March 02, 2018

Best of the States

Texas effort to streamline hurricane recovery backfires

As the six-month mark approached of Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas, Austin Administrative Correspondent Will Weissert and Fort Worth Correspondent Emily Schmall teamed up to report exclusively that the state’s decision to lead housing recovery – meant to be faster and better than anything the federal government could muster – was actually resulting in backlogs that made the chaotic response after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina look good by comparison.

Acting on a tip, the duo dug into federal records and added field reporting to produce a multi-format report showing that delay by the governor, and the state land office’s steep learning curve, meant temporary shelter and quick-fix home repair programs were rolling out at a startlingly slow pace.

For excellent sourcing and taking a deeper look at Texas’ hurricane recovery process, Weissert and Schmall share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Sept. 29, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP staffers surmount dual disasters in Mexico and Puerto Rico

First, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Mexico, killing hundreds. Then, a day later, a category 4 hurricane pummeled Puerto Rico, leaving millions of people without power and with little water.

Two major calamities, one sterling response: Staffers of The Associated Press went to heroic lengths to tell the world the stories of two places battered by disaster. Their efforts were led to extraordinary achievements – in text, photos and video – and the Beat of the Week.

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Jan. 05, 2018

Best of the States

ONLY ON AP: FEMA sells trailers for pennies on the dollar despite high demand from disaster victims

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas in August, Emily Schmall in Fort Worth, Texas, and Michael Sisak in Philadelphia teamed up to report exclusively that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had sold off scores of trailers with little to no damage in the days leading up to the storm. Their reporting had an immediate impact: FEMA said it had halted the auctions and would evaluate whether any of the units could be used for Harvey victims.

Fast forward to November, when Sisak noticed the auctions had resumed. Working with Central Desk editor Jeff McMurray, Sisak and Schmall took a pointed look at government waste, showing how FEMA was selling gently used trailers for pennies on the dollar rather than making them available for disaster victims.

For resourceful reporting that broke new ground, Schmall and Sisak share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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Aug. 24, 2016

Best of the States

Historic flooding in Louisiana

Many media were slow to respond to the historic flooding in Louisiana this month, but not The Associated Press. AP journalists provided timely, perceptive and poignant spot and enterprise stories from the very first hours of the torrential rains.

Aggressive cross-format coverage by a staff focused on stories of real people were key to covering the disaster. In text, the reporters included New Orleans administrative correspondent Rebecca Santana; Baton Rouge correspondent Melinda Deslatte; and newsmen Mike Kunzelman in Baton Rouge and Kevin McGill in New Orleans. Freelance photographer Max Becherer and video journalists John Mone of Houston, and Josh Replogle of Miami rounded out AP's team on the ground.

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April 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats look at BP oil disaster, 10 years later

produced a comprehensive, multiformat Only on AP package marking 10 years since the fatal Deepwater Horizon explosion and massive oil spill. Three pieces ran over three days: investigative work that showed continued and increasing drilling risks, a personal look at how life has changed along the coast, and the lasting environmental impacts a decade after the disaster. https://apnews.com/DeepwaterHorizonSpill

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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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Feb. 22, 2019

Best of the States

Victims of the Paradise wildfire; stunning portraits of how they lived and died

The wildfire that consumed Paradise, California, claimed 85 lives while virtually burning the town off the map. But beyond those facts lay a rich narrative of the individuals who perished while calling Paradise home.

AP San Francisco reporters Janie Har and Jocelyn Gecker set out to tell the stories of the victims of the deadly Paradise fire far more comprehensively than was possible in the immediate aftermath: Who were they? Where and when did they die? Did they even have a chance to flee?

To paint a picture of how the tragedy unfolded, the pair spent months tracking down family members – many of whom were wary – to talk about their loved ones, assuring them that AP’s coverage would be more than a recitation of the grim facts. Interviews with California fire officials, a newly available simulation of the fire’s movement on the fateful morning and public records requests enabled AP to produce an interactive graphic giving the exact locations where people died and their approximate times of death.

The result was a riveting package that coupled intimate portraits of the victims with the circumstances of their death. Most never had a chance to flee their homes as the fast-moving fire barreled through.

The moving package was well-received by members throughout California and from coast-to-coast.

For carrying the Paradise story forward with enterprising, sensitive work that focused on the victims’ narratives, Har and Gecker share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 26, 2018

Best of the States

Post-hurricane teamwork produces compelling story of newborn’s night in parking lot

Amid the chaos and broken lives after Hurricane Michael, photographer David Goldman was combing for images of how people were coping when he discovered a heartbreaking story in a Walmart parking lot: A newborn baby was spending one of his first nights in the back of a pickup with his parents.

Goldman knew he had a great visual story. And he knew there was a great story to write. Not being in a position to write the story himself, he turned to colleague Jay Reeves, also working in the hurricane zone.

Reeves wouldn’t be able to meet with the family, but Goldman knew the elements Reeves would need to write the text piece. He sent Reeves all his notes and an audio interview via email. From those pieces, Reeves crafted the narrative.

The moving words and compelling photo package resonated. Goldman’s Twitter lit up with responses, and readers hoping to find a way to help “baby Luke” reached out to the AP by email, phone and web. The story was carried by Time Magazine, USA Today, The New York Times and NPR, among others.

For their collaboration and unmatched story that reminded the world that the story of Hurricane Michael is far from over, Reeves and Goldman win this week’s Best of the States.

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Sept. 08, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Toxic waste sites flooded; AP on the scene ahead of EPA

Hurricane Harvey inundated homes, flooded freeways and swamped entire neighborhoods. Florida-based reporter Jason Dearen, who was deployed to Houston to help cover the disaster, knew there might be something else submerged beneath the turbid floodwaters. Superfund sites, some of the nation’s most contaminated places, are scattered along the low-lying Gulf coastline, including in the Houston area.

Dearen had been trying to obtain a copy of a federal study about the risks of flooding at those sites from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but had been stonewalled for two weeks. Harvey’s destruction provided new urgency to his request. For help, he reached out to Washington investigative reporter Michael Biesecker, a fellow member of the AP’s environmental beat team.

Through creative reporting that relied on data, collaboration and Dearen’s newfound skills as a boat man, they became the first journalists to report on the extent of flooding at contaminated waste sites in and around Houston. The on-site observations by Dearen and freelance 360-video producer Claudia Prat raised concerns that some of the decades-old toxic stew left over from the oil, gas and chemical industries may have mixed with floodwaters. They also were on the ground – and on the water – before the EPA’s own inspectors. For their efforts, Dearen, Biesecker and Prat win Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Cataclysmic fires cap off week of momentous and devastating news in California

California’s news staff still was in the midst of reporting the tragic night-spot shooting in Thousand Oaks when news reached the AP that a wildfire in Northern California was spreading quickly, sending thousands fleeing.

Bay Area freelance photographer Noah Berger, as good a fire chaser as there is anywhere, tipped the office off that the Northern California fire looked explosive. By 11 a.m. Sacramento reporter Don Thompson was hitting the road, and a first AP NewsAlert moved saying people fleeing for their lives had abandoned vehicles as the fire swept in.

AP’s all-formats coverage went into high gear, with staffers pouring in from the region. In addition to Thompson, who stayed at the scene with fire crews for several days straight, Portland, Ore., all-formats reporter Gilly Flaccus arrived, producing unmatched interviews in text and video of survivors and of crews searching for the remains of those killed. San Francisco reporter Paul Elias gathered information on the dramatic rescues and chaotic evacuation, while Las Vegas photographer John Locher and Denver videographer Peter Banda provided gripping visuals from the scene.

AP was first to report thousands of homes destroyed, first to report a named victim, and we were alone in accompanying a search and recovery crew in all formats as they went to a victim’s home and found her remains.

The coverage was nuanced and emotional. California News Editor Frank Baker says there was no one on the California staff who didn’t contribute, working unrelentingly from last week’s elections and mass shooting straight into the wildfire.

For outstanding work, bolstered and supported by California’s all-formats reporting staff and editors, Thompson, Flaccus, Elias, Berger, Locher and Banda share this AP's Best of the Week.

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Nov. 23, 2018

Best of the States

Requiem for Paradise: Remembering the sweet life of a town wiped out by wildfire

It’s not often you have to write an obituary for a town. Yet that’s what Martha Mendoza and Jocelyn Gecker did, with Gillian Flaccus producing a compelling video component. Their tribute to Paradise, California – leveled by a devastating wildfire that killed so many residents – painted a picture of all that was lost. Paradise was a gold prospector’s town, then a lumber town, and until two weeks ago was the home of 27,000 people “who lived and loved here; they built homes and businesses, schools and houses of worship, parks and museums that proudly honored Paradise's place in American history.”

Mendoza worked from the field, in the ashes of the town, with Gecker in San Francisco tracking down leads, helping to write the finished piece and finding photographs to illustrate “the town’s history and spirit.” Their nuanced reporting, along with that of many colleagues, drew forth tales of town holidays, and residents ruminating whether those staples of small-town America would continue.

The accompanying video by Gillian Flaccus, recorded during a ride-along with a long-time resident, complemented the text piece by showing street after street of utter devastation over the man’s narration.

Paradise is gone, and until it rebuilds in some fashion, Mendoza, Gecker and Flaccus have given the world the definitive piece on what it represented. For their deft depiction of the town behind the headlines, the trio wins AP's Best of the States.

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Dec. 07, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Livestream video leads coverage of Alaska earthquakes

As soon as the ground stopped violently shaking in Anchorage on the morning of Nov. 30, Anchorage newsman Dan Joling calmed his nerves and started reporting. Then, within minutes, he went from producing urgents to plotting out with Stephanie Mullen, the West region’s deputy director of storytelling based in San Francisco, how AP would get the most compelling visuals at first light.

Already adept at capturing still photos, Joling would use a tool new to him, the live video streaming app Bambuser, to report on the damage from the two powerful back-to-back earthquakes centered just outside Alaska’s biggest city.

Out in the field, Joling drove up to a vehicle stranded on a crumpled roadway, first using his iPhone to snap photos that he quickly sent to a photo editor. He then fired up the Bambuser app, a tool that he had been trained on exactly one month before.

The live footage he streamed was scooped up immediately by customers in the United States and Europe.

His quick thinking and improvisation put the AP far ahead of the competition and gave viewers and customers unmatched views of the quakes’ aftermath, earning him AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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Dec. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Only on AP: Many of those ‘missing’ after wildfire are just fine

As the AP reported on the chaos and confusion surrounding the ever-changing list of missing people in the wake of California wildfire that killed at least 85 people, our reporters set out to try to track down more of those people and to show that they were findable, even though they continued to appear on the list of missing, and to show that hundreds were likely not really missing at all.

Dixie Singh, No. 158 on the list, was surprised to get a call from the AP, saying she was “very much alive,” and all her friends and family knew it. San Francisco reporter Jocelyn Gecker tracked her down through a public records search by AP News and Information Center researcher Jennifer Farrar.

Meanwhile, Sacramento correspondent Kathleen Ronayne and Washington, D.C., reporter Juliet Linderman, who was in town for the week assisting on fire coverage, tracked down other stories of people who were findable – just not by the sheriff’s department.

The team’s research and reporting laid out how easy it was to find some of the people and highlighted lapses in the sheriff’s record-keeping.

For their collaborative exclusive on a key lingering aspect of the deadly Camp Fire, the team of Gecker, Ronayne, Linderman and Farrar wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 03, 2019

Best of the States

‘Destined to Burn’: AP, media organizations join forces to expose California wildfire risks

A groundbreaking collaboration among California newspapers and The Associated Press started with a tweet.

Northern California News Editor Juliet Williams saw on Twitter that the editor of The Sacramento Bee, a McClatchy paper, was driving to meet with the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record, a MediaNews paper, to talk about wildfire coverage. Williams reached out, offered the AP’s help, and a partnership was born, with the goal of illuminating problems and pointing to potential solutions to California’s increasingly deadly wildfires.

The results: nearly a dozen stories, including an analysis of data by McClatchy and AP Los Angeles-based data journalist Angeliki Kastanis revealing that more than 350,000 Californians live in towns and cities almost entirely within zones of very high wildfire risk. An analysis also found that a 2008 building code for California’s fire-prone regions can make the difference in whether homes burn or not, but there’s little retrofitting of older homes.

The partnership’s next installment was focused on evacuation planning, revealing that many communities wouldn’t share the information or didn’t have an adequate plan, or any plan at all. Data analysis by USA TODAY Network-California showed many communities had too few roads to get everyone out.

We heavily publicized the package and play was impressive, with hundreds of downloads of the first two installments. Many outlets used the data to report their own stories about local fire risks. And this isn’t the end of the partnership: The next phase will focus on legislative action on wildfire coverage.

When AP engages in collaborations like these we become more than just a content provider to our customers; we’re helping them produce high-impact local coverage that wouldn’t exist otherwise. In this case, the “Destined to Burn” partnership was managed at every level by West Deputy Director of Newsgathering Anna Jo Bratton, who worked for six months with people throughout the AP and the collaborators to make the partnership a success.

For putting the AP at the center of an important collaboration, driving important journalism in a state ravaged by wildfires, and forging a stronger relationship with members, Williams, Kastanis and Bratton win this AP’s Best of the States.

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