Dec. 20, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Accidental shootings show nationwide gap in police training

A mother shot fatally shot in front of her 3-year-old son. A suspect killed while an officer tried to handcuff him. A Homeland Security agent was shot at a Texas high school by a U.S. marshal fumbling with equipment. These are among the more than 1,400 unintentional discharges found by Seattle reporter Martha Bellisle in an investigation that highlights the shortcomings of police weapons training.

No agency tracks how often local, state and federal officers accidentally fire their weapons. Over the course of more than a year, Bellisle exhaustively documented 1,422 unintentional discharges by 258 law enforcement agencies since 2012.

With contributions from colleagues in photo and video – including the story of an Iowa woman who was killed when an officer’s gun discharged, leaving her husband and children still scarred by the tragedy – the all-formats package received prominent play.

For an exclusive that sheds light on a virtually undocumented area of firearms safety, Bellisle earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 09, 2019

Best of the States

AP mobilizes cross-formats response to deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio

AP’s U.S. staff has a lot of practice in responding to mass shootings. But two major events in 24 hours tested even the most experienced staff.

They rose to the challenge.

Soon after noon Central time on Saturday, Aug. 3, reports began to surface about an active shooter at an El Paso, Texas, mall. A local news station initially reported that 18 people were shot inside a Walmart – a number which by Monday would rise to 22 dead and two dozen injured.

The quick reaction of AP staff around the country and beyond – in the office, at home and even on vacation – ensured the AP was fast, accurate and leading the way on what would become one of the biggest stories of the year. Text, photo and video staffers converged on El Paso, while colleagues around the country worked sources, contributed to the stories and managed the coverage.

Among the standout reporting was an early interview with a woman who told the heartbreaking story of her sister who died while shielding her 2-month-old son – just a small part of the terrific cross-format continuing coverage.

As the Texas team was just catching its breath, reports of another massacre emerged overnight, this time in Ohio. AP’s initial alert was followed four minutes later by the alert that a shooter killed nine people, including his own sister, before police shot him dead. The East Desk immediately dispatched Ohio staff and others to Dayton.

AP beat competitive agencies with photos and numerous live shots, as well as an incredibly compelling interview with a man who watched his father die in his arms. Elsewhere, many of the same supporting cast already working the El Paso story from afar stepped in on Ohio as well, complementing the coverage on the ground.

For its quick, nimble response, precise reporting and robust, cross-format content on two highly competitive breaking stories, the U.S. staff is recognized with this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 24, 2018

Best of the States

“I just don't want to be forgotten”: Student starts a new school year at Stoneman Douglas

Charlie Shebes had too much anxiety to sleep the night before the first day of his junior year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the Parkland, Florida, school where 17 people were shot to death in February.

But Charlie was willing to share his morning routine with AP thanks to the relationship video journalist Josh Replogle had cultivated with students, starting nearly six months earlier. Replogle and his Miami colleague, photographer Wilfredo Lee, were there as Shebes rubbed his eyes, hugged his mother goodbye and brooded in the car before he skateboarded to class.

The short but poignant photo essay, along with text and an accompanying video piece, had an emotional impact, and the package received prominent play in Florida outlets, as well as nationally and even on some websites overseas.

For developing a compelling package from the unique perspective of a student returning to the scene of one the country's worst school shootings, Josh Replogle and Wilfredo Lee win this week's Best of the States award.

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March 02, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Trump photo from emotional meeting with shooting victims and families goes viral

The tears, grief and tension of President Donald Trump’s listening session with shooting victims and families after the Florida high school massacre were profound. Washington photographer Carolyn Kaster’s job was to capture the compelling event in images. That’s no easy task at the White House, where events are tightly managed and photographers’ movements are highly restricted.

But Kaster, working with photo editor Jon Elswick, overcame these obstacles and delivered an image of a hand-written note held by the president that quickly went viral and became one of the most talked-about stories of the day. The image wins Kaster and Elswick the Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 22, 2019

Best of the States

LA photographer’s son locked down in school shooting; team coverage stands out

AP staffers displayed remarkable professionalism and composure under extraordinary circumstances in their coverage of the Nov. 14 mass shooting at Saugus High School in a Los Angeles suburb.

LA photographer Marcio Sanchez found himself in a nearly unfathomable position: He was making news photos outside a high school where a gunman had opened fire while one of his sons was locked down inside. Later, when Sanchez was safely home with his 15-year-old son Noah, his longtime LA colleague, reporter Brian Melley, did a sensitive interview with the teenager about his experience during the shooting and lockdown.

Meanwhile, veteran breaking news staffer John Antczak in the LA bureau reported the shifting numbers of casualties with careful sourcing and attribution, anchoring the coverage and avoiding the false reports put out by some media. 

AP’s full complement of all-format coverage was the product of excellent reporting and editing by staffers in the field and in the bureau. That team effort was highlighted by the remarkable work of Sanchez, Antczak and Melley, who earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 26, 2019

Best of the States

A powerful retrospective and breaking news, 20 years after Columbine mass shooting

Twenty years have passed since the Columbine high school massacre, which was, to many people, the beginning of school shootings as we know them. In those years, life has changed: Mass shootings happen again and again, schoolchildren participate in lockdowns instead of fire drills, and many reflect on the moment in time when two young men took 13 lives with them on their suicidal quest.

AP was uniquely positioned to cover the two decades since the massacre, with journalists who were there, those who cover the Colorado community every day, and experts in polling, education and guns. Stories by Denver reporter Kathleen Foody and videojournalist Peter Banda led a deep all-formats package by dozens of journalists across the AP telling not just of the carnage but of those who survived it, their struggle, and the future.

But all the planning couldn't prepare anyone for this spot development: Early in the week, Sol Pais, a young Florida woman, prompted panic over a possible attack at Columbine, later taking her own life near the Colorado school. Miami reporter Kelli Kennedy tracked down a good friend of Pais who not only filled in personal details about her in an exclusive interview, but supplied photos of Pais and cast doubt on the official narrative about her friend.

The overarching theme of the spot and enterprise coverage focused on the short and long-term mental health issues from school shootings. The result was a unique, meaningful package that received impressive play nationally – online and in print. The video was among the top-used AP videos of the week.

For their work spearheading the package, and breaking news, Foody, Banda and Kennedy win this week’s Best of the States.

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Feb. 23, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP photo and reporting beats from Florida school shooting

– Photographer Joel Auerbach’s poignant image of two women crying outside a Florida high school as parents awaited news about their children after a gunman’s deadly rampage on the campus.

– Reporters Michael Biesecker and Collin Binkley’s exclusive reporting that the suspect was a “good shot” on a National Rifle Association-backed rifle team at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The two exclusives helped distinguish the coverage of the shooting at the school that left 17 dead. For capturing the human toll in a single iconic image and shedding light on the suspect’s marksmanship training, Auerbach, Biesecker and Binkley win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 16, 2018

Best of the States

Multiple AP exclusives in all formats from mass shooting at California bar

Just before midnight on the day after California staffers were up late covering the midterm election came reports of a shooting at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Over the next 12 hours, as the scale of the carnage emerged, Sacramento correspondent Kathleen Ronayne, Washington-based reporters Mike Balsamo and Tami Abdollah, and photographer Mark Terrill and video journalist Krysta Fauria, both based in Los Angeles, combined to provide exclusive all-formats content for AP customers.

Despite the hour, Fauria and Terrill were on the scene within 90 minutes of the first reports coming in. Terrill made tight shots of the scene that no one else could match – his photos were used heavily by numerous outlets. Meanwhile, Fauria quickly set up a live shot, the first of four she would do over 12 hours at three locations. She also got AP’s first interview from a survivor.

Reporter Ronayne, bleary-eyed from the long election night, provided the first live video of authorities searching the shooter's home, while Balsamo used a source to break the widely played news that the murder weapon was a handgun, not an assault weapon.

As other news organizations pulled photos of the gunman from social media, Balsamo’s Washington colleague – and fellow AP-Los Angeles alumnus – Tami Abdollah used a source to obtain a driver’s license photo that is believed to be the first and still perhaps the only rights-cleared image of the gunman.

For providing news, photos and video that others couldn’t, Ronayne, Terrill, Balsamo, Abdollah and Fauria win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Man charged with selling armor-piercing bullets to Las Vegas shooter

In the days after the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people, authorities said gunman Stephen Paddock acted alone. But search warrants showed that police and the FBI were looking at two "persons of interest."

One was Paddock's girlfriend, whom police had cleared, and the other was a man named Douglas Haig of Arizona.

Haig talked to various media, including the AP, and held a news conference characterizing his sale of tracer ammunition to Paddock as a lawful transaction.

But Phoenix newsman Jacques Billeaud wasn’t convinced. He called a source he has cultivated in law enforcement who was willing to help but didn’t know the answer to Billeaud’s questions. Then, a few days later, the official called to say that Haig indeed had been charged with a crime. Billeaud quickly checked an electronic court records system and found that armor-piercing ammunition with Haig's fingerprints had been found in Paddock's hotel room. Haig was charged with illegally manufacturing and selling the ammunition.

Billeaud's relationship with his source put the AP ahead, and customers used the AP as first word on a competitive story. For sticking with the story and using long-term source work to break news, Billeaud will receive this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Dec. 21, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP first with exclusive video and photos of Strasbourg Christmas market attacker

For several intense weeks, AP’s all-formats Paris team had been contending with the violent street protests of the yellow vest movement. But a new threat to France’s peace suddenly arose when a man opened fire near the well-known Christmas market in Strasbourg.

On the evening of Dec. 11, the gunman shot and fatally wounded five people and injured a dozen more at the market. French authorities soon identified the suspect and said that the attack was being investigated as an act of terrorism. With that, France and Benelux Bureau Chief Angela Charlton and her all-formats crew quickly pivoted from the street protesters to focus on the attack, just as a massive manhunt was getting under way.

After AP confirmed that that police in Strasbourg had shot and killed the suspect on Dec. 13, Charlton scoured online white pages for potential witnesses, reaching a neighbor who, amazingly, was able to share images from directly across the street.

The exclusive video and photos that they negotiated were the result of teamwork and lessons learned from covering past attacks in identifying sources and deploying AP forces. And the close-up images told the story: the shooter’s body is seen slumped in a doorway as police and forensic officers move in.

The content, which had not yet appeared anywhere, was heavily used by broadcast and online clients around the world, both as video and for screengrabs.

For their resourceful, determined efforts to obtain exclusive images on this breaking story, the team of Angela Charlton, Alex Turnbull, Chris Noelting, Mstyslav Chernov, Jeff Schaeffer and Masha Macpherson receives the AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Oct. 04, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP photographer wounded, keeps shooting as politician fires gun during protest

Today’s Best of the Week winner is the latest reminder that AP’s photo staff is among the greatest and most committed in the world.

Port-au-Prince photographer Dieu-Nalio Chery was prepared to cover a contentious debate at Haiti’s parliament about whether to confirm a new prime minister when, in a chaotic scene outside the session, protesters confronted pro-government Sen. Ralph Fethiere and tried to pull him from his car. The lawmaker reached for his gun and began firing into the air and ground.

At least one bullet splintered into shards that lodged just beneath Chery’s chin. Despite his wound, Chery kept taking extraordinary photos of Fethiere firing his gun, so close that he captured spent cartridges flying through the air. 

Chery’s photos received heavy play, and he is expected to recover after surgery to remove the bullet fragment.

For displaying remarkable dedication and courage in a volatile situation, and for capturing an extraordinary image of the man who wounded him, Chery is recognized with AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Feb. 28, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

With speed and smarts, AP Germany team dominates mass shooting coverage

As news of a racially motivated café shooting started trickling out shortly before midnight on Feb. 19, the AP team in Germany burst into action with an all-hands-on-desk effort that dominated coverage of this major story. 

AP’s success included a huge win on live video coordinated by Kerstin Sopke, brisk filing of the breaking story by Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans, and Michael Probst’s photos from the scene that landed on the front pages of major publications.

Their effort was supplemented by a strong effort from other corners of the AP as journalists interviewed survivors and members of the immigrant community, wrote about the rise of far-right violence in Germany and followed the written trail left by the killer. Play for the story was phenomenal. 

For their speed, smart news judgment and superior coordination that gave AP a massive lead on a big story as it broke, Probst, Moulson, Sopke and Jordans are AP’s Best of the Week winners.

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Dec. 11, 2020

Best of the States

True West: Enterprise reporting reveals lurid story that led to Idaho cold case arrest

An arrest in a decades-old Idaho cold case started Boise correspondent Rebecca Boone digging, aiming to tell a broader story about the victim, the suspect and the colorful — and at times shady — pro rodeo and gambling circuit. 

Forty years ago, Dan Woolley was shot in the parking lot of a small-town bar in the Idaho mountains. The shooter crossed the street to the only other bar in town, ordered a drink and declared, “I just killed a man.” Then he disappeared. But late last year an 87-year-old man was arrested in Texas for the slaying — a former pro rodeo rider.

Boone spent months building trust with Woolley’s son and other sources, talking to long-time central Idaho residents and historians. All while juggling her state coverage of breaking news, the pandemic and the 2020 election.

The result of her efforts, an engaging 1,900-word Saturday piece, was among AP’s top stories for the weekend. For an absorbing read that is a textbook example of a general assignment reporter chipping away at a challenging enterprise piece, Boone earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 16, 2018

Best of the States

AP analysis: NRA contributes to schools; few willing to decline the money

Major corporations were cutting ties with the National Rifle Association after the massacre at a Florida high school, but what about schools that had received grants from the gun organization? It was a natural follow to the Associated Press’ exclusive story that the alleged shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had belonged to a school JROTC program that received NRA grants.

Data journalist Meghan Hoyer dug through tax records to identify the schools that had received more than $7 million in NRA grants. Education beat team member Collin Binkley began calling recipients around the country to see if they would forgo the money. Few said they would.

For their work breaking news on a story that everyone is reporting and providing data that allowed AP members to localize the story, Binkley and Hoyer will receive this week’s Best of the States prize.

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March 08, 2019

Best of the States

Only on AP: Death of ‘hood CNN’ video pioneer exposes gangland reporting risks

There’s always a better story behind a statistic.

Chicago’s homicide rate is one of the worst in the United States. By digging into one drive-by shooting, Chicago-based legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm and Houston-based video journalist John Mone found out how one victim’s life had inspired a generation of gang territory storytellers.

Telling it took a lot of sourcework.

Tarm had already been working on a story about social media and gangs, and he’d watched a few of Zack Stoner’s reports on Chicago street gangs and rappers on his ZackTV1 YouTube channel. When reports surfaced that Stoner was gunned down, Tarm began to look deeper, stumbling across a wider story – about a new brand of gutsy gangland reporters in Chicago and elsewhere who have avid followers on YouTube.

Getting access to the storytellers was tough, but eventually the name of Texas-based reporter Shawn Cotton emerged. Cotton was eager to discuss Stoner, his impact on the genre and the effect his killing had on him and others. Mone rode along with Cotton to the Meadow Brook subdivision in Fort Worth, dubbed “Murder Brook” by some of the kids on the street where Cotton filmed.

The multi-platform work played prominently with impressive reader engagement.

For relentless sourcework to show how a generation of storytellers is impacting its communities, Tarm and Mone win this week’s Best of the States.

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