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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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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April 26, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP exclusive details how ERs are refusing to treat pregnant women after Roe v. Wade was overturned

In an exclusive based on documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, Washington-based health policy reporter Amanda Seitz reported on complaints that pregnant women were being turned away from emergency rooms in the months after Roe v. Wade was overturned, despite federal law requiring that they be treated.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act was seen as a safety net to ensure that pregnant women experiencing a medical emergency could get abortions in states where the procedure had been banned. But Seitz set out to find out if it really was. She submitted a FOIA request in February 2023 seeking information about pregnancy-related complaints under the federal law.

After almost a year of waiting, the FOIA office finally agreed to release records but said it would take another four years to get the documents. With a crucial U.S. Supreme Court case pending, Seitz negotiated a limited release of documents in certain states.

In March, she finally got what she was looking for: a rundown of complaints about violations in the months after Roe was overturned in 2022. The documents showed a spike in the number of complaints post-Roe and included horrific accounts of pregnant women receiving improper care. But they left open the question of what penalties ERs were facing for violating the law.

While many other news organizations wrote about the upcoming Supreme Court arguments on the EMTALA law, because of Seitz the AP was alone with the details about the complaints spiking. She is Best of the Week — First Winner.

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May 03, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

Rare multiformat interview with Hamas leader breaks news

In an exclusive interview with AP, a high-ranking Hamas political official for the first time suggested that the militant group would put down its weapons with the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, acknowledging that a two-state solution could be possible even if temporarily.

The interview, which came at a crucial time in Gaza ceasefire negotiations, was the result of persistence by AP staff and collaboration between the Beirut and Istanbul teams.

Having dealt with Hamas officials in Beirut regularly on stories before and after Oct. 7, Lebanon/Syria/Iraq news director Abby Sewell had requested an interview with one of Hamas’ senior officials, Moussa Abu Marzouk, and was told it would be granted and would take place in Istanbul.

While she was awaiting confirmation of the date, Hamas’ top political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, showed up in Turkey and met with the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

At that point, Istanbul-based photographer Khalil Hamra, originally from Gaza, suggested using his contacts to aim for the highest-ranking possible interview.

For persistence and collaboration to win a scoop on one of the world’s most pressing stories, Sewell, Hamra and Guzel are Best of the Week — First Winner.

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May 10, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP exclusively breaks news that DEA moving to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug

White House Correspondent Zeke Miller, Latin America Correspondent Joshua Goodman, Investigative Reporter Jim Mustian and Washington Reporter Lindsay Whitehurst combined forces to exclusively break the news that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is moving to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug, a historic shift that could clear the way toward easing federal criminal penalties on pot at a time when President Joe Biden is seeking the support of younger voters.

The DEA’s biggest policy recommendation in its 50-year history had been highly anticipated and hotly contested by every major news organization. In the end, AP’s bombshell story last Tuesday left competitors scrambling to match AP’s reporting and give AP full credit for being first.

But AP wasn’t done. In the ensuing hours there was another APNewsAlert on Attorney General Merrick Garland endorsing the DEA proposal, a politics sidebar by Jonathan J. Cooper on how this is Biden’s latest attempt to reach out to younger voters and a “What It Means” glance by Jennifer Peltz and Whitehurst that unpacked the nuances of the order. That was also neatly presented in an AP video narrated by Whitehurst.

For strong, fast, exclusive reporting that put the AP out front to drive the conversation on a historic policy shift on pot, Miller, Goodman, Mustian and Whitehurst are Best of the Week — First Winner.

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