Dec. 24, 2020

Best of the States

Joint investigation reveals ‘leadership vacuum’ after backlash against public health officials

AP reporter Michelle Smith was working on another project in June when she came up with the names of a dozen or so public health officials who had quit, retired or been fired. Sensing a trend, Smith and reporters at Kaiser Health News continued to track those departures as the pandemic worsened and the backlash against public health restrictions became more strident.

The journalists contacted officials in all 50 states and interviewed dozens of people, finding a public health leadership vacuum developing at a critical time in the pandemic. They told the stories of public servants who toiled through the pandemic only to be reviled by their neighbors — including the wrenching story of an official whose husband would not even follow her recommendation to require masks in the family store. The timely all-formats story included a data distribution, interactive graphics and a sidebar with portraits and quotes of public health officials. 

For a deeply reported package that examines a vital component of the pandemic response, Smith, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Hannah Recht and Lauren Weber earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Sources: Trump liaison banned from Justice Department

delivered a widely read scoop after working their sources to confirm a curious rumor: An official serving as President Donald Trump’s eyes and ears at the Department of Justice was banned from the building after pressuring Justice Department staffers to reveal insider information about ongoing cases and the department’s work on election fraud.Heidi Stirrup, an ally of top Trump adviser Stephen Miller, had also extended job offers to political allies for positions at some of the highest levels of the DOJ without consulting senior department officials or the White House counsel’s office, and also attempted to interfere in the hiring process for career staffers, a violation of the government’s human resources policies, a source told the AP. https://bit.ly/374EDaH

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP investigation: China’s virus testing suffered from secret deals

used sourcing and documents to reveal that early in the coronavirus outbreak, widespread test shortages and other testing problems in China were caused largely by cronyism and a lack of transparency at the top disease control agency, including secret deals made with testing companies.Through interviews with more than 40 people and hundreds of documents he obtained, Kang traced the problems back to secret deals that China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention made with three then-unknown companies with which officials had personal ties. Those companies paid for exclusive rights to the test kit design and distribution.Shortages and flaws in the kits meant that thousands of people either didn't get tested or tested false negative; they were sent home to spread the virus while scientists and officials were unable to see how fast the virus was spreading.The level of detail in Kang’s story would be impressive anywhere, but is extraordinary coming from China which has tried to cover up its missteps. The story was also carefully balanced in its portrayal of China, pointing out that many other countries made similar mistakes.The story was widely praised, with experts and journalists calling it “vital, damning” and “another blockbuster AP report on the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in January.”https://bit.ly/37RAuGbhttps://bit.ly/372ZkUc

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Dec. 04, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP coverage of refugees in Sudan opens a window into Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict

The thousands of refugees spilling over the border into Sudan from Ethiopia’s Tigray region are some of the only firsthand witnesses to a worsening conflict that remains out of reach for most of the world’s media. Crossing a remote desert area, they recount ethnic-targeted killings, many fleeing at a moment’s notice and leaving loved ones behind amid an offensive by the Ethiopian government against Tigray separatists. 

Video journalist Fay Abuelgasim and photographer Nariman el-Mofty have put individual faces on the complex story since arriving at the Sudan-Ethiopia border area nearly two weeks ago. Along with reporters Sam Magdy in Cairo and Cara Anna in Nairobi, their work has revealed the human toll of a conflict to which access remains tightly restricted, even as the United Nations warns of possible war crimes. AP clients have recognized the work with strong play.

For their determined, resourceful and revealing work to document the individual struggles of an escalating refugee crisis, Abuelgasim, el-Mofty, Anna and Magdy earn AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Nov. 06, 2020

Best of the States

AP explores impact of Trump immigration policies; rare interviews with Stephen Miller, migrants

President Donald Trump has altered the immigration system arguably more than any U.S. president, meaning this year’s election could have major implications for future immigration policy and for those trying to enter or stay in the U.S. In the run-up to the election, AP’s immigration team unraveled four key policies that have upended lives: reduced refugee numbers, restrictions on international students, a virtual shutdown of asylum and the curbing of legal immigration. 

The journalists used unmatched source work, data reporting and AP’s global footprint, scoring key on-the-record interviews, from would-be refugees stuck overseas to Stephen Miller, Trump’s lead immigration adviser.

For timely, in-depth coverage of immigration issues that likely hang in the balance as the election is decided, the team of Spagat, Tareen, Snow, Watson, Bull and Akour wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 06, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Use of racial slurs not ‘isolated’ at Louisiana State Police

reported exclusively on a string of racial slurs used by Louisiana State Police troopers, both in their official emails and spoken on the job, refuting the contention of the agency’s superintendent that the use of such demeaning language was just “isolated.”Mustian reviewed hundreds of police records and found at least a dozen instances over a three-year period in which employees forwarded racist emails or demeaned minority colleagues with racist nicknames. He also exclusively obtained documents of an accidental “pocket-dial” of sorts in which a white trooper sent a voice mail to a Black trooper that blurted out his name and then a vile racist slur. The state police superintendent made an abrupt retirement announcement in the midst of Mustian’s reporting, which follows weeks of his coverage on the still-unexplained death of Ronald Greene, a Black motorist taken into custody last year following a police chase. Reeves faced criticism for his secretive handling of the case, including the refusal to release body-cam video that, according to those who have seen it, shows troopers beating, choking and dragging Greene. The case is now the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. Mustian’s story on the racial slurs received strong play, including on the front page of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune/Advocate. https://bit.ly/34VHCkp

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Nov. 06, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

As families respond to the crisis, AP reveals desperate state of Venezuelan COVID treatment

Venezuela was one of the least-prepared countries in the world to fight the coronavirus. But it has arguably succeeded on one front: suppressing news of the virus’s true impact on its people. The country has acknowledged only 814 COVID deaths. But this Caracas-based all-formats AP team scored a breakthrough, telling the actual story in a country where contradicting the government’s official narrative can lead to detention.

Documenting two women working to ensure the survival of their fathers, the AP journalists delivered a hard-won, startling and exclusive look at the bleak state of health care and the plight of relatives who risk their own lives to care for loved ones in the COVID-19 wing of a rundown public hospital.

For their determination and courage to report this story and expose Venezuela’s ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Smith, Cubillos and Arraez earn AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Nov. 06, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

In the time of coronavirus, AP finds a racial divide — and love

vividly reported one couple’s story of what love looks like in the time of coronavirus. But in a twist, they also looked at divisions of race, and how white and black residents in Mississippi see the virus quite differently. Sensitively told with intimate attention to detail, the story humanized the trauma caused by the virus with the universal and age-old appeal of a love story. But it also skillfully wove in the numbers about race and the virus in Mississippi – showing how the coronavirus disproportionately impacted the Black community, and how that community has largely been more focused on prevention than their white neighbors.The story engaged readers and viewers, and it received more than 1,100 retweets, from a New York Times editor to the Montgomery Advertiser to Mike Barnicle, the famously crusty Boston newspaperman and NBC correspondent.https://bit.ly/32ggrPFhttps://bit.ly/366xQvqhttps://bit.ly/38fWZ9w

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Nov. 06, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

In AP interviews, election emerges as a referendum on race

delivered a bold, smart story exploring how this pivotal presidential election became a referendum on the future of race relations in America.Stafford, a race and ethnicity journalist, gathered a range of local and national voices to examine how the U.S. is being forced to confront systemic racism in an election year in which the coronavirus pandemic, economic uncertainty and police brutality have converged. One of those voices was that of Omari Barksdale, a Black man who was impacted by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. And more personally, he lost his sister to COVID. Detroit photographer Sancya met with Barksdale and captured him in strong portraits that complemented the text story.Stafford also landed interviews with some notable national figures, including civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton who said the “soul of the nation” was “at risk.” https://bit.ly/3p4Kwf5

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Dec. 18, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals sexual misconduct charges against FBI leadership

used interviews, public records requests and court papers to exclusively confirm at least six sexual misconduct allegations against senior FBI officials over the past five years, and that each avoided discipline. Several were quietly transferred or retired with full benefits, even when probes substantiated the claims.Starting with a single tip from a longtime FBI source, Mustian chipped away for months to reveal the previously undisclosed names of most of those senior officials as well as the details of the allegations against them. He used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain inspector general reports, one of which confirmed the identity of an assistant FBI director who had been credibly accused of of drunkenly groping a female subordinate in a stairwell. The assistant director left the bureau without discipline.Mustian also found a civil rights lawyer in Washington who was preparing two lawsuits by women accusing senior officials. Mustian negotiated both for an exclusive interview with one of the plaintiffs, and to be the first reporter to write about those cases, including one woman’s claim of being blackmailed into sexual encounters for years.Mustian’s story received heavy play and elicited a strong reaction from readers, particularly those inside the FBI. Several women emailed Mustian to say his count was just the beginning; that they too were victims of senior agents while at the FBI. A California congresswoman says she is considering hearings into the FBI’s handling of sexual misconduct. https://bit.ly/3h15d7R

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July 02, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Got guns? Sourcing, data and subject expertise reveal record 300,000 rejected U.S. gun sales

At a time when gun sales in America are reaching record highs and political divisions run deep, Salt Lake City reporter Lindsay Whitehurst has become a recognized authority on shifting weapons laws at the state level. She has cultivated sources on both sides of the issue and earned a reputation as a fair and accurate interpreter of the national schism over guns.

That’s why, after working for months with sources at Everytown for Gun Safety, a major player in the gun control lobby, the nonprofit turned to her with a trove of exclusive records on attempted firearms purchases that were denied by the FBI last year.

Whitehurst dove into the FBI data that showed gun sale rejections at an all-time high. Nearly half of the denials were for convicted felons, at a time when fights for universal background checks continue to fail. And although lying on a firearms background check is a federal offense, Whitehurst also learned that such cases are rarely prosecuted, raising the questionof why — in a volatile America — authorities are not investigating those who try despite being banned.

For probing these questions, and her leadership on a beat that touches on some of the nation’s most fundamental and contentious rights, Whitehurst earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Jan. 01, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Fast response, resourceful work breaks news on Nashville’s Christmas Day bombing

When a bomb exploded in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, early on Christmas morning, AP’s local staff upended their holiday plans and sprang into action. They were soon joined by colleagues, many working remotely, who jumped in to help coordinate coverage and piece together what had happened. 

The team overcame severely limited access and communications to quickly deliver photos and break stories over several days, including the news that human tissue had been found at the explosion site, and the bomber’s chilling prediction of fame. 

The outstanding work attracted heavy play and readership. 

For mobilizing quickly and resourcefully over the Christmas holiday, Kimberlee Kruesi, Mark Humphrey, Eric Tucker, Mike Balsamo, Denise Lavoie and Mike Kunzelman share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the last full week of 2020.

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Jan. 11, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP traces child labor from Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields to major brands, Girl Scout cookies

For the third installment of their groundbreaking investigation into labor abuse in Asia’s palm oil industry, reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason linked child labor to the supply chains of the makers of popular cereals, candies and ice creams, including KitKats, Oreos and Cap’n Crunch. They also traced the oil to that most American treat: Girl Scout cookies. 

Joined by photographers Binsar Bakkara and Mark Humphrey, and video journalist Allen Breed, their reporting found that some tens of thousands of children toil in the palm fields, some kept from school and forced to work for free or for little pay. Some are trafficked.

The framing of the story — through the eyes of a young girl in the fields in Indonesia and a Tennessee Girl Scout campaigning to have palm oil removed from the cookies — resonated with readers; reaction on social media led the Girl Scouts to address the issue with their suppliers.

For shedding unprecedented light on the children toiling in Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields, and connecting the abusive practice to major consumer brands, McDowell, Mason, Bakkara, Breed and Humphrey share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 28.

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Jan. 11, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

COVID victims remembered in revealing illustrations

revisited the families and friends of 10 people among more than 60 victims of COVID-19 previously profiled by AP in 2020. Over the course of the pandemic, the global cooperative’s journalists have aimed to capture the human toll, one soul at a time. They’ve portrayed the deceased across ages, races, nationalities and social class, and documented the impact of losing someone. For this final Lives Lost story, reporters wanted to know how survivors were coping and ask what they remember most about their lost loved ones. But instead of photos or video, AP made illustrations of revealing objects or other telling details associated with the departed. Even during a very busy news week, the story and illustrations were widely used by news outlets. One family member thanked AP “from the bottom of his heart,” while another said: “I appreciate everything you’ve done for my family.” https://bit.ly/3s1M0bm

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Jan. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Standout visuals mark a year since eruption in Philippines

had a vision for a visually-driven package to mark the year since the violent eruption of the Taal volcano in the Philippines.With his newly acquired drone pilot license, the Manila-based AP photographer knew that aerial photography would make unique still and video images of the ash-covered ghost town. He also learned that many residents of the volcanic island still remained homeless in a temporary tent city.After getting approval for the project, he set out to deliver all-formats coverage. He did extensive research, then drove to the volcano, where a local fisherman ferried him to the island that is home to the volcano.The drone app warned him it was too windy to fly, but Favila knew the visuals would be strong — and it might be his only chance. He launched the drone and kept receiving strong wind warnings during the flight, but he kept the drone airborne long enough to get stunning photos and video.Next, he explored the ash-covered island, visiting an area where people still live in tents. Residents of the island, which is a popular tourist destination, lost their livelihood: livestock animals and the farmland where they grow vegetables. Favila interviewed people who have had to live in the tents through typhoons, excessive heat and even the pandemic, capturing their touching accounts on video, humanizing the story for an impressive one-person package.https://bit.ly/35At6yLhttps://bit.ly/3bIsUB4https://bit.ly/38DyX8a

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Jan. 22, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Criminal charges for ex-governor in Flint water crisis

worked sources to report exclusively that criminal charges would be filed against former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and others in the Flint water crisis, one of the worst human-made environmental disasters in U.S. history.White was reporting an unrelated story when he asked a source about any developments in the Flint investigation. That paid off with a tip — confirmed with a second source by Eggert — about the imminent charges.The bombshell exclusive hit a full two days before the official announcement and was AP’s most-used story by customers online that day, widely credited by local and national news outlets, including the Detroit Free Press and the New York Times. https://bit.ly/35T67z6

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Jan. 29, 2021

Best of the States

AP team finds exhausted chaplains comforting families, COVID patients in their final moments

Eugene Garcia, just two weeks into his job as the AP’s newest full-time video journalist, and photographer Jae Hong joined forces to tell the deeply touching and heartbreaking story of often unseen and unsung heroes of the pandemic — the clergy.

The pair approached the story with sensitivity and care, maintaining distance to give the families, patients and chaplains space, but close enough to bring the story to life even as their subjects drew their last breaths. The package, complemented by John Rogers’ moving text, shed light on exhausted and emotionally drained chaplains working in situations they had never experienced before. As one put it, “We weren’t trained for this.”

For an arresting package that explores the compassionate yet crushing work of front-line chaplains, Garcia, Hong and Rogers earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals details of Eritrean atrocities in Tigray region

reported the first detailed account of crimes being committed by Eritrean military forces within Ethiopia’s isolated Tigray region. Journalists following the crisis in the defiant region have struggled to find credible eyewitness accounts of the Eritreans’ presence. But the relentless work by Anna, AP’s East African correspondent based in Kenya, finally paid off: A source put her in touch with a woman, normally a resident of Colorado, who, while on a trip to Ethiopia, witnessed Eritrean troops and their crimes firsthand in the remote village where her mother lives. Anna was able to draw out shocking details of the killing of children, mass graves and the looting of homes.The story, widely used by AP clients, was hailed as the first to document Eritrean activity in Tigray. Anna followed up with a second scoop in which the U.S. State Department called for all Eritrean forces to leave Tigray immediately, citing “credible reports” of atrocities.https://bit.ly/3rqiyuehttps://bit.ly/3cOrDsKhttps://bit.ly/3jeRRpK

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Dec. 11, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP profiles some of the US jobless facing cutoff of aid

teamed up, giving voice to some of the millions of Americans whose unemployment benefits will run out by year’s end unless Congress reverses course and decides to act. The joint effort between Business News and AP’s Report for America state government reporters combined sensitive field reporting and expert handling of the most relevant data, producing a people-focused all-formats piece that highlights the human cost of government inaction as the virus surges anew amid a faltering job market.https://bit.ly/37OBcnzhttps://bit.ly/2LrfwXj

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July 02, 2021

Best of the States

A photographer’s unique vision merges past and present for front-line nurses

With the U.S. slowly emerging from COVID-19, it might be easy to assume that the pandemic will soon be in the past, but for many, particularly health care workers, the trauma of what they experienced while caring for deathly sick patients will be with them for years to come.

To capture the idea that the past can be part of the present, Los Angeles photographer Jae Hong focused on intensive care nurses at a Southern California hospital who had taken care of extremely ill COVID patients and, despite all efforts, had lost many. That ward closed this spring, but the memories endure for these nurses.

Hong’s approach called for a photo technique not typically used in reporting the news: He made multiple exposure portraits of 10 of the nurses in the hospital, resulting in haunting images that show each nurse both in the photo, the present, and seemingly somewhere else in the past.

Accompanied by revealing interviews, the piece played widely in the U.S. and beyond, and attracted attention on social media.

For arresting, interpretive photography that evokes the lingering effects of the pandemic on these front-line medical workers, Hong earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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