critically useful in the future, and training and teaching people wherever one goes ... especially in the world’s trouble spots,” said Andy Drake, deputy director of newsgathering for Africa.

For exceptional collaboration and video production work that led to multiple world exclusives, Kazziha and the video freelancer — unnamed for his security — share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 30, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP analysis: At least 19,000 in Iraq detained for terrorism, thousands sentenced to death

Prisons in Iraq held thousands of Islamic State group militants, but few outside the government knew exactly how many. Baghdad-based reporter Qassim Abdul-Zahra set out to find out – and he wasn’t going to take a rough estimate for an answer.

With Baghdad correspondent Susannah George and Mideast enterprise editor Lee Keath, Abdul-Zahara analyzed documents he obtained from a Justice Ministry official, finding that the government was holding at least 19,000 people accused of ISIS connections or other terror-related offenses and that more than 3,000 of them had been sentenced to death.

For intrepid source work and analysis to establish the facts around the imprisonment of thousands of Islamic State group militants in Iraq, Abdul-Zahra, George and Keath win Beat of the Week.

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June 02, 2017

Best of the States

​Death row inmates' last words: Apologies, thanks, defiance

To most, inmates facing execution in America are just names, mug shots and written descriptions of their crimes.

AP was interested in going beyond that, seeking to tell their stories in creative ways that reach beyond our traditional audiences. To make that happen, a unique interactive created by Atlanta-based reporter Kate Brumback, Interactive Editor Nathan Griffiths and Interactive Producer Roque Ruiz takes people inside Georgia’s execution chamber to actually hear the last words of inmates right before they were put to death.

For their resourceful and compelling work, the team of Brumback, Griffiths and Ruiz receives this week's Best of the States award.

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Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 09, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

15-month data collaboration yields exclusives on COVID in prisons

collaborated with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focusing on criminal justice, for 15 months during the pandemic, tracking coronavirus in prisons in all 50 states.The reporters tracked virus sickness, death and vaccinations from every prison system and the federal government. Each week they entered the data into the system that editors refined into what became the definitive picture of COVID-19 and incarceration. They filed exclusives off the data along the way, detailing how 1 in 5 prisoners were sickened nationwide, thousands had died, how prisons and jails emptied out and then started to fill up again, and how the uniquely grueling conditions of prison — close quarters, poor health and hygiene, would make for a breeding ground like no other for the virus.The journalists reported how prisoners, despite being in an extremely high-risk environment, were often put lower on the vaccination list out of political fears over public perception. They also discovered how the prison systems were able to adapt to meet the moment in some cases, increasing transparency and letting prisoners go free without an increase in crime — only to draw the curtains closed once the virus abated. Every single story was an exclusive based on the team’s exhaustive data.https://aplink.news/vajhttps://aplink.news/404https://bit.ly/3dS34evhttps://aplink.news/pxuhttps://aplink.news/9p5https://aplink.news/7c5

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Jan. 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP reveals chronic problems, personal stories behind a deadly period in Mississippi prisons

The Associated Press began chronicling rising violence across Mississippi’s troubled prison system in late 2019, but after four deaths in four days it became clear that something bigger was going on.

Reporters Jeff Amy and Emily Wagster Pettus explored the history of underfunding and other problems in the state’s prison system. In addition to official documents describing understaffing, the pair obtained photos and video shot by a prisoner that showed the conditions inside the infamous penitentiary at Parchman. 

AP also published all-formats interviews with grieving mothers of prisoners killed, and reported on the state’s decision to house inmates at a private prison.

For bringing much-needed insight and context to a chaotic, evolving situation and giving voice to those affected by the deadly violence, Amy and Wagster Pettus receive this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

In Mississippi, ‘Looking for America’ examines Black voting rights

looked at at the circumstances faced by Mississippi’s Black voters for the third installment of AP’s “Looking For America” road trip series.The highly evocative package was framed in the context of the “Mississippi Burning” murders of three civil rights activists in 1964 – and it found that too little has changed. The AP team saw the issue through the eyes of a now-elderly activist who was close to two of the murder victims more than 50 years ago. They reported that while poll taxes and tests on the state constitution may be gone, Black voters still face obstacles such as state-mandated ID laws and the disenfranchisement tens of thousands of former prisoners.The text, photos and video, with digital presentation by multimedia journalist Samantha Shotzbarger, perfectly captured the frustration that so many decades later, Black voters are still challenged by the state.The work was highlighted in a long entry in Politico’s Playbook, and attracted attention in the U.S. and internationally.https://bit.ly/31THAI1https://bit.ly/3jzaKCphttps://bit.ly/3oCX50E

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Dec. 14, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation reveals torture in Yemen’s Houthi rebel prisons

AP investigative reporter Maggie Michael has done landmark reporting on Yemen’s civil war throughout the past year, revealing abuses by the Saudi-led coalition that controls much of the south of the country.

But there had been a major gap in the coverage for all media: putting the same scrutiny on the other side in the conflict, the Houthi rebels who control the north. The Houthis impose strict controls on reporters, and sources are afraid to talk, problems that have prevented journalists from reporting in-depth on abuses carried out by the Houthis during the 4-year-old civil war.

Michael found another way. She and Cairo photographer Nariman El-Mofty travelled to the coalition-controlled city of Marib, where they could meet freely with victims of the Houthis who had fled the rebels’ rule. There, former prisoners described horrifying tortures at the hands of the Houthis. Nariman’s riveting visuals encapsulated the suffering, including photos of a man recovering from horrific acid burns, draped in red bandages.

The reporting, supported partly by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, was a breakthrough, as it has been rare to see atrocities by Houthis so prominently featured. Rather than denying the story, a top Houthi figure called for an investigation into allegations of torture in the movement’s prisons.

For their investigation that exposed in raw, excruciating detail the scope of torture committed by the Houthis, Michael and El-Mofty share AP's Best of the Week award.

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Dec. 17, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: US envoy secretly visited Venezuela on hostage mission

combined sleuthing and great source reporting to break a story that the Biden administration was trying to keep secret: that the U.S. government's top hostage negotiator was secretly visiting Venezuela as part of an ongoing effort to secure the release of jailed Americans, including American oil executives known as the Citgo 6.The AP pair has followed the case since the 2017 detention of the oil executives. When Latin America correspondent Goodman learned that a U.S. government flight was traveling toward Venezuela, he flagged it to Washington-based national security reporter Tucker, who quickly confirmed with sources that the plane was carrying Roger Carstens, the U.S. government’s special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. They spent the next several days reporting the details of Carstens’ visit. Goodman pressed multiple sources to learn Carstens visited American detainees behind bars and had also met with aides to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.Tucker, who has a history of reporting on hostage and detainee cases, then landed an exclusive interview with Carstens after he was safely out of Venezuela. The envoy shared first-hand details of his visit with the prisoners.The result was a vivid tale of the first known face-to-face outreach in Venezuela by a senior U.S. official since at least 2019. It earned widespread attention from CNN, which gave AP prominent credit, and other major news outlets. The story was even bigger in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin and South America. And while others eventually reported their own stories, they did not get Carstens. His lone interview was with AP. https://aplink.news/i7u

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April 01, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

F1 races in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia; AP raises human rights

continues to hold Formula One accountable for racing in countries where human rights are routinely trampled. While covering the exceptionally intense and challenging kickoff to the F1 racing season in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Pugmire, AP’s Paris-based auto racing writer, held exclusive interviews with a released torture survivor and the 12-year-old son of a man on death row, and pressured Formula One heavyweights to advocate for human rights in both countries.Pugmire’s persistence led seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton to tell him, “You sure don’t make it easy for me.” To which Pugmire replied, “That’s because you’re the only one who doesn’t duck questions.” In the private conversation that followed, the two shared experiences of meeting released prisoners, and Hamilton complimented Pugmire on his commitment to the issue. Read more

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Oct. 01, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP wins exclusive access to notorious federal jail in NY

secured rare access inside the federal jail in Manhattan where Jeffrey Epstein killed himself, reporting first-hand about the structural mess and squalid conditions. The AP pair had previously reported that the infamous Metropolitan Correctional Center, built in the 1970s, is slated for at least temporary closure. Still, they wanted more.Previous requests had been denied, but Balsamo and Sisak relied on years of deep source work and weeks of negotiations with the Justice Department and the BOP, finally winning access inside the MCC in Manhattan and the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where a majority of the inmates will be moved.Balsamo, AP’s lead Justice Department reporter who was the first journalist to cover the resumption of federal executions, came away from MCC with details like: “One cell is off-limits because the door is now unstable — likely because of the constant pounding over the years from the prisoners inside on the cinder block walls.” New York-based law enforcement reporter Sisak also reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents and judicial orders that detailed the conditions inmates had faced and researched the history of the building.The result was a vividly written and reported exclusive unmatched by any other news agency. The story was picked up by New York media and news outlets across the country. https://aplink.news/xck

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