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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April 05, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP team jumps into action to lead the pack on stunning Baltimore bridge collapse

When the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed in the middle of the night, AP staff from Bangkok to Baltimore contributed to all-formats reporting over a vast spectrum of spot and investigative angles.

It was just a bit after 3 a.m. when Baltimore reporter Lea Skene learned the Francis Scott Key Bridge had just crumpled into the river below.

Skene sprang into action and got a key fire department official on the phone. That allowed the AP to quickly give accurate details and avoid inflating the numbers of people missing, like other outlets did. Soon a team of AP reporters, photographers and video journalists joined to deliver coverage that earned huge play in newspapers around the world.

Annapolis reporter Brian Witte joined Skene on the ground and scored early-morning interviews with the governor and the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board. Video journalists Nathan Ellgren and Rick Gentilo provided coverage that was the most downloaded among customers globally for the week, particularly their early shots. Photographers Mark Schiefelbein and Matt Rourke delivered images of the crumpled bridge and of locals discussing how the collapse challenged Baltimore’s identity as a port city.

For delivering an encompassing and engrossing look at how the collapse of a bridge scarred a city’s psyche and uncovered potential trade-offs when it comes to safety, Skene, Witte, Schiefelbein, Rourke, Ellgren, Gentilo and the Baltimore Bridge Collapse Team are this week’s 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 15, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP shows itself best of class in election coverage Super Tuesday

In the runup to Super Tuesday, The Associated Press showed why it’s at the top of the class when it comes to elections coverage.

As Super Tuesday neared, the AP had an issue on its hands: how will it call races that night when it would have no VoteCast poll — but the TV networks had their exit polling, which could have put the AP at a competitive disadvantage? Serena Hawkins, data scientist for AP’s Decision Team, got to work.

In just two weeks, she researched, developed, tested and deployed a new approach to race calling that allowed the AP to declare Donald Trump and Joe Biden winners in several states with a very small return of counted votes.

That new model, used by the AP on Super Tuesday, put AP’s race calls ahead in states where the TV networks didn’t have a poll, and only a few minutes behind in states where they did — and with no errors in its calls.

Meanwhile, the AP, for the first time, was able to deliver its vote count directly to news consumers through a new immersive elections experience on APNews.

The effort was captained by development lead Linda Gorman, with team members Ryan Best, Michelle Minkoff Carlson, Chaithra Chandraiah, Shelly Cheng, Chad Day, Phil Holm, Dan Kempton, Humera Lodhi, Maya Sweedler, Pablo Barria Urenda and Robert Weston. On the night of Super Tuesday, the recirculation rate for these pages was, in a word, stratospheric.

For all these reasons, Serena Hawkins and the Elections Data Visualizations Team are Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Jan. 12, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

Tokyo bureau delivers top-tier coverage on two of the biggest stories in years, massive quake and fiery plane disaster

In back-to-back days over the New Year’s holiday, it seemed that the eyes of the world were on Tokyo, as the AP bureau deftly handled a massive earthquake and a fiery plane disaster that rocked the country — two of the biggest stories from Japan in years — and beat the competition in all formats while doing so. Their coverage included exclusive video, print and photos that far surpassed the offerings from our competitors.

The bureau activated immediately once a 7.6-magnitude quake hit western Japan on New Year’s Day, which was followed by more than 100 aftershocks. Business Writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo filed alerts and for days wrote stories that explained one of the most quake-prone places on earth. Photographer Hiro Komae and freelance videographer Richard Colombo rushed to the scene, followed by video journalist Ayaka McGill. They braved brutal working conditions — sleeping in their car and navigating wrecked roads, often driving more than 12 hours to reach destinations.

Then, on Jan. 2, another massive story: A Japan Airlines passenger jet struck a coast guard plane on a Tokyo runway. Dramatic video, which AP had faster than competitors, showed the JAL plane bursting into flames as it streaked away from the fireball that engulfed the other plane, where five died. Miraculously, all the JAL passengers evacuated safely. Working off TV coverage, News Director Foster Klug had the first urgents out ahead of competitors, with correspondent Mari Yamaguchi interrupting her holiday to write stories that investigated what went wrong and showed what it was like inside the plane. Business colleagues added invaluable context about the planes.

For dominating the competition on consecutive days in trying conditions on two massive breaking stories, we award the Tokyo bureau Best of the Week — First Winner.

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