June 14, 2018

Best of the States

Lobbyists – including House speaker’s brother – influence Florida’s payments to victims

In Florida, the Legislature has to approve court awards – beyond a capped amount – for lawsuits alleging wrongdoing by a state or local agency.

So when Florida Tallahassee reporter Gary Fineout began hearing about a surge in payouts to victims and families harmed by government actions, he began digging into public and legislative records. What he found confirmed the influence of lobbyists, and of one lobbyist in particular: the House speaker’s brother.

Fineout found that claims lobbied by the speaker’s brother had a substantial rate of success. Of the $37.5 million in claims bills approved over the past two years, nearly half was awarded to victims represented by Michael Corcoran, brother of Florida’s House speaker.

One state lawmaker, a candidate for attorney general, said the process needs fixing, and said that Florida should have a codified, egalitarian process for awarding payments, one that doesn’t rely on who has the best lobbyist.

Fineout's story received extensive play, including a rare banner headline atop A1 in the state's largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. The Sun-Sentinel newspaper said in an editorial that “Florida owes thanks to Gary Fineout ... for shedding light on a dark side of Florida government.”

For work that South News Director Ravi Nessman called a “perfect example of the kind of tough, accountability reporting that we prize so much from our statehouses,” Fineout wins this week's Best of the States award.

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June 12, 2020

Best of the States

AP Analysis: After previous police killings, states slow to reform use-of-force

Calls for police reforms after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis have echoed the calls to action after a wave of killings of young black men by police in 2014. 

So what happened after those killings? 

Ohio statehouse reporter Julie Carr Smyth, working with AP colleagues around the country, found that while nearly half the states have since enacted some type of reform, only a third passed legislation limiting use of force. The reporting revealed that contributions from politically influential police unions were a key factor in stalling legislation, while a separate analysis by the data team showed that Minneapolis police disproportionately used force against blacks when compared with other racial groups. 

The day Smyth’s story moved, a number of states made proposals to limit the use of deadly force.

For quickly reporting out and leading a national look at what reforms have taken place in the last six years, Smyth wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 09, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP multiformat pair gains access to Midwest abortion clinics, documents one woman’s procedure

Two of the most challenging aspects of covering the ongoing abortion story in the U.S. are getting inside abortion clinics and telling the stories of women who have decided to end their pregnancies. So it was significant when two AP journalists gained exclusive access to a pair of abortion clinics — and to a woman who allowed them to follow her through the entire abortion process.

Medical writer Lindsey Tanner used her sources to find a clinic in Ohio sending patients to Indiana, where tighter abortion restrictions were still weeks away. She and video journalist Patrick Orsagos saw both clinics in operation, and they documented —with sensitivity and candor — patient Monica Eberhart’s experience, from her morning routine to the clinic room during her abortion. The resulting package delicately wove together Eberhart’s story with others who are navigating the ever-changing state laws on abortion.

For access and reporting that bought a rare and timely perspective to the issue of abortion, Tanner and Orsagos earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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Feb. 28, 2020

Best of the States

Be Prepared: Source work, planning deliver top coverage of Scouts’ bankruptcy

David Crary heard from his legal sources that something big was coming for the Boy Scouts of America, which has been besieged by sexual abuse lawsuits: a bankruptcy filing.

Weeks before the paperwork was filed, Crary, who has been covering the organization for 20 years, set into motion plans to ensure the AP was well-covered. When the Scouts’ filing finally came out late on a holiday, his sharply written prep had the story on the wire within minutes, explaining the gravity of the filing and the reasons behind it.

AP journalists around the country pitched in, including Brady McCombs who gathered reaction from Scouts and local councils, spinning it into an engaging follow-up, and correspondent Randall Chase who attended the Scouts’ first bankruptcy hearing in a Delaware court. Their efforts were rewarded with outstanding play.

For their careful planning and flawless execution of coverage of the Scouts’ bankruptcy filing, Crary, McCombs and Chase win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 25, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Adoptee deported by US sues South Korea

for an exclusive interview with Adam Crapser, who was deported to South Korea four decades after his adoption by an American couple. Crapser, forcibly separated from his wife, children and friends in America, described his landmark lawsuit against the Seoul government and a private adoption agency in a case that highlights the shaky legal status of possibly thousands of Korean adoptees. https://bit.ly/2FKtGP1

March 22, 2019

Best of the States

Sunshine Week investigation: Public regularly denied access to police videos

Police videos of officers shooting unarmed black men have sparked angry protests in Chicago, Sacramento and other U.S. cities. But AP’s Ryan Foley wondered: Is it the norm for departments to release footage from body-worn and dashboard cameras?

Foley, based in Iowa City, Iowa, a member of AP’s state government team, investigated and found that many departments routinely deny public access to their videos of officer-involved shootings and other uses of force.

Foley filed open records requests related to roughly 20 recent use-of-force incidents in a dozen states. His letters were met with denial after denial as police departments routinely cited a broad exemption to state open records laws: They claimed that releasing the video would undermine an ongoing investigation. But critics say the exemption is often misapplied to keep embarrassing or compromising video footage from public view.

To tell the story visually, Central Region video journalist Noreen Nasir dug through AP’s archives to highlight the moments and emotions that followed the deaths of unarmed black men, including the fatal police shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. She also interviewed a woman in North Dakota whose brother died after being shot in the back of the head during a struggle with police, adding a crucial perspective to the video.

At the same time, Panagiotis Mouzakis, multimedia animation producer in London, used the many denial letters Foley had collected to create a video graphic that was incorporated into Nasir’s video, and Beat Team visuals editor Alina Hartounian developed a social plan that helped the package find a huge audience.

For shining a light on how police departments continue to withhold visual evidence and for devising creative ways to illustrate the story, Foley, Nassir and Mouzakis share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 22, 2017

Best of the States

Request denied? Sunshine Hub sheds light on state efforts to block public access

Beyond its dramatic effects, the audio from 911 calls can provide the kind of context that is essential to the public's understanding of what happened during a newsworthy crime or emergency. Those recordings are, with few exceptions, a matter of public record. That almost changed this year in Iowa, where the state House passed – unanimously – a bill that would end the public's ability to access many 911 calls. The bill eventually died after an outcry from the media, watchdog groups and civil rights organizations, but it was not unusual. A months-long project by AP reporters and data journalists found more than 150 bills introduced in state legislatures this year that were intended to eliminate or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings.

To help reporters find, track and provide input on those bills, Serdar Tumgoren and Seth Rasmussen of the data team created a unique online tool that provided full access to AP customers.

Called the Sunshine Hub, it helps users keep track of legislative activity related to government transparency, suggest new bills, search for and categorize bills for research purposes, and discuss legislation with others. The Sunshine Hub directly complemented stories by Ryan Foley in Iowa, Andrew DeMillo in Arkansas and Laurie Kellman in Washington.

For their groundbreaking reporting and software development, Tumgoren, Rasmussen, Foley, DeMillo and Kellman win this week's Best of the States award.

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Jan. 21, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Sensitive reporting, compelling storytelling on spike in Zimbabwe teen pregnancy amid pandemic

Writing about teen pregnancy is difficult under any circumstances, requiring equal parts thoughtfulness and responsibility. That is how AP’s team in Zimbabwe, photographer Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi and writer Farai Mutsaka, joined by South Africa video journalist Sebabatso Mosamo, approached the story of how pandemic lockdowns led to a sharp rise in teen pregnancies and the consequent loss of girls’ educational opportunities, a problem affecting many southern African countries.

Gathering facts to support the story took months, as Mutsaka worked with officials to access the available data. Then the team faced the challenge of finding families willing to speak on the record. Most wouldn't talk publicly, but Mukwazhi and Mutsaka found a 13-year-old who wanted her story told. The pair repeatedly explained the possible consequences to her family and others they met with, ensuring the story’s subjects fully understood what it meant to have their names and photos published.

The months of care and persistence paid off with compelling text and images, including a sensitive video by Mosamo. For responsible coverage providing insight into a difficult, important and often painful subject, the team of Mutsaka, Mukwazhi and Mosamo is AP’s 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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Nov. 19, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Comprehensive AP coverage of Astroworld concert tragedy

teamed up with colleagues around the country to deliver sweeping coverage of the deaths at Houston’s Astroworld music festival, reporting on spot developments while telling the stories of the 10 people killed, obtaining valuable video and photos from the crowd and piecing together a riveting account of what unfolded over 70 horrific minutes.Houston reporter Juan Lozano was on the story from the beginning, gathering harrowing details, interviewing victims and their families and talking to authorities, along with Dallas-based reporter Jamie Stengle and New York-based video journalist Robert Bumsted.Working remotely, reporters Mike Catalini and Randall Chase helped assemble vignettes on each of the dead, while Los Angeles news editor Ryan Pearson tracked down images and interviews from concertgoers with assists from reporters Acacia Coronado and Beatrice Dupuy. Kristin Hall in Nashville filed interviews and background on festival promoter Live Nation. And as the week wore on, journalists Michael Kunzelman and Bernard Condon quickly jumped in for spot coverage, focusing on calls for an outside investigation and the lawsuits starting to pile up.The team effort culminated in “70 minutes at Astroworld,” a vivid account of the unfolding tragedy expertly woven together by national writer Matt Sedensly using AP’s reporting, new and compelling narratives from attendees and videos of the concert. The story, including an interactive graphic by Francois Duckett, was among the week’s most-read and engaged stories on apnews.com, highlighting the AP’s virtual ownership of the highly competitive story.https://aplink.news/4v8https://aplink.news/taxhttps://aplink.news/z86

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Dec. 10, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Comprehensive coverage of abortion case before Supreme Court

delivered standout all-formats coverage as the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Mississippi’s abortion law, a highly charged case with national implications for abortion rights. AP showcased its range and depth with previews of the case, spot coverage and analysis, and context on decades of abortion law. Looking well beyond the case itself, AP reported on the potential impact of the court’s pending decision.AP’s accomplished Supreme Court journalists, Mark Sherman and Jessica Gresko, provided textbook setup pieces ahead of the case, then, once arguments were underway, used the seamless procedure they have perfected to report oral arguments from inside and outside of the court. News associate Parker Purifoy added color from outside the courthouse.At the same time, Washington colleagues Jill Colvin and Hannah Fingerhut, along with New York-based Steve Peoples and David Crary, reported on the legal landscape that will follow any opinion, as well as public opinion and the potential political ramifications of the case. Washington’s Lisa Mascaro delved into the confirmation hearings of the various justices, raising questions over the reliability of those hearings for their future rulings on the high court.On the ground in Mississippi, South Region staffers Emily Wagster Pettus and Leah Willingham, with an assist from Sudhin Thanawala, produced a vivid story of what the day of the arguments looked like at the source.Washington’s Ashraf Khalil rounded out the reporting on what the future may look like with an analysis of the coming battle over abortion laws, while Sherman and Austin’s Paul J. Weber explored what a post-Roe world might look like through the eyes of Texans, where the nation’s most restrictive abortion law is in effect.Visuals elevated the coverage, including still photos from Washington photographers Andrew Harnik and Luis Magana, and video from Nathan Ellgren and Rick Gentilo, as well as scores of others who made AP’s coverage a collaborative effort.https://aplink.news/eo3https://aplink.news/072https://aplink.news/hhghttps://aplink.news/dtkhttps://aplink.news/8kthttps://aplink.news/9d4https://aplink.news/fe3https://aplink.video/m0ehttps://aplink.video/z5z

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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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Feb. 11, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Accountability reporting uncovers taxpayer-funded anti-abortion centers, racial disparities in access

With the continued weakening of state laws protecting women’s rights to abortion in the U.S., the AP’s strong coverage of abortion continues with two stories earning Best of the Week for impressive state accountability reporting and analysis.

A story that surfaced in Tennessee, finding federal dollars being spent on nonprofits aligned with the anti-abortion movement, revealed that legislatures in about a dozen U.S. states were funneling millions of taxpayer dollars to so-called crisis pregnancy centers that are typically unlicensed and have been accused of engaging in misinformation campaigns targeting pregnant women.

A second story focused on racial inequities in access to abortion, an idea sparked by an observation during a visit to the Shreveport, La., abortion clinic where almost every woman in the waiting room was Black. The all-formats package showed how minority women in states where abortion is under attack have the most to lose if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Both stories drew strong play on AP News and customer platforms.

For revelatory state stories on two elements in the pitched national debate over abortion rights, Kruesi, Willingham, Wagster Pettus, Nasir, Solis and Lo earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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Oct. 11, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Family behind opioid maker gave millions to colleges

for following up on an offhand remark by an Ivy League fundraiser to document how the Sackler family, behind the powerfully addictive opioid OxyContin, gave money to colleges and universities on a much larger scale than previously known: at least $60 million to prestigious schools worldwide – including millions donated after the company became embroiled in lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic. https://bit.ly/2AGZ78o

Dec. 24, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Powered by facts: AP investigation undercuts Trump voter fraud claims, prompts rare interview

Former President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 presidential election and his efforts to spread the false claim that widespread voter fraud cost him a second term raised a critical question: How much voter fraud occurred in the six crucial battleground states disputed by Trump?

Turns out, just 473 potential cases in those states. Many of the cases involved Republicans and virtually every case was an individual acting alone rather than coordinated fraud.

AP’s finding was the result of an exhaustive investigation by a team of reporters, data journalists and others, based on detailed fact checks of the vote entries for every county in each of the six states. The investigation also led to an exceptionally rare recorded phone interview with the former president in which he repeated his unfounded conspiracy theories but could find no fault with AP’s reporting.

The story made headlines and was widely cited. For meticulous reporting and analysis that revealed the actual attention-grabbing sliver of voter fraud cases, the team of Christina A. Cassidy, Scott Bauer, Bob Christie, David Eggert, Camille Fassett, Anthony Izaguirre, Shawn Marsh, Anna Nichols, Michelle Price, Ed White and Corey Williams is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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