Feb. 19, 2021

Best of the States

AP team finds diversity of politics and religion among West Virginia evangelicals

A tweet was the seed for this illuminating story. “Most people in my rural, Appalachian hometown are being radicalized at church by their pastor, which is the person they trust the most,” it read. AP’s Global Religion team ran with it.

Reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski visited the parishioners of three churches in Bluefield, West Virginia, including one pastor who had attended the Jan. 6 Washington rally that degenerated into a riot. The AP pair spent weeks convincing him to sit down for an interview. The result was an all-formats package of diverse congregations seeking common ground, even as they are divided on the role of evangelical Christianity in American politics. 

For applying gentle persuasion and balanced reporting to produce a nuanced look at religion and politics in one West Virginia town, Henao and Wardarski win this week’s Best of the States award. 

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March 09, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

​Ex-sect members tell AP that prosecutors obstructed abuse cases

It’s one of the most important lessons of investigative journalism: One good story can lead to another. Don’t give up after the first round. Keep digging.

That’s what Mitch Weiss of the national investigative team did after his explosive first story on the Word of Faith Fellowship. His follow-up story earns the Beat of the Week.

It took Weiss many months to persuade 43 former members of the Fellowship to open up – on the record and identified – with stories of adults and children being slapped, punched, choked and slammed to the floor in the name of the Lord. But getting so many of the reluctant ex-congregants to talk was only the start of his journalistic journey.

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Oct. 14, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

At the intersection of politics and religion, AP reports from Michael Flynn’s Christian nationalist road show

Michael Flynn’s ReAwaken America cross-country tour has attracted lots of media attention, but journalists trying to cover it have faced a hostile environment. So correspondent Michelle Smith and photographer Carolyn Kaster simply bought tickets to the tour’s stop in upstate New York.

The decision to go as attendees made all the difference: The two were fully engaged in Flynn’s world for two days, documenting an event at the heart of an ascendent Christian nationalist movement. And Washington colleague Richard Lardner added more reporting as he monitored the event on livestream.

The trio’s story, part of an AP investigation in partnership with PBS “Frontline,” detailed how Flynn and allies are using ReAwaken America to spread divisive rhetoric and conspiracy theories targeting democratic ideas and institutions while urging people to join and take action. The compelling all-formats coverage has won strong play and readership.For an up-close, insightful package on a far-right movement spearheaded by a former general close to Donald Trump, Smith, Kaster and Lardner earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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Nov. 04, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

At the edge of the world, AP reports on resilient, defiant Alaska Native islanders facing climate change

More than 600 Inupiat Natives live in the village of Shishmaref, just a few miles from the Arctic Circle, watching climate change slowly shrink their small Alaskan island home. In early October, reporter Luis Andres Henao, video journalist Jessie Wardarski and photographer Jae Hong visited the village to document how the warming world inexorably threatens their way of life.

With advance outreach, and tactful overtures after their arrival, the journalists earned the trust of residents and civic leaders who have sometimes been wary of visitors. The ultimate result: a moving tribute to the villagers’ resilience and community spirit, rendered in striking visuals and poignant, insightful text.

The package — the first major look at how Shishmaref is determined to stay put as long as possible — earned prominent online display by major news outlets in the U.S. and abroad, including Spanish and French translations.

For an all-formats project vividly evoking the tenacity of a Native village threatened by climate change, the team of Henao, Wardarski and Hong is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Nov. 20, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP team unmatched in coverage of Vatican’s McCarrick report

teamed up for the long-awaited release of the Vatican’s 449-page report on defrocked former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The report places most of the blame on a dead saint: Pope John Paul II, who in 2000 appointed McCarrick archbishop of Washington, D.C., despite having commissioned an inquiry that confirmed he slept with seminarians.The AP coverage drew on subject expertise, deep sourcing and multinational teamwork to produce a week of insightful stories and analysis. The all-formats package not only stayed ahead of the competition but also managed to break news even when documents were universally released to other outlets.Rumors of the report’s imminent release had circulated for two years, but Winfield, the dean of Vatican reporters and one of the preeminent authorities on the papacy, confirmed it last week. She and the religion team created a coverage plan that brought together AP staff in New York, New Jersey, Argentina, Warsaw and Virginia. The result was a series of stories, videos and photos that provided some of the most comprehensive, nuanced and explanatory coverage of how McCarrick not only survived, but thrived within a hierarchy that seemingly looked the other way as a predator ran amok in church ranks.https://bit.ly/2UE5oLYhttps://bit.ly/3lLUpffhttps://bit.ly/3kSr6GYhttps://bit.ly/35IPSVmhttps://bit.ly/32YPD6Nhttps://bit.ly/330ff3d

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June 17, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP explores El Salvador’s strict abortion ban through the voices of women who lived it

As the U.S. Supreme Court considers overturning the constitutional right to abortion, reporter Luis Henao and video journalist Jessie Wardarski provided a compelling account of what can happen under a total abortion ban, through the testimonials of women who were raped or suffered miscarriages in El Salvador — where the country’s harsh anti-abortion law committed them to long prison terms.

Henao and Wardarski traveled to rural El Salvador to meet women willing to share on camera their harrowing stories of being imprisoned under the law. To these Salvadoran women, their plight should serve as a cautionary tale for Americans.

The AP pair also sought the views of a Catholic cardinal and a lawmaker who defended the ban on abortion. The resulting all-formats package was used by hundreds of news outlets, was widely praised by experts on the issue and generated impassioned commentary on social media.

For engaging, insightful coverage that gives voice to women who have suffered the consequences of an abortion ban, and shedding light on an issue that sharply divides opinions in the U.S. and beyond, Henao and Wardarski earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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Dec. 24, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Nonbelievers across Africa risk prison time, death sentences

reports the story of Mubarak Bala, an outspoken atheist who is nearing two years of detention in Nigeria. His alleged crime: Posting blasphemous statements online.The story highlights the risks of being openly faithless in African countries where religious belief pervades culture, and challenging such norms is taboo. In some countries, anti-blasphemy laws mean those accused of insulting religion face prison time and even death sentences.Published on the 600th day of Bala’s detention, the AP was the only major international news outlet calling attention to the landmark date. The story involved extensive reporting from New York and collaboration with Chinedu Asadu, AP reporter in Nigeria, to secure official comment from the attorney general whose office is prosecuting the case. Nigeria photographer Sunday Alamba delivered photos of Bala’s family.Asiedu, originally from Ghana and currently a New York-based intern on the Global Religion team, brings a unique, energized perspective to his reporting, and this story was among Saturday’s top 10 on AP News. It also received play from AP’s international customers.https://aplink.news/3ko

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Aug. 26, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP’s global ‘Sacred Rivers’ series explores hallowed waterways and cultures under threat

Over the course of several months, more than 30 AP staffers across five continents teamed up to execute the illuminating and alarming six-part Sacred Rivers series. The ambitious project leveraged all-formats skills to tell lyrical stories, each with compelling images and presentation, engaging audiences with the intersection of spirituality, religion, Indigenous culture, business practices, energy, environmental degradation — even geopolitical conflicts.

The series resonated with AP’s readers and customers worldwide.

For an enterprising, inspiring and unmatched creative collaboration that showcased AP journalism at its best, the Sacred Rivers project team is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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March 13, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exploring hoop dreams and faith at Yeshiva University

spent hundreds of hours with the Yeshiva University basketball team as AP’s religion team looked at how Yeshiva navigates the world of college athletics while facing misperceptions of who they are as Jews – and even outright anti-Semitism, sometimes on the court. The New York-based trio delivered a deeply reported all-formats package as the Maccabees went on a historic run and won their conference championship. AP was there for the games, but also for classes, meals, family time, dorm time and a wedding. The relationship and trust built with the team became even more valuable as the team endures a new challenge: A Yeshiva student, not on the team, tested positive for the coronavirus, causing the team to be banned from a Baltimore hotel.https://bit.ly/2TMEulBhttps://bit.ly/3aOhckThttps://bit.ly/2U1DcSzhttps://bit.ly/3cVdIio

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May 22, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Inside New York’s Latino congregations, united in grief

produced an important collection of three multiformat stories bringing to light the decimation occurring in New York’s Latino population, and especially the vibrant undocumented immigrant community that is among the most religious – but also the hardest hit segment during the pandemic.

The team first told the story of two congregations united in grief: Between them, the two churches have lost more than 100 members to the virus. They then took a poignant look at a priest who has endured the loss of his mentor, his father and congregation members. https://bit.ly/2ZksJpEhttps://bit.ly/3cW8ySQhttps://bit.ly/2LMVbZhhttps://bit.ly/3cTzenb

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Oct. 21, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP finds United Methodists losing hundreds of US congregations

used sources and reporting expertise developed over many years on the religion beat to explain that while the majority of United Methodist Church congregations aren’t breaking from the church over its bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriages, hundreds of congregations have already left the denomination and hundreds more are preparing to leave.Smith’s piece was one of the most approachable narratives of this slow-motion exodus, offering both the nuance and clarity to engage those close to the Methodist church and those new to the story, and was was No. 5 on AP’s list of most-viewed stories for the week.Read more

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June 04, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP pair tells of woman’s remorse at exposing her father to COVID

captured in a poignant story what thousands of people around the world are living with — the guilt and remorse of believing they inadvertently infected a loved one who died of COVID-19.One of those feeling responsibility is Michelle Pepe, traveled from Boston to Florida for her mother’s 80th birthday In March 2020, just as the pandemic bloomed in the U.S. Pepe believes she gave the coronavirus to her father, Bernie Rubin, who died weeks later.The intimate story, eloquently told in all formats by New York’s Henao and Wardarski, members of AP’s Religion team, resonated with AP customers and readers at home and abroad, with many sharing their own stories and fears on social media. Pepe, featured in the story, thanked the pair in an email and said she was inundated with requests from broadcasters to tell her story, which might help people in similar circumstances. But she hadn't watched the whole AP video yet, saying: “I need to prep myself.”https://bit.ly/3uRcpcbhttps://bit.ly/3gb16WK

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Sept. 25, 2020

Best of the States

AP’s portrait of a family forced into tough choices during the pandemic

As stories with impact go, this one stands out: The lead subject of the piece, struggling to feed her family during the pandemic, was tracked down on social media and hired by a reader for a job. 

The all-formats package by reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski chronicled the struggle of Sharawn Vinson and her Brooklyn family as they coped with a shortage of food and other crises, taking readers into the lives of a family that was forced to separate to keep everyone fed. The details shared by the family give readers a better understanding of the issues confronting many of the nation’s most vulnerable during the pandemic.

For a rare, intimate look at a family on the front lines of food insecurity brought on by the coronavirus, documented with riveting photos and video, Henao and Wardarski share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 18, 2020

Best of the States

All-formats team tells the shared story of rural Missouri churches, immigrants, adversity and faith

It’s a story of two churches in rural Missouri, only 30 miles apart — and worlds apart. 

One congregation is mostly white, while the other offers services in five languages with members from around the world. The pandemic has united them, with pastors meeting to support each other, share ideas and figure out how to continue ministering to this region hit disproportionately by the coronavirus.

The team of national writer David Crary, youth and religion reporter Luis Andres Henao and video journalist Jessie Wardarski earned the trust of residents to produce an intimate all-formats story, revealing diverse Midwestern communities that aren't famous but are integral to the nation’s identity.

For compelling coverage of communities united in adversity and navigating with faith, the team of Crary, Henao and Wardarski wins this week’s Best of the States award. 

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Jan. 26, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Pope responds, in person, after AP scoop on papal letter about Chilean bishop

Holding prominent officials accountable is one of the main missions of journalism, even if it is uncomfortable at times. AP’s Nicole Winfield did just that, politely but firmly pressing Pope Francis on his knowledge of a sexual abuse scandal that has clouded his appointment of a Chilean bishop in 2015 and cast doubt about his commitment to fighting the problem.

AP Santiago correspondent Eva Vergara got the first part of the scoop for AP. She knew a letter she had spent months tracking down was toxic to Francis, to his upcoming trip to Chile, and to the Chilean bishop appointed by Francis and accused of covering up for the country's most notorious pedophile priest.

The letter showed that Francis knew that Bishop Juan Barros was accused of complicity in covering up the sexual abuse by Rev. Fernando Karadima, but appointed Barros bishop anyway. The scandal and Francis' subsequent accusations of slander against abuse victims dominated coverage. It led to Francis trying to explain himself under tough questioning by Winfield on an extraordinary in-flight press conference on his way home.

For Winfield's unflinching questioning of the pope, and Vergara's determined efforts to surface the letter that launched the story, the pair wins Beat of the Week.

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July 15, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP duo wins over Santorini’s cloistered nuns, tells their stories

gained unprecedented access to a convent housing 13 cloistered Catholic nuns on the trendy Greek island of Santorini, a favorite of tourists. The nuns devote their lives to praying for those visitors and for the world — their near-constant prayer deemed necessary to support more publicly engaged ministries.The AP pair won the trust of the nuns, who opened the doors to areas of the convent off-limits to visitors while sharing what calls them to this sequestered life of devotion to God. The result is a distinctive and revealing package of Dell’Orto’s illuminating text and Giannakouris’ equally compelling photography.Read more

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Aug. 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Reporters overcome fears to expose faith crackdown in China

The assignment always promised to be a challenge: talk with Christians in China about a state crackdown on their faith when many are afraid to speak out for fear of government retribution.

When reporter Yanan Wang, photographer Han Guan Ng and video journalist Emily Wang visited cities in China’s Christian heartland, they discovered the government’s campaign to “Sinicize” Christianity was far more aggressive than previously known. Hundreds of informal churches in private homes were shuttered. Gatherings were raided. Bibles were seized. Authorities ordered posters of Jesus replaced with portraits of President Xi Jinping.

For careful, persistent reporting to expose what experts and activists described as the most severe systematic repression of Christianity since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982, the three win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Sept. 15, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP team captures plight of Rohingya, casts doubt on Myanmar government claims

It was a tide of humanity that just kept getting larger.

Driven from their homes by mass violence after a clash between insurgents and police, Rohingya Muslims from a borderland state in Buddhist-majority Myanmar streamed into neighboring Bangladesh where they faced homelessness, more potential violence and deeply uncertain futures.

Day after excruciating day, an AP team of journalists on both sides of the border painted a portrait of human misery and the hope that always lurks within it – and cast doubt on claims by Myanmar’s government that Rohingya villagers set fire to their own homes.

For their work to focus the world’s attention on the Rohingya’s exodus, Delhi staffers – photographer Bernat Armangue, correspondent Muneeza Naqvi and video journalist Al-emrun Garjon – and Myanmar correspondent Esther Htusan win this week’s Beat of the Week award.

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Aug. 12, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Deep sourcing and sensitive reporting deliver blockbuster on Mormon sex abuse cover-up

AP investigative reporter Mike Rezendes’ years of source work led him to a stunning discovery: a so-called help line that enabled a cover-up of sex abuse in the Mormon church community, including the case of a 5-year-old Arizona girl, molested by her father for seven years while church leaders were aware of the abuse.

Rezendes, video journalist Jessie Wardarski and photographer Dario Lopez met with victims and their families, earning their trust and telling the story in the victims’ own voices. The resulting package, including illustrations by Peter Hamlin, was one of AP’s most-viewed investigative projects of the year, protecting the victims even as it revealed a systemic effort to cover up horrific child sex abuse.

For deep sourcing and commitment to report a story with both impact and sensitivity, Mike Rezendes, Jessie Wardarski, Dario Lopez, Peter Hamlin and Randy Herschaft earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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June 14, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation: Top US cardinal accused of mishandling abuse allegations against deputy

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s five-month investigation revealed the stunning allegations: A high-ranking Catholic priest had a sexual relationship with a Houston woman for more than a year, counseled her husband on their marital problems, pressed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the couple and continued to hear her confession.

But the cardinal overseeing the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations in the United States approved the priest’s transfer to a church two hours away.

The fallout from Winfield’s revelations was swift: The priest was suspended and church officials reopened their inquiry into the handling of parishioner Laura Pontikes’ accusations.

To tell the sensitive story, Winfield – and a team that included Raleigh-based national writer/video journalist Allen Breed, New York global enterprise photographer Wong Maye-E and Houston correspondent Nomaan Merchant – meticulously planned coverage in each format, including on-camera interviews with Pontikes and her husband, and photos and video of the cardinal and the accused priest.

For an investigation that cast doubt on a top church official’s handling of a case involving startling allegations of abuse, Winfield, Breed, Wong and Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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