Aug. 25, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP recounts final mental health struggles of Olympics champ Tori Bowie

On the eve of the first world track championships since Bowie’s passing, AP sportswriters Eddie Pells and Pat Graham teamed up to report exclusively on the mental health struggles of Tori Bowie that led up to the star athlete’s death April 23 from complications during childbirth at the age of 32.

The two had covered Bowie, who won three medals at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games, for many years and had heard whispers of her difficulties. A few weeks after her death, the autopsy listed the cause as “complications in childbirth.”

While other outlets pursued the angle that Black women suffer disproportionately from pregnancy complications, Pells opted to explore another dimension of her story, her struggles with mental health.

He sought out people at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and within track and field, to find out how a world-famous champion, who was eight months into what would be considered an at-risk pregnancy, came to die alone at home without medical care or anyone to look after her.

For sensitively telling the story of a great athlete who became isolated from her peers and died tragically alone in part because of neglect of her mental health difficulties, Pells and Graham are Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Feb. 02, 2024

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP scores with the kiss seen around the world

Hail Mary? Hail Julio. As swarms of players and media surrounded Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce after the Kansas City Chiefs’ AFC championship win, photographer Julio Cortez captured the perfect shot: the couple kissing on the field, Swift’s hand pressed against Kelce’s cheek. It was an intimate moment amid chaos, one that only Cortez — AP’s chief photographer for Texas and Oklahoma, temporarily returned to Baltimore — got. Other outlets made photos of the couple embracing, but Cortez had the singular — and viral — angle.

Before Sunday’s game, the only photos of Swift’s football attendee era were made in tunnels or from afar as she watched in luxury suites. But Cortez knew that if the Chiefs punched their ticket to another Super Bowl, players’ friends and families would end up on the field. With AP’s Matt Slocum, Alex Brandon and Nick Wass in their assigned on-field positions, Cortez called an audible, walking around the stage to find Swift. A believer in being “pushy but professional,” Cortez “sweet-talked” bodyguards to get into unique position. Swift and Kelce’s reunion was, well, swift. As Kelce “gave her the fastest kiss,” Cortez jumped in front of the NFL Films camera, raising his own over a guard’s head. About a minute after the photo was made, photo editor Mike Stewart knew it was the shot of the game, affixing the golden APTOPIX stamp. It was immediately picked up by hundreds, rocketing around the world with usage by customers ranging from The New York Times, People to India’s Hindustan Times and Argentina’s La Voz.

For an image that’s assuredly a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Cortez is 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. 08, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Investigation uncovers private school selling diplomas, no classes required

In a package featuring multiple scoops and exclusives, an AP team investigating Louisiana’s rise in unapproved private schools stumbled on a school selling diplomas to anyone whose parents said they had completed their education — even years later. That revelation rocked the state and reverberated across the nation.

Education data reporter Sharon Lurye partnered with Charles Lussier of The (Louisiana) Advocate to secure stunning interviews with an operator of the school defending the practice as an extension of parents’ rights and also met multiple graduates who had gained their diplomas. On the other side of the investigation Lurye and Lussier demonstrated the depth of the risks in sending a child to such a school, landing a rare interview with a mom who says a teacher offered her teen daughter money for sexually explicit photos and wanted to warn others against enrolling their kids in an unapproved school.

Lurye and Lussier were the first to quantify the rise in popularity among Louisiana’s unapproved schools — over 21,000 students, nearly double the number before the pandemic. Many of the families using unapproved schools are homeschooling. But 30 of the schools have more than 50 students.

The project ran on the front page in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Arcadiana. Lurye did radio interviews on WWL in New Orleans and for the “Louisiana Considered” program on the public radio stations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Prominent pickups included Fox News, Newser and ABC News. The project was named one of the best stories of the week by “The Grade,” a well-read education blog.

For a strong investigation, securing multiple exclusives while providing a public service to the people of Louisiana, Lurye wins this week’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Nov. 10, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Intimate reporting and stunning access show how the housing crisis has created missing students 

For the past year, education writer Bianca Vázquez Toness took on the difficult reporting task of finding students who have slipped through the cracks since the pandemic, and looked to Los Angeles, where advocates say the housing crisis is causing students to go missing from school.

She met a homeless mother renting space in strangers’ apartments, sleeping on a twin bed with her two children. The situation had devastated the teenage son Deneffy’s mental health and school performance.

After multiple visits to LA to meet Deneffy’s mother, and eventually Deneffy himself, he confided in Toness, allowing her to capture their narrative.

Photographer Jae C. Hong waited weeks for the family to feel safe having him inside, capturing powerful visuals when he was able to. Illustrations by Peter Hamlin anchored the story’s presentation. Eunice Esomonu put the Spanish version of the story in the immersive design, a first for AP.

Education journalists and readers alike have reached out to share how remarkable and powerful they found Toness’ reporting.

For building trust and cinematic reporting that showed the great lengths homeless kids must go to attend school, Best of the Week — First Winner is awarded to Bianca Vázquez Toness and Jae C. Hong.

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Sept. 08, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Reporting raises questions about abortion story told during GOP debate, scores several firsts

It was among the most puzzling moments of the first Republican presidential debate: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to answer a question about supporting a national abortion ban and instead offered a story about a woman he met who had survived “multiple abortion attempts” and was saved after being “discarded in a pan.” The tale was clearly meant to curry favor with the conservative voters who decide GOP primaries, but was it true?

Dogged reporting over several days by a team of three reporters — democracy team misinformation reporters Ali Swenson and Christine Fernando, and Miami-based national political reporter Adriana Gomez Licon — found that the woman did exist but that her birth story was far more complicated than the version described by DeSantis. While other outlets also pursued DeSantis’ story, the AP team had several significant firsts: They were was the first to interview the woman and get her story first hand; the first to surface newspaper stories from the 1950s that offered a much different version of events; and the first to get historical photos from the time she was born, including one showing her as a baby being discharged from the hospital. These allowed AP to distinguish its coverage of a nationally significant moment in the GOP presidential primary.

Swenson quickly found a few old news articles about the woman and two YouTube videos that featured her telling her story for anti-abortion advocacy groups and looped in Gomez Licon, who had spent years covering DeSantis in Florida, and Fernando, who had covered the national abortion debate extensively in her previous job.

It was Fernando who reached the woman, Miriam “Penny” Hopper, and persuaded her to talk to the AP. Gomez Licon meanwhile worked with news researcher Rhonda Shafner and local libraries in central Florida to surface newspaper clippings from 1956 about the medical effort to save the baby.

For scoring significant firsts on a story that widely resonated, Swenson, Fernando and Gomez Licon win this week’s first citation for Best of the Week.

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Dec. 09, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Heartbreaking photos give rare personal look at fentanyl's toll on homeless people

When photographer Jae C. Hong returned to Los Angeles after a year in Japan, he was struck by how the number of homeless people had vastly multiplied. It was immediately before the pandemic -- and Hong, like so many reporters in the AP, spent much of the next year chronicling the impact of coronavirus.

Earlier this year, he was able to get back to the project he’d yearned to pursue and started chronicling homeless Angelenos between other assignments. One night, he encountered two police officers standing over a dead body -- and his project, spotlighting the lives, and sometimes the deaths, of fentanyl addicts, began to take shape.

Hong spent about six months documenting the humanitarian disaster. What he produced were gut-wrenching photos that gave a rare, intensely personal and brutally honest look into the tragedy unfolding on the streets of LA, an unconscionable scene often overlooked. AP writer Brian Melley, using Hong's reporting and experiences, crafted a story of equally vivid imagery that portrayed the raw human suffering with sensitivity to complete the package. The package was widely used and kept readers’ attention. The engagement score on AP News was a perfect 100 and Facebook featured it on its news feed.

For focusing on a problem that is too often unseen and producing a raw, compelling visual package, this week’s first Best of the Week is awarded to Los Angeles photojournalist Jae C. Hong.

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Aug. 04, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

A photo and source work spark a compelling, emotional tale on migration

Migration-focused video journalist Renata Brito in Barcelona took note of a heartbreaking photo on social media to spark a story about the situation at the Tunisia-Libya border — and she used her years of source work, expertise on the border and help from around AP to confirm the story.

On July 19, the photo of a woman and child lying dead, barefoot and face down in the tawny desert sand began circulating on social media. It was retweeted by activists who accused Tunisia of abandoning migrants to their fates on the other side of Tunisia’s desert border with Libya.

But little was known about the photo or the stories of the two who had died.

On social media, some said the photo spoke to that growing crisis, but others insisted it was an old image from another country.

Three days after the photo surfaced, a source of Brito’s in Libya messaged her, saying he knew the woman and child in the photo. From afar, Brito had developed a relationship with the source for years. For this story, Brito asked the source: How did he know it was them? Could she speak to friends or family? With whom did they travel?

That resulted in a tale of dashed hope and tragedy as told to the AP by the late woman’s husband, with additional details and key context contributed by Elaine Ganley and Samy Magdy, who together are Best of the Week — First Winner.

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May 26, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

The secret networks that circumvent Honduras’ abortion ban: How an AP team documented the invisible

For years, AP Mexico photo stringer Ginnette Riquelme was aware of clandestine networks helping women obtain abortions in Honduras, where they are banned under all circumstances.   

The locations were hidden, the phones untraceable, the contacts used code words to communicate. But Riquelme had a vision of how — and why — to document something that is both illegal and heavily stigmatized. With a grant from the International Women’s Media Foundation, she joined forces with Honduran journalist Iolany Pérez in El Progreso and Mexico City reporter María Verza.   

Persistence and the ability to build the trust of more than a dozen women who helped or had received the networks’ assistance resulted in a previously unseen composite of an underground system built up over years of prohibition.   

For journalism that illustrates the invisible, and in-depth and unmatched coverage of an issue that resonates far outside Honduras, this team earns Best of the Week — First Winner. 

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April 28, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP reveals DEA chief is being investigated for contracts to past associates 

Josh Goodman and Jim Mustian reported exclusively that a federal watchdog is investigating whether the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration under chief Anne Milgram improperly used millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to flout normal governing hiring procedures to hire past associates at a very high cost.   

The two followed up on a previous scoop about the arrest of former DEA agent Jose Irizarry, who confessed to laundering money for Colombian drug cartels and skimming millions of dollars from asset seizures and informants.   

After an external review of the DEA’s foreign operations was slammed for underplaying its scandals, Latin America reporter Goodman and investigative reporter Mustian began asking questions.   

What they found was that a Washington law firm that was hired as part of a no-bid contract did the review, and that its author was the former right-hand man to one of Milgram’s closest friends, former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. That led to more reporting, more questions and more sources talking about how the DEA used other no-bid contracts to hire Milgram’s past associates.  

For expert source reporting that holds accountable the DEA and its highest-ranking official, Goodman and Mustian win Best of the Week — First Winner. 

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Feb. 24, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP team documents growth of landmines’ hidden toll in Myanmar

Months of reporting by Victoria Milko, David Rising and a colleague in Myanmar led to the most authoritative look yet at the problem of landmines in the country.

Their story recounted how a boy was maimed and teenagers killed. The team was also able to get military defectors and others in the country to share with AP how civilians are used as human shields and how groups reuse mines they claim to have cleared. The story demonstrates that this will be an issue in the country for years to come.

For their work documenting the horror of landmines in one of the world’s most isolated countries, we are honored to award Milko, our AP colleague in Myanmar and Rising this week’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Jan. 27, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP's Boone spearheads 20-outlet legal challenge to Idaho college stabbings gag order

The fatal stabbings of four college students at the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, Idaho, in November 2022 were initially shrouded in mystery and misinformation. As Boise, Idaho, Supervisory Correspondent Rebecca Boone worked to untangle all of this, a judge put up yet another barrier to getting the story to the public: a sweeping gag order prohibiting law enforcement agencies, attorneys or anyone else associated with the case from discussing it publicly.   

In the middle of one of the biggest stories in the nation, Boone suddenly had a new task on her plate: singlehandedly spearheading a legal challenge to the gag order — ultimately recruiting a coalition of 22 print and TV media outlets, including The New York Times, to join the cause.  

The AP couldn't have had a better advocate for the task. Boone has a track record of fighting for press access and has made the issue a top priority in her lengthy AP career. 

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Jan. 20, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Faceless portraits: Noroozi innovates to show struggle of Afghan women athletes

The best portraits capture a person’s essence, almost always by focusing on the human face. But AP photographer Ebrahim Noroozi, on assignment in Kabul temporarily from Iran, needed to do something different to show the effects of Afghanistan’s rule banning women playing sports.

Using the emblematic burqa to conceal the identities of the women athletes now forbidden from doing what they love best, Noroozi came up with the haunting series of faceless portraits to illustrate the erasure of Afghan women from public life under the Taliban.

Several female athletes who once played a variety of sports unrestricted posed for Noroozi with their athletic equipment – and their identities hidden by burqas, the all-encompassing robe and hood that completely covers the face, leaving only a swath of mesh to see through.

Noroozi’s images were published in an array of multimedia presentations by AP’s subscribers worldwide, including the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. The latter used them to illustrate a story about the near-simultaneous decision by Australia to cancel a men’s one-day international cricket series over the restrictions on women.

For innovation and sensitivity in showing a difficult subject, Noroozi earns Best of the Week – First Winner.

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Dec. 23, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Sources give AP tech team a beat on a critical Twitter story

Matt O'Brien and Barbara Ortutay anticipated that Elon Musk might disband Twitter's Trust and Safety Council, a group of external advisors who helped the platform with complicated content moderation -- and they broke the story as a result.

O'Brien, based in Providence, and New York-based Ortutay concluded after billionaire Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion that the trust council’s future was in doubt.

They kept contact with members of the group, which included around 100 independent civil, human rights and other organizations, and noted the date when the council was next scheduled to meet.

When the council finally was disbanded via email, their multiple sources reached out with a copy, and AP was first with the story.

For foresight and source work that made the scoop possible, O’Brien and Ortutay are Best of the Week – 1st Winner.

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Dec. 16, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP spotlights remarkable rise of federal prison official accused of misconduct

Mike Balsamo in Washington and Mike Sisak in New York trained a lens on a single Bureau of Prisons official, Thomas Ray Hinkle, who received promotions across four decades despite repeated allegations of abuse, misconduct and even admissions by him that he’d beaten inmates in the past as part of a gang of guards called “The Cowboys.”

After being tipped earlier this year to Hinkle’s past, Sisak and Balsamo went about securing and scrutinizing 1,600 pages of documents that provided details of the allegations and developed key sources within the prisons system who corroborated the accusations. Finally, toward the end of the reporting process, they secured comment from Hinkle and the bureau, both of which acknowledged his previous excesses but said he was a changed man.

For a dogged and impactful investigation that caps a year in which their reporting has shaken the hierarchy of the federal prison systems and forced officials to confront abuses long out of public view, Balsamo and Sisak are Best of the Week 1st Winners.

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