Feb. 22, 2019

Best of the States

Victims of the Paradise wildfire; stunning portraits of how they lived and died

The wildfire that consumed Paradise, California, claimed 85 lives while virtually burning the town off the map. But beyond those facts lay a rich narrative of the individuals who perished while calling Paradise home.

AP San Francisco reporters Janie Har and Jocelyn Gecker set out to tell the stories of the victims of the deadly Paradise fire far more comprehensively than was possible in the immediate aftermath: Who were they? Where and when did they die? Did they even have a chance to flee?

To paint a picture of how the tragedy unfolded, the pair spent months tracking down family members – many of whom were wary – to talk about their loved ones, assuring them that AP’s coverage would be more than a recitation of the grim facts. Interviews with California fire officials, a newly available simulation of the fire’s movement on the fateful morning and public records requests enabled AP to produce an interactive graphic giving the exact locations where people died and their approximate times of death.

The result was a riveting package that coupled intimate portraits of the victims with the circumstances of their death. Most never had a chance to flee their homes as the fast-moving fire barreled through.

The moving package was well-received by members throughout California and from coast-to-coast.

For carrying the Paradise story forward with enterprising, sensitive work that focused on the victims’ narratives, Har and Gecker share this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 26, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP dominates all-formats coverage of historic release of Mueller report

The AP bulletin rocketed around the world just minutes after the release of the much-anticipated report by special counsel Robert Mueller:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mueller’s report reveals Trump's efforts to seize control of Russia probe and force the special counsel’s removal.

That set the tone for a day of dominant AP coverage in every format on the historic findings in the Mueller report.

The success was the result of planning and deep knowledge of the subject matter by AP’s Russia team – Eric Tucker, Mike Balsamo, Chad Day and Mary Clare Jalonick – along with lightning-fast speed and precision execution by White House news editor Nancy Benac and the entire Washington bureau.

As soon as they were allowed to open the report, Tucker and Balsamo called the Washington bureau and kept two open lines to the newsroom, where they fed material Day and Jalonick, while Benac began crafting the story that hit the wire right after the report was posted online.

By then, the AP was off and running with outstanding all-formats coverage, including sharp handling of photos and live video. Our speed was so impressive that clients were able to get a complete set of critical and comprehensive edits by mid-afternoon. Our interactive had unheard-of play for a non-election story, while the Trump Investigation hub on APNews more than doubled its previous high pageviews. The standout coverage also ran on front pages of newspapers around the country.

“While we were sending bulletins saying that Trump had tried to stop the investigation, everyone else was still saying, ‘We have the report, we’re reading it, we’ll get back to you,’” Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said.

For their efforts, Balsamo, Tucker, Day, Jalonick and Benac win AP’s Best of the Week.

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Oct. 18, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

Anatomy of a phone call: New details of Trump’s Ukraine call revealed

President Donald Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s president, and the ensuing impeachment investigation, has been the hottest story in Washington for weeks. It’s extremely challenging to find new ways to report on the conversation and gather new details of how a rough transcript of the call was created and handled. 

Deb Riechmann managed to do it all, with a deeply reported 1800-word story that laid out everything we know about who was on the call, how such conversations are memorialized and what happens to the rough transcripts once they are created.

For uncovering tantalizing new details about Trump’s fateful phone call with the Ukraine president, AP’s Best of the Week citation goes to White House reporter Deb Riechmann.

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Feb. 26, 2021

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Executioners sanitized official reports of federal inmates’ last moments

AP legal affairs reporter Michael Tarm witnessed 10 of the unprecedented 13 federal executions in the final months of the Trump administration, diligently taking notes on what he saw in the chamber, from the inmates’ last words to their last breaths. 

But weeks after the last execution in mid-January, something nagged at him: The executioner’s official account did not jibe with what he had observed during the execution. Tarm went back, looking through hundreds of filings and court transcripts. His reporting resulted in a stunning exclusive on how the executioners all used euphemisms like “snored” and “fell asleep” while Tarm and other witnesses saw inmates’ stomachs dramatically shuddering and jerking in the minutes after lethal injections.

The sanitized accounts, Tarm realized, raised serious questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions would be completed before Joe Biden, a death penalty foe, took office. His story — the latest exclusive in AP’s coverage of the federal executions — received prominent play and reader engagement.

For backing up his own observations with rigorous reporting to hold the federal government accountable for its official accounts of the executions, Tarm earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 13, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Teamwork dominates coverage of Pentagon officer’s fatal stabbing

teamed up in all formats to lead coverage of a police officer's fatal stabbing outside the Pentagon, delivering first, exclusive details over two days, decisively winning play and leaving other news organizations to cite AP or match us hours or days later.Veteran military reporter Lolita Baldor had been walking up the stairs to the Pentagon when she heard a sound familiar to her: gunshots. Moments later, she confirmed with a guard that there had indeed been shots fired near the Metro and that one person was down. At the same time, video journalist Sagar Meghani was in a credentialing office just inside the Metro entrance to the building, when he heard an officer yell “Shooter!” Since taking photos and videos inside the building is forbidden, Meghani pretended to look at his phone while surreptitiously snapping photographs of the scene and posting them in Slack. He also recorded and posted public address announcements about the building being in lockdown.Meanwhile, AP staffers across all formats responded. Washington photographer Andrew Harnik raced away from a football practice he’d been covering, producing some of the first photos of heavy police activity. Video journalist Nathan Ellgren established live shots at the Pentagon within 20 minutes of getting the call. Reporters Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Colleen Long worked sources throughout the day to report key details about how the violence unfolded and obtaining the assailant’s name from three separate sources. Investigative reporter Michael Biesecker confirmed previously pending charges against the alleged assailant, making AP first to report the man’s criminal history. The teamwork resulted in the most widely used story on the AP News app and website for the day.https://aplink.news/um0https://aplink.news/pjwhttps://aplink.video/g55https://aplink.video/3vf

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Feb. 03, 2023

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP team reveals broad scope of classified documents mishandling by top US officials

quickly pivoted off the spot news that Mike Pence was the latest high-profile figure to have classified records in his possession after he left office to lay bare the broad scope of documents mishandling by top officials.

Their story contained new revelations showing even more extensive issues with classified documents than previously known, including how former President Jimmy Carter found classified materials at his home in Plains, Georgia, on at least one occasion and returned them to the National Archives. Read more.

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Dec. 14, 2018

Best of the States

Years of planning pay off in ‘picture perfect’ coverage of Bush funeral events

For more than a decade, Washington photo editor Jon Elswick has negotiated with the Department of Defense over coverage plans for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, while Houston photojournalist David Phillip fostered a relationship with the Bush family and their spokesman to secure AP’s shooting positions for the eventual funeral events.

Those relationships were crucial to arranging and executing coverage, paving the way for more than two dozen staffers to parachute into Washington, Houston and College Station, Texas, where they produced outstanding photos in real time and for the history books.

Among the highlights: Photographer Morry Gash fired a remote-controlled camera that captured a stunning bird’s-eye view of the U.S. Capitol rotunda during visitation and services, and David Phillip negotiated to shoot inside the railroad car carrying the coffin as the funeral train passed through Texas. Phillip called it “the most incredible event I have ever covered.”

The photo coverage was part of an impressive dayslong cross-format effort by scores of AP staff across the country and globe that included hours of live video and spot and breaking text, video, audio and graphics coverage that explored Bush’s life and presidency from every angle.

For exceptional planning and execution on one of the largest news events of the year, this week’s Best of the States goes to the team of photo staff covering the Bush funeral.

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May 05, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

At middle-of-the-night removal of Confederate statue in New Orleans, AP offers exclusive

AP’s race and ethnicity beat writer Jesse J. Holland was on vacation in Mississippi when a source called with a tip: New Orleans’ mayor was ordering the removal of the first of four Confederate-related statues in the middle of the night to avoid a racially-charged scene in the city.

Holland’s quick work to negotiate an exclusive on the monument’s removal, including an interview with the mayor, and photographer Gerald Herbert’s dramatic pre-dawn photos and video, earn the Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 17, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Historic presidential race call followed months of prep, hours of analysis

When Election Day arrived, just about everyone in politics had assumed for weeks that Hillary Clinton would soon be the next president. All it would take was California's trove of 55 electoral votes and a series of easy wins elsewhere to push her past the 270 she would need.

Not David Pace, Stephen Ohlemacher and AP's team of race callers and decision analysts.

They had prepared for months for all contingencies _ including a race that wasn't a blowout but a collection of close races that would demand deep analysis of AP's vote count, exit polls and the history of voting patterns state by state. To call the race for president before all others, and to do so with the unfailing accuracy the world expects from the AP on Election Day, would require excellence at calling those tight races that go deep into the night.

They did just that. And their call of the assumption-shattering result earns the Beat of the Week.

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