March 02, 2018

Best of the States

Texas effort to streamline hurricane recovery backfires

As the six-month mark approached of Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas, Austin Administrative Correspondent Will Weissert and Fort Worth Correspondent Emily Schmall teamed up to report exclusively that the state’s decision to lead housing recovery – meant to be faster and better than anything the federal government could muster – was actually resulting in backlogs that made the chaotic response after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina look good by comparison.

Acting on a tip, the duo dug into federal records and added field reporting to produce a multi-format report showing that delay by the governor, and the state land office’s steep learning curve, meant temporary shelter and quick-fix home repair programs were rolling out at a startlingly slow pace.

For excellent sourcing and taking a deeper look at Texas’ hurricane recovery process, Weissert and Schmall share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Feb. 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP’s Texas staff steps up for coverage of historic storm

pushed through last week’s winter storm coverage with top-notch storytelling even as many suffered hardship of their own.When deadly subfreezing temperatures, snow and ice smacked much of the southern U.S., it knocked out the power grid in Texas, the nation’s energy capital — and that was only the beginning. The bursting pipes, boil water advisories and accusations of price gouging that followed would only exacerbate the suffering for millions left shivering while nearly 80 people died.AP reporters showed in spot and enterprise stories that everything came down to a failure of government, particularly in Texas and neighboring Deep South states where infrastructure breakdowns revealed how unprepared much of the nation is for extreme weather.All this happened as many Texas staffers suffered along with their neighbors, with no power, heat or water. But they got creative and kept up the effort for a fully multiformat report, writing stories on phones when WiFi didn’t work, calling in feeds or charging electronics at colleagues’ homes. One Dallas reporter relocated to the home of an AP retiree when her own power was knocked out.https://bit.ly/2ZMQANFhttps://bit.ly/3dIKS7Dhttps://bit.ly/3r4YEWhhttps://bit.ly/3bAFQHBhttps://bit.ly/3bFHasKhttps://bit.ly/3uuAarl

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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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Dec. 10, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Texas gas drilling disproportionately impacts residents of color

led a team of AP journalists exclusively documenting the potential health impact of an alarming series of events in residential areas of Arlington, Texas: Literally in the shadow of Mother’s Heart Learning Center, a day care center that primarily serves Black and Latino children, a French company is pumping for natural gas — and seeking to drill three new wells.The AP’s all-formats story not only captured the stories of families facing heightened risks, it also put their stories in the context of a trend with far-reaching consequences: Despite pledges from global leaders to embrace cleaner energy, the world’s reliance on natural gas is growing.Seizing on a tip from area activists, energy reporter Bussewitz and national writer Irvine spoke with mothers exasperated with government inaction, residents who endure noise and vibrations just outside their backyards, and people who often breathe dangerous fumes, including one who developed asthma.Collaborating with Irvine on the reporting, Bussewitz took the lead on writing while multiformat specialist Irvine shot the video and photos, consulting on the photo selection with editors Maye-E Wong and Swayne Hall. The story was buttressed by two exclusive data analyses, including one by data journalist Angeliki Kastanis that found the density of wells in a given neighborhood correlated with the proportion of residents of color.Digital storytelling producer Peter Hamlin created a video explainer and graphic artist Francois Duckett developed an interactive map showing the proximity of wells to day cares. And Dario Lopez, digital storytelling producer for global investigations, built an online presentation that deftly packaged all the components.The project drew immediate responses on social media and was used by news outlets across the country, notably in Texas, where newsrooms pride themselves on their energy coverage.https://aplink.news/fhghttps://aplink.video/nf3https://interactives.ap.org/na...

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Sept. 17, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Texas farmers race to preserve land in Dust Bowl zone

used the Freedom of Information Act and on-the-ground reporting in the Texas Panhandle to reveal a new Dust Bowl brewing on farmland above the nation’s biggest aquifer — and the halting efforts to stave it off.Farmers, communities and researchers have long known that groundwater in the Ogallala aquifer was steadily declining due to irrigation and might not recover. But while researching a story about disappearing prairie grasslands, Webber discovered that both issues were colliding to create another challenge: As climate change is making rainfall scarcer, farmland is blowing away just as it did during the Dust Bowl.Webber, a member of AP’s global environment team, talked to researchers who warned of huge farmland losses, and she traveling to the Panhandle town of Muleshoe where she told the story of farmers planting native grasses to preserve terrain as their wells struggle to produce water. She also reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had identified a Dust Bowl zone where farmers would receive extra money for grasslands conservation, and spent months prying loose government data showing that not all farmers were embracing the program.Webber’s comprehensive and engagingly written narrative, with photos by freelancer Mark Rogers, vividly captured the new Dust Bowl threatening an important agricultural region, and the efforts to keep farmers on their land. https://aplink.news/6or

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Nov. 13, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Dogged reporting, spycraft expose Texas attorney general scandal

used source work, non-public documents and a technique borrowed from spycraft to connect recent criminal allegations against the Texas attorney general to the conservative Republican’s previously unreported extramarital affair.In late September, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s top deputies accused him of criminally abusing his office to help a wealthy donor. Bleiberg spent weeks building sources in his aggressive pursuit of answers to what was behind these explosive, but unspecified, allegations.Those efforts paid off last week when Bleiberg was able to obtain a private transcript of real estate developer Nate Paul acknowledging that the attorney general recommended he hire a woman whom Paxton was rumored to have had an affair with. The sensitive document was picked up at a “dead drop” – a prearranged drop spot – by Austin reporter Paul Weber.Bleiberg then worked sources he’d developed while breaking earlier stories to identify people whom the attorney general may have told about his affair. His relentless outreach ultimately turned up two people with firsthand accounts of Paxton acknowledging the affair in 2018.The reporting allowed AP to draw back the curtain on one of America’s most prominent conservative legal crusaders and break major news on a highly competitive story. It revealed a relationship that’s almost certainly at the center of an ongoing federal public corruption probe. https://bit.ly/2UnuZc1

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March 15, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Twin Texas scoops: UT fires former football star; GOP governor packing courts

for breaking two completely unrelated Texas scoops: that the University of Texas had fired former star quarterback Vince Young from his part-time job as an ambassador and development officer for the school, and for reporting that after barely three months after Democrats showed signs of cracking Republican dominance in state elections, Gov. Greg Abbott used the power of his office to appoint GOP judges who had been rejected by voters to new positions on the bench.https://bit.ly/2J6ZNe3https://bit.ly/2TB5fe3

May 08, 2020

Best of the States

Sourcing, records yield scoop: Texas AG helped donor fight Colorado lockout

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he’d sent a letter leaning on Gunnison County, Colorado, to end an order expelling non-residents during the pandemic, AP’s Paul Weber immediately wondered: Why was the top law enforcement official in Texas picking a fight with a remote county two states away in the middle of the crisis? And did Paxton have donors there? 

Weber and colleague Jake Bleiberg started combing campaign finance and property records, quickly finding that some of Paxton’s biggest donors have homes in the wealthy mountain resort town of Crested Butte, Colorado. 

Persistent reporting and extensive public records work revealed that Paxton’s push against the Gunnison health order stood to benefit an exclusive group of Texans, including campaign donors who gave the attorney general a total of nearly $2 million. AP Texas members jumped on the story, using it in print and online.

For alertly connecting the dots between a puzzling press release and a conflict of interest in the attorney general's office, Weber and Bleiberg earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 17, 2018

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Texas biker accused of killing man who was shot by police

In the three years since the deadliest biker shooting in U.S. history, Fort Worth correspondent Emily Schmall has meticulously gathered documents, reports and court records to put together a spreadsheet that integrates autopsy reports, firearms analyses and ballistics evidence, including the names and serial numbers of the weapons, to whom they were traced, where they were recovered from and whether they were linked to a death or injury.

Her work paid off last week when prosecutors handed down the first murder charges in the case. Schmall was able to exclusively report that prosecutors had charged one of the bikers for murdering a man who was shot twice by a SWAT officer.

For persistent, investigative reporting that exclusively illuminated potential problems with a shifting strategy in a closely-watched case, Schmall wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Aug. 14, 2020

Best of the States

The pandemic crisis ‘laid bare’ in AP report from Texas maternity ward

Few places in America have been as hard hit by the pandemic as the Texas border, and the package by this all-formats team exposes the stark contrast between this part of the country and regions with greater resources. 

With access to two hospitals overwhelmed by cases in the Rio Grande Valley, AP reporter Paul Weber, photographer Eric Gay and video journalist John Mone carefully documented stories of patients and staff, including a new mom in the maternity ward who unknowingly contracted the virus and had to be isolated from her newborn. 

Weber wrote: “The U.S. failure to contain the pandemic has been laid bare.”

For a compelling and hard-to-report all-formats package, Weber, Gay and Mone win this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 10, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

‘Empty spaces, broken hearts’: Uvalde, Texas, in mourning

collaborated on an extraordinary portrait of a town grieving after the May 24 mass shooting that left gaping holes in its fabric.In a chaotic and fraught environment with countless journalists gathered around the memorials and overwhelming the family members of shooting victims, the AP trio decided to approach the story differently — they wanted to explore the connections within the Uvalde community. They split up, looking for the people in that next circle of relationships: barbers, bus drivers and others who crossed paths with the affected families.It all came together in a heart-wrenching package that appeared on numerous websites and front pages. The team received compliments from readers — and one of the individuals they profiled — for the sensitive and compassionate way they covered this traumatic story.Read more

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June 03, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP delivers fast, comprehensive, all-formats coverage of Uvalde, Texas, school shooting

AP journalists were on the U.S-Mexico border for an immigration assignment May 24 when they got word of a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. They quickly gathered their gear and rushed to Robb Elementary School, where they found chaotic scenes of law enforcement surrounding the school. The staffers immediately went to work providing photos and live video.

That swift response to the unfolding tragedy made the AP the first national news organization on the scene and set the tone for the rest of the week. As more staff deployed, AP delivered dominant, all-formats coverage that explored with sensitivity not only the shooting that left 19 fourth graders and two teachers dead, but inconsistencies in the actions and statements of police — and much more.

Readers and customers responded with exceptional engagement.

For a powerful example of the AP at its finest on a major news story that has led to an outpouring of sympathy for the families, questions about police practices and the latest reckoning on guns and school safety, the AP Uvalde coverage team earns Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Oct. 22, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

In the wake of Texas’ abortion ban, AP gives voice to women now going to out-of-state clinics

In America’s pitched debate over abortion, the voices of the people most affected by the slew of new laws restricting access to abortion are seldom heard.

Allowing patients to tell their stories of seeking to end their pregnancies has been a priority in AP’s coverage of Texas’ new law banning most abortions. Oklahoma City-based reporter Sean Murphy and Miami-based photographer Rebecca Blackwell delivered impressively on that goal with a sensitively written, visually compelling all-formats package.

The pair carefully negotiated access to a clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana, and earned the trust of Texas patients whose voices were vividly brought to life in text, photo, video and audio. They also met with anti-abortion protesters outside the clinic.

For gaining access and handling a delicate and polarizing story with professionalism, grace and accuracy while providing AP’s worldwide audience a greater understanding of the real-life impacts of the Texas law, Murphy and Blackwell are AP’s Best of the Week — First Winners.

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