Sept. 25, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigates medical care at immigrant detention facility after explosive allegations

The allegations were explosive: A nurse at an immigration detention facility in rural Georgia said a gynecologist she called “the uterus collector” performed mass hysterectomies without detainees’ consent. 

Reaction was fast and furious, but the AP treated the unsubstantiated allegations cautiously. Immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant dug into the story amid intense competition, reaching out to sources, doctors and a detainee who had surgery performed without her consent. 

While his review did not find evidence of mass hysterectomies, Merchant revealed a growing pattern of women not consenting to procedures that potentially jeopardized their ability to have children. Three days later, the AP was first to report that the doctor would no longer treat immigrant detainees.   

For impressive work that broke new ground on a highly charged story, Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 31, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Image of Hurricane Harvey rescue tells story of tenderness and unity, dominates front pages

Young Aiden Pham wasn't even awake for his brief moment in the spotlight. But Houston photographer David Phillip was there to capture the toddler in what would become an iconic image of Hurricane Harvey and the historic floods.

The photo of the sleeping 13-month-old, swaddled in a blanket and held in his mother's arms as they're carried to safety, was among the many dramatic rescues of the floods that have inundated southeast Texas.

The image – which appeared on the web and front pages across the country, including the Wall Street Journal – along with others taken by Phillip earn him the Beat of the Week.

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July 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scoop on US ruling to free immigrant children

scored a 90-minute beat on a closely watched federal court ruling that ordered the release of children held with their parents in U.S. immigration jails during the pandemic. Merchant was tipped earlier in the day and had much of the story written ahead of the decision. He had set the stage earlier in the week with an unmatched story on families being isolated in Texas at the largest of three family detention centers run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. https://bit.ly/3iclNlv

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June 19, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP team documents extraordinary funeral for George Floyd

brilliantly chronicled George Floyd’s final journey. After six days of mourning in cities throughout the U.S., Floyd was laid to rest in a suburb of Houston, with a funeral and burial capped by a procession akin to those for heads of state. The funeral organizers originally barred reporters from the service, but eventually invited an AP reporter and photographer to attend. Other staffers representing text, photo and video held key positions outside the church and at the cemetery, delivering strong coverage throughout, including a brief, impromptu on-camera interview with actor Jamie Foxx. Staffers in Los Angeles and New York monitored live feeds and drafted the story.The funeral lasted hours longer than planned, leaving those covering the event outside in the Texas heat that jumped into the 90s. But the voices, details and images captured by AP, combined with a eulogy-turned-edifying sermon from the Rev. Al Sharpton, made for a compelling narrative that was among the most used stories of the week.https://bit.ly/2NduRbvhttps://bit.ly/3efWagZhttps://bit.ly/2zITREfhttps://bit.ly/2Neswgi

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April 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Disturbing court case of virus-stricken detainee

used careful source work to get a rare interview with a migrant in detention who was stricken with COVID-19. Salomon Diego Alonzo coughed and gasped through much of the interview, and what came next was even more disturbing: Alonzo was forced to attend a crucial asylum hearing by phone, lasting two hours before the judge decided to delay the case. Alonzo was hospitalized the following day. Merchant wove a compelling story, bringing to life one hearing that exposed a callous handling of sick immigrants amid the pandemic. https://bit.ly/3bxPUAb

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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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June 14, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation: Top US cardinal accused of mishandling abuse allegations against deputy

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s five-month investigation revealed the stunning allegations: A high-ranking Catholic priest had a sexual relationship with a Houston woman for more than a year, counseled her husband on their marital problems, pressed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the couple and continued to hear her confession.

But the cardinal overseeing the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations in the United States approved the priest’s transfer to a church two hours away.

The fallout from Winfield’s revelations was swift: The priest was suspended and church officials reopened their inquiry into the handling of parishioner Laura Pontikes’ accusations.

To tell the sensitive story, Winfield – and a team that included Raleigh-based national writer/video journalist Allen Breed, New York global enterprise photographer Wong Maye-E and Houston correspondent Nomaan Merchant – meticulously planned coverage in each format, including on-camera interviews with Pontikes and her husband, and photos and video of the cardinal and the accused priest.

For an investigation that cast doubt on a top church official’s handling of a case involving startling allegations of abuse, Winfield, Breed, Wong and Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Nov. 19, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Comprehensive AP coverage of Astroworld concert tragedy

teamed up with colleagues around the country to deliver sweeping coverage of the deaths at Houston’s Astroworld music festival, reporting on spot developments while telling the stories of the 10 people killed, obtaining valuable video and photos from the crowd and piecing together a riveting account of what unfolded over 70 horrific minutes.Houston reporter Juan Lozano was on the story from the beginning, gathering harrowing details, interviewing victims and their families and talking to authorities, along with Dallas-based reporter Jamie Stengle and New York-based video journalist Robert Bumsted.Working remotely, reporters Mike Catalini and Randall Chase helped assemble vignettes on each of the dead, while Los Angeles news editor Ryan Pearson tracked down images and interviews from concertgoers with assists from reporters Acacia Coronado and Beatrice Dupuy. Kristin Hall in Nashville filed interviews and background on festival promoter Live Nation. And as the week wore on, journalists Michael Kunzelman and Bernard Condon quickly jumped in for spot coverage, focusing on calls for an outside investigation and the lawsuits starting to pile up.The team effort culminated in “70 minutes at Astroworld,” a vivid account of the unfolding tragedy expertly woven together by national writer Matt Sedensly using AP’s reporting, new and compelling narratives from attendees and videos of the concert. The story, including an interactive graphic by Francois Duckett, was among the week’s most-read and engaged stories on apnews.com, highlighting the AP’s virtual ownership of the highly competitive story.https://aplink.news/4v8https://aplink.news/taxhttps://aplink.news/z86

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July 17, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

Houston team vividly documents the grim reality playing out inside a Texas hospital

With coronavirus cases surging in Texas and other states, AP journalists David J. Phillip, John Mone and Nomaan Merchant went beyond the daily numbers to show the reality inside a small Houston hospital. In a gut-punch story that landed in newspapers and on nightly newscasts, the trio’s work included the last moments of a woman’s losing battle with the coronavirus.

But the package – Phillip’s photos, Mone’s video and Merchant’s text story – captured more than just a moment. It showed, with sensitivity, the grim realities almost certainly facing frontline workers in hospitals around the country.

Reaction to the story was massive. It was widely used in all formats by broadcast, print and online outlets in the U.S. and beyond. The video alone was the most-used U.S. story of the day – to a degree rarely seen.

For compelling, empathetic and revelatory storytelling from the frontline of the coronavirus fight, Phillip, Mone and Merchant win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Nov. 03, 2017

Best of the States

Georgia election server wiped clean – days after lawsuit against officials

Georgia's centralized and aging election system has been the subject of several controversies – most recently in June, when a whistleblower revealed that state contractors had failed to secure an important election server. Hackers could potentially have affected the results of both 2016 races and a special congressional election last June that drew national attention.

The Houston bureau’s Frank Bajak wrote up the initial news of Georgia’s server problem. But that didn't answer the larger question of whether the vulnerable server had actually been hacked, so Bajak developed new sources and kept pressing for more information.

His efforts paid off when a source provided him with an email disclosing that the troubled server had been wiped clean of all data. Even more interesting, this destruction of evidence happened just a few days after a lawsuit was filed seeking a forensic examination of the server in an effort invalidate the state's vulnerable election technology.

For his enterprise and dogged pursuit of the story behind the story, Bajak wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 19, 2020

Best of the States

AP teams deliver a deeply reported all-formats profile of George Floyd

The story of George Floyd’s death will likely endure as a pivotal moment in civil rights and police accountability, but his life – from a start in Houston public housing to his death in Minneapolis, where he hoped to start a new chapter – wasn’t lived in a spotlight. 

In a uniquely AP collaboration across states and disciplines, AP journalists turned to people who knew Floyd from his childhood through his adult years, weaving together his story in all formats, enhanced by existing video of the man. The result was a revealing, deeply reported profile, including Floyd’s brief turns as a football player, rapper and bouncer, time in prison and days spent trying to help mentor kids to avoid his mistakes. 

For persistent, collaborative and creative storytelling that goes to the heart of the tragedy that unfolded in Minneapolis, the multiformat team of Luis Andres Henao, Juan Lozano, Nomaan Merchant, Adam Geller, John Mone, David Phillip and Aaron Morrison shares this week’s Best of the States award.

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March 18, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Aggressive AP coverage as Venezuela releases 1 of 6 US oil executives

A team of AP reporters delivered two straight days of deeply reported, distinctive and aggressive coverage on the release by Venezuela of two American detainees, including one of the group of oil executives known as the Citgo 6 — an internationally competitive story.AP’s coverage depended on cross-border coordination between Goodman in Miami, Garcia Cano in Caracas and Tucker in Washington, all leaning on sources and hustling to track fast-moving developments in Venezuela. Read more

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Aug. 04, 2017

Best of the States

​ONLY ON AP: Tractor-trailer trafficking survivor says people cried for air, begged for water

Houston newsman Frank Bajak headed to San Antonio with an overriding goal: Get an interview with a survivor of the immigrant-smuggling nightmare that claimed the lives of 10 people in the suffocating heat of a nearly sealed tractor-trailer.

The challenge was daunting. Survivors had been distributed among seven hospitals in the pre-dawn hours on the Sunday they were discovered in the truck outside a Walmart, with immigration and border patrol guards standing vigil outside their rooms.

Bajak's persistent, resourceful and ultimately successful effort to a secure that exclusive interview is recognized with this week's Best of the States prize.

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Dec. 08, 2016

Best of the States

Digging in for winter at Dakota Access pipeline protest

The Associated Press has aggressively covered the Dakota Access pipeline since even before construction began on the four-state pipeline to carry oil from North Dakota. The AP tracked the approval process and then was there every step of the way as the project spawned demonstrations from Native Americans and others who set up protest camps by the pipeline’s final piece near the Missouri River, saying construction would damage cultural artifacts and that a pipeline leak could pollute tribal water supplies. In the past few months, the AP has had coverage almost every day.

While Bismarck staffer James MacPherson had covered the story cross-format with the help of colleagues, a visually-focused enterprise project was in the works for December, bringing in staff from afar to provide video and photo elements of the largest camp to accompany a piece that was to explore the protest in the context of other issues being faced by Native Americans now and into the Trump administration. On Friday, Nov. 25, the news forced us to speed up our timeline for visuals as the Army Corps of Engineers gave a Dec. 5 deadline for protesters to get off the land.

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Nov. 22, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Migrants face bleak situation in camps south of the border

for bringing new attention to a growing humanitarian crisis with a pair of powerful, complementary stories on the bleak conditions facing migrants forced to wait at the U.S.-Mexico border under Trump administration policies. Verza reported that drug cartels and gangs are profiting from the policy by robbing and extorting the migrants, while Merchant revealed the dire medical conditions at a migrant camp just feet from U.S. soil.https://bit.ly/2s0z5M8https://bit.ly/2XFDxvB

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