Feb. 23, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP responds when gunfire erupts at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade

Kansas City’s AP staff was just wrapping up what was supposed to be a day of fun as the city was celebrating the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win with a parade and rally. They were regrouping in the office — and some had family nearby at the parade — when shots rang out.

Photographer Charlie Riedel and video journalist Nick Ingram rushed out the door, while correspondent Heather Hollingsworth tried to confirm what happened. After she alerted that shots had been fired — the first of many alerts on this story — she also raced outside, and days of exhaustive coverage began.

Riedel and stringers sent in photos showing the reality of the shooting’s aftermath — people on stretchers, bloodied and shocked. Ingram went live, interviewing people who were stunned by the violence and gathering background video, or b-roll. Hollingsworth sought out witnesses, while other AP staffers helped from afar, including Oklahoma City correspondent Sean Murphy, who jumped in to help stitch the story together as it was developing.

AP’s coverage was a collaboration across teams and formats for the next several days.

For leaping into a fast-breaking story, supported by colleagues around the United States, Ingram, Hollingsworth and Riedel earn Best of the Week — First Winner.

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March 29, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP exposes evidence that Burkina Faso security forces massacred civilians

West Africa Correspondent Sam Mednick obtained exclusive accounts from massacre survivors in the remote region of Zaongo in Burkina Faso.

Killings of civilians by security forces happen regularly in Burkina Faso yet are hardly reported amid a brutal war with jihadist rebels. Few survivors are brave enough to speak out and most flee, staying silent under a repressive regime. Government investigations are also rare, and no one is held accountable.

Mednick, who is based in Senegal, was looking into reports of one of many such violent incidents that she had seen video evidence of circulating in WhatsApp groups, when a source in Dakar said he had relatives who survived the massacre and could speak to her.

Through the trusted contact in Senegal, she was able to talk to a family that lived in the area and connect with survivors.

AP was the only media able to get the story and photos of this attack, one of several killings under investigation by the U.N. and government. To date, no one has been held accountable.

Washington-based newsperson Michael Biesecker was able to add reporting on Burkina’s military links to the U.S. and worked closely with Mednick from the start to develop the reporting.

For exposing a crime that was all but impossible to report on, Mednick and Biesecker’s story is Best of the Week — First Winner.

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March 01, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

A leaked trove of documents opens a rare window into Chinese hacking practices

China has long used hacking as a political and law-enforcement tool to put eyes on dissidents, governments and other people it wants to watch. Because of Associated Press reporting efforts, the picture of how that is done — and what it might mean — is a bit clearer now. On Feb. 19, multiple sources alerted China investigative correspondent Dake Kang to a newly discovered leak of documents from a Chinese police contractor that revealed the company was hacking the networks of over a dozen foreign governments for the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. The documents revealed how these hackers-for-hire operations worked, which systems they targeted, what tools they used and how they assisted police in the surveillance and harassment of dissidents and oppressed ethnicities even outside China’s borders. The documents had been published online by an unknown source, and no other major media outlet had picked up on it yet. But how to verify? Kang, who at the time happened to be in the western Chinese city of Chengdu, was en route to the airport to return to Beijing when he was browsing the contractor’s website. One of their addresses was right there, just a 40-minute drive from the airport. Kang canceled his flight, hopped into a cab and headed to the company’s offices. U.S.-based technology reporter Frank Bajak simultaneously jumped on the story, contacting cybersecurity analysts, many of whom said they thought it was authentic. The following morning, Kang returned to the company where two employees confirmed the leak. With effective communication and swift editing, the story made it to the wire during U.S. daytime.  

The cross-continental teamwork and speed paid off. The AP was first among major competitors to put the story out, with others following hours later — some of them using AP’s exclusive photos.  

For a quick and concerted scramble that leveraged differing forms of AP expertise, touched multiple continents and delivered precision on deadline, Kang and Bajak are this week’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Jan. 05, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigates Russia’s cover-up of deaths caused by dam explosion in Ukraine

More than six months after the explosion that destroyed the Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine’s Kherson region, an AP investigation by Samya Kullab and Ilia Novikov found that Russian occupation authorities vastly and deliberately undercounted the dead. The AP inquiry came the closest yet to revealing the real number of deaths Russia tried to hide from the dam’s destruction, which Ukrainians believe was carried out to hamper the Ukrainian counteroffensive across the Dnipro River. Russia has denied it was responsible.

AP Kyiv correspondent Kullab and news assistant Novikov were working on a different story about how residents of the affected town of Oleshky were returning slowly to Ukraine. During their reporting, a source told them of a mass grave. That sent Kullab and Novikov in a fresh direction, and the story of the hidden deaths developed from there. Eventually, the AP spoke to health workers, volunteers, residents and recent escapees who provided invaluable details. Instead of the 59 people Russian authorities said drowned in the territory they control, AP found the real number is at least in the hundreds in just one town.

For dogged pursuit of the facts and allowing victims and their survivors to be heard, Kullab and Novikov earn Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Dec. 15, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Former career US diplomat charged with secretly spying for Cuban intelligence for decades

Relying on relentless source work and their joint years of experience, Joshua Goodman and Eric Tucker landed twin scoops on the arrest and indictment of a former career American diplomat charged with being a secret agent for communist Cuba for decades.

Manuel Rocha, who was formerly ambassador to Bolivia, was accused of engaging in “clandestine activity” on Cuba’s behalf since at least 1981, the year he joined the U.S. foreign service. While the case was short on specifics of how Rocha may have assisted the island nation, it provided a vivid case study of how Cuba and its sophisticated intelligence services seek to target, and flip, U.S. officials.

First word came to Latin America correspondent Goodman from a trusted source who called on a Friday evening to say the FBI had arrested Rocha earlier that day at his home in Miami but details were under seal. He enlisted Washington-based Tucker to see if his national security sources could help shake anything loose about the case.

Their break came Sunday — with the case still sealed — when sources gave them enough information to report that Rocha was arrested on federal charges of being an agent of the Cuban government. Their urgent story, which included extensive background on Rocha’s diplomatic stops in Bolivia, Argentina, Havana and elsewhere, staked out AP’s ownership of the case.

More details followed the next morning with another AP break, when Goodman and Tucker obtained the sealed case affidavit from highly placed sources nearly an hour before it was filed, allowing them to trounce the competition with a fast news alert and urgent series.

For putting AP far ahead in revealing what the Justice Department called one of the highest-reaching infiltrations of the U.S. government by a foreign agent, Goodman and Tucker are Best of the Week — First Winner.

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