Feb. 14, 2020

Best of the States

Records reveal Virginia attorney-lawmaker privilege that delays court proceedings

Sometimes accountability stories are hiding in plain sight, but getting to them requires first recognizing the potential and then doing a whole lot of digging. Virginia reporter Sarah Rankin did both of those things. 

After seeing a one-sentence mention in a legal trade publication, Rankin began the hunt for a deeper story about a continuance privilege granted to lawyer-legislators, and how one Virginia lawmaker used the privilege to consistently delay court hearings. 

Rankin plowed through records of cases that involved Virginia lawmaker Jeff Campbell, the defense attorney for a one-time NASCAR race driver accused of domestic violence. She found that Campbell had employed the continuance privilege at least 30 times over three years, more than double any other lawyer-legislator.

For seizing on the brief mention, then following up with determined reporting that revealed a potential for abuse by lawyer-lawmakers in Virginia and elsewhere, Rankin wins the week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 13, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Dogged reporting, spycraft expose Texas attorney general scandal

used source work, non-public documents and a technique borrowed from spycraft to connect recent criminal allegations against the Texas attorney general to the conservative Republican’s previously unreported extramarital affair.In late September, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s top deputies accused him of criminally abusing his office to help a wealthy donor. Bleiberg spent weeks building sources in his aggressive pursuit of answers to what was behind these explosive, but unspecified, allegations.Those efforts paid off last week when Bleiberg was able to obtain a private transcript of real estate developer Nate Paul acknowledging that the attorney general recommended he hire a woman whom Paxton was rumored to have had an affair with. The sensitive document was picked up at a “dead drop” – a prearranged drop spot – by Austin reporter Paul Weber.Bleiberg then worked sources he’d developed while breaking earlier stories to identify people whom the attorney general may have told about his affair. His relentless outreach ultimately turned up two people with firsthand accounts of Paxton acknowledging the affair in 2018.The reporting allowed AP to draw back the curtain on one of America’s most prominent conservative legal crusaders and break major news on a highly competitive story. It revealed a relationship that’s almost certainly at the center of an ongoing federal public corruption probe. https://bit.ly/2UnuZc1

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Oct. 16, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP finds diversity of US attorneys declining under Trump

used years of data on U.S. attorneys to reveal how any diversity gains made under previous administrations have faltered under President Donald Trump. AP’s analysis found the 85% of Trump’s Senate-confirmed U.S. attorneys are white men, significantly more than the three previous administrations going back to 1993. But the numbers were just part of the story. The AP team reported on why it mattered in this moment of national reckoning over racial inequality and the fairness of the criminal justice system. The story articulated how Black and brown people are disproportionately imprisoned but underrepresented in the system that puts them there. The piece included an impressive photo combo of all the attorneys, showing row after row – predominantly of white men – and video interviews on the value of diversity in the U.S. attorney ranks.https://bit.ly/3drn6e6https://bit.ly/318gc8J

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Jan. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source work breaks news of attorney general nominee

had been asking around for weeks about President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for attorney general. They pressed their sources inside the transition once it became clear that the decision came down to just a few names.Finally, Tucker scored — a transition source gave AP the entire slate of nominees for the department, and not just the stunning choice of Merrick Garland, the former candidate for the Supreme Court who had been spurned by Republicans during the Obama administration. Also included were names for the second in command and leaders of top offices at the Department of Justice.Tucker had prepped for this and gathered his material while Balsamo checked in with another source and came back with confirmation. They swiftly filed a news alert and story, beating major news outlets by a solid half-hour. This all came two hours before the Capitol siege. The pair’s story was still picked up 580 times with some 200,000 pageviews — especially strong considering the U.S. Capitol was ransacked by rioters the same day. https://bit.ly/2XCjOOe

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May 24, 2019

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Military prosecutors sent tracking software to defense team, reporter

Los Angeles courts reporter Brian Melley was enjoying a Sunday afternoon when a longtime legal source reached out with a remarkable tip in the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL facing a court martial on charges he murdered a teenage Islamic State fighter in Iraq in 2017.

The source told Melley that military prosecutors, frustrated by leaks in the case, planted tracking software in emails sent to defense lawyers and a reporter. The unsophisticated software was quickly discovered by the recipients.

Melley worked up the story, including an interview with a military law expert who thought the tactic was ethically, legally and intellectually dubious. His story hit the wire the next morning, quickly gaining traction online. AP was widely credited everywhere it appeared and no major media outlet matched it.

For giving AP an exclusive on an important military justice story, Melley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 23, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Iowa pair, first contacted by AP, deny involvement in Tibbetts’ death

was steadfast: Before publicly identifying two men suggested as suspects in the 2018 murder of Mollie Tibbetts, he needed to talk to them. The sentencing of another man convicted in the stabbing death of the University of Iowa student had been delayed after his defense attorneys offered up Gavin Jones and Dalton Hansen as possible suspects. Foley was appalled that Iowa media outlets were identifying the two men as suspects without trying to reach them for comment. Neither man had been contacted — by law enforcement, news media or anyone else — after they were named by the defense.That changed when Foley dug deep to unearth phone numbers buried in unrelated court documents. When reached, Hansen called the allegations crazy but confirmed his connection to Jones and said he knew the inmate who was implicating the pair in the case. Jones also eventually answered Foley’s call, but demanded to know how Foley got the number, started to swear at him and almost hung up. But Foley calmed the man, keeping him on the line long enough to maintain his innocence and assert he has alibis lined up to share with investigators whenever they reach out to him. “The cops haven’t talked to me. No one has talked to me. You are the first person that has called me,” he told Foley.Other outlets had stories about the judge’s expected ruling rejecting the defense arguments, but Foley was exclusive, leading with the comments of both men accused by defense lawyers.https://aplink.news/ubk

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July 09, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Reporter’s instincts, deep preparation break stunning news of Cosby case reversal and prison release

Comedian Bill Cosby had been in a Pennsylvania prison for more than two years last December when the state’s high court took on his appeal of his sexual assault conviction.

As seven months went by without a decision, Philadelphia-based legal affairs reporter Maryclaire Dale — who had been instrumental in breaking the original Cosby story — thought there might be something newsy in the works. Her instincts led to deep preparation that put AP ahead on one of the biggest news stories of the summer, one that almost no one but Dale had anticipated.

When the court tweeted out its opinion Wednesday, AP’s news alert moved within minutes, followed less than one minute later with a short breaking news story that Cosby's conviction was overturned, and that he would be released from prison. Both alerts beat all the competition; a full story moved less than two minutes later. Dale and colleagues followed up with full coverage throughout the day, with Cosby later appearing before cameras at his home, as the original news story drew heavy engagement online and maintained the top spot in Google’s news carousel.

For sharp anticipation and flawless execution that put AP ahead on a story that dominated the news cycle, Dale earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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July 02, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Resourceful reporting, legal challenge reveal FBI going for the gold

has been breaking news about buried treasure since 2018, when the FBI conducted a secretive dig in a remote area of Pennsylvania, aimed at recovering a legendary cache of stolen Civil War-era gold. The FBI has long refused to confirm it was searching for the fabled gold — while also insisting it didn’t find whatever it was hoping to dig up.Rubinkam knew the FBI needed a federal search warrant to gain access to the site, but every document in the case was sealed ... as if the case didn’t exist. With help from AP attorney Brian Barrett and a Philadelphia-based media lawyer, a judge lifted the sealing order, revealing a veritable gold mine of news and confirming Rubinkam’s previous reporting: that the feds were, indeed, looking for gold. Among the details in the FBI’s unsealed affidavit: A contractor’s sensitive instruments had detected a huge underground mass with the density of gold.What the unsealed case didn’t include was a document describing what the FBI actually found. Federal prosecutors assert no such document exists because the dig came up empty. But the treasure hunters who led the FBI to the site in the first place believe the evidence says otherwise. They are seeking FBI records of the dig.Rubinkam’s story was among the top 10 most-viewed stories on apnews.com last week. It appeared on newspapers' front pages and spurred follow-ups, including by The Washington Post.https://aplink.news/gcohttps://aplink.news/jyq

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July 30, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP gets first look inside China’s largest detention center, breaks news on Uyghur incarceration

The sprawling Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center in Xinjiang, China, is the largest such facility in China (possibly the world), holding perhaps 10,000 or more and embodying the plight of the Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities. Western news organizations have only been able to report from the outside. But the Beijing-based team of enterprise journalist Dake Kang, photographer Mark Schiefelbein and news director Ken Moritsugu managed to get a tour, making the AP the first Western news organization to report inside the facility.

They delivered a vivid package on life inside the detention center, from numbered and tagged Uyghurs sitting ramrod straight to the instructions on force-feeding in the medical room. The journalists also revealed a disturbing new trend: China is moving from the temporary detention of Uyghurs to more permanent mass incarceration of people who have committed no real crime.

The story topped AP’s reader engagement for the week and drew comment from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who called China’s repression of the Uyghurs “horrific.”

For bringing the world rare insight into the detention centers where China holds Uyghurs, the team of Kang, Schiefelbein and Moritsugu earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 06, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP exclusive as fired anti-corruption prosecutor flees Guatemala

had spent years cultivating a rapport with Juan Francisco Sandoval, Guatemala’s special prosecutor against corruption, who had won praise from U.S. officials for work that rattled Guatemala’s most powerful citizens, including President Alejandro Giammattei.Her efforts paid off when Sandoval was abruptly fired, a move that would lead the U.S. to temporarily suspend cooperation with the office of Guatemala’s attorney general. After attending the post-firing news conference, Pérez was ushered into the office of the country’s human rights ombudsman and invited to be the sole journalist to accompany Sandoval in his small convoy of armored SUVs as he fled the country. Across the border in El Salvador, Pérez reported on his comments and took photos and video, agreeing for safety reasons to publish only once he had safely boarded a flight to the United States hours later.Pérez’s story moved early the next morning and was used by major national and international outlets; a competitive agency didn't report Sandoval's exit until later that day and did so citing the human rights ombudsman.https://aplink.news/z1ehttps://aplink.video/mt3

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Aug. 13, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP’s tally of lawmakers: Cuomo was almost certain to be impeached

made AP first to report authoritatively that a majority of New York lawmakers favored removing Gov. Andrew Cuomo from office in the days before he resigned.As soon as New York's attorney general released a report concluding that Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women — and with Cuomo appearing to resist top Democrats’ calls for his resignation — the AP journalists began working the phones and reviewing social media postings, pressing to get every member of the Assembly on the record about whether they would move to impeach Cuomo.By midday on Aug. 4, a day after the report’s release, their tally of lawmakers favoring impeachment had climbed to 86, allowing AP to move an alert saying that more than half of the body’s 150 members favored initiating the process of ousting Cuomo — enough to authorize an impeachment trial. Peltz crafted the findings and other developments into a newsmaking story about the governor's perilous position, and over the next few days the team continued updating their tally as it climbed to nearly two-thirds of the Assembly.The reporting was widely used by online, print and broadcast members, with CBS reading the report on air and CNN crediting the AP’s work. https://aplink.news/8ar

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Aug. 20, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Expert analysis and 50-state effort put census data in perspective

demonstrated AP’s power to deliver comprehensive, insightful and textured coverage of the single biggest data dump from the 2020 U.S. Census, following through on more than a year covering the most contentious and complicated national headcount in memory.Census reporter Schneider used his many months of beat development to address significant questions on the quality of a count that took place in the midst of a global pandemic, including the possibility that substantial portions of the population were missed by the census. His work captured broader themes of urban growth and rural declines in an increasingly diverse nation. Missouri-based state government reporter Lieb provided expert analysis of the redistricting landscape, updating his exploration of the built-in advantage Republicans had established through gerrymandering.Data journalist Kastanis processed the data to give AP customers and staffers alike an accessible but in-depth analysis. She adroitly guided AP reporters from across the country through the dense web of information released by the U.S. Census Bureau to convey the impact for each of the 50 states. Meanwhile, digital artist Duckett translated multiple data sets into compelling maps and graphics, giving members and clients a way to report and present the numbers in a digestible format.While this team anchored the coverage, many others — photographers, videographers and statehouse reporters — across the U.S. contributed to the tour de force effort, a vivid example of the AP being both nimble and authoritative on a deep and complex subject.https://aplink.news/h20https://aplink.news/1xihttps://aplink.video/uv7

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Sept. 17, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

20th anniversary coverage of 9/11 touches all corners of AP

came together in September 2001 for an unprecedented news challenge that ushered in a new era. Twenty years later it reconvened to help make sense of the world that 9/11 left behind. It did so with style, substance and an unerring customer focus — and by harnessing the power of the global news organization.

The early brief called for chronicling the changes in the world without being merely a look back. With that in mind, AP staffers around the world started brainstorming last spring. Robust communication with customers, who wanted their material early, was baked into the process from the outset, as was a platform that showcased content eagerly sought by AP members and clients.Throughout the summer, staffers worked to capture a broad variety of themes: the rise of conspiracy theories, changes in air travel, the experiences of Muslim Americans since 9/11 and the legacy of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name just a few. Newly revealing first-person accounts from AP staffers who were there that day showed what it was like to live through Sept. 11.Longtime Afghanistan correspondent Kathy Gannon took a break from dangerous spot coverage to write the opening installment of the anniversary package, and the “centerpieces” that moved in advance of Sept. 11 represented AP coverage at its very best: global, multiformat, customer-focused and brimming with the expertise of journalists who have covered their respective disciplines for years, if not decades. Each day brought innovative video, compelling photos, insightful writing and a new, richly designed digital presentation bringing it all together.The work was amplified by sharp curation and advance social media work. And on the anniversary itself, AP’s East Region and Washington bureau collaborated to chronicle a nation still in mourning but also moving on. https://apnews.com/hub/9-11-a-...

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Oct. 29, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

As COVID surges in Russia, AP wins access to Moscow ICU

used months of strong contact-building in Moscow’s hospitals to get first access to an intensive care unit — several days ahead of the competition — at a time when Russia is facing almost daily records for both COVID infections and deaths.Video journalist Manenkov and chief photographer Zemlianichenko won permission to work inside the “Red Zone” at Moscow City Clinical Hospital 52, where the staff is facing the crush of the country’s COVID-19 crisis. The pair gave Moscow writer Isachenkov perfect material to explore the lagging pace of vaccination across the country, a source of despair among the front-line doctors and nurses. And their visuals gave AP global customers an array of powerful images telling the story of COVID in Russia.https://aplink.news/rm0https://aplink.video/f63

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Oct. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Global teamwork delivers exclusive coverage of Nobel Prizes

used exceptional planning, nimble teamwork and multiformat expertise to elevate AP’s annual Nobel Prize coverage with a string of exclusives, first interviews, live video and sharp reporting overall.Starting on Monday, Oct. 4, with the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine awarded to two scientists based in the United States, AP quickly tracked down laureate David Julius. New York-based video journalist Ted Shaffrey convinced the winner to join a special zoom booking that was left open for the duration of the awards to expedite interviews with the laureates.That early success was repeated by AP staffers across continents and formats as the awards were announced throughout the week, including the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to journalist Maria Ressa in the Philippines and journalist Dmitry Muratov in Russia. Southeast Asia news director Kiko Rosario used his deep contacts in the Philippines to get the first external on-camera interview with Ressa, the first Filipino winner of the peace prize, while in Russia, AP offered an exclusive live video interview with Muratov. Shortly afterwards, video journalist Kostya Manenkov and senior photo editor Alexander Zemlianichenko had exclusive access as Muratov celebrated his win with champagne in front of his colleagues.AP’s comprehensive coverage was fast and accurate and the workflow smooth as Berlin-based correspondent Frank Jordans anchored the text reporting, working with specialist writers in each case. Stockholm-based video journalist David Keyton coordinated the spot coverage of the announcements and the subsequent global reactions.https://apnews.com/hub/nobel-p...https://aplink.news/ikuhttps://aplink.video/a04https://aplink.video/fgqhttps://aplink.news/wwzhttps://aplink.video/hn0

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