Aug. 31, 2018

Best of the States

Tibbetts murder suspect lived, worked on land linked to GOP fundraiser

Within hours of the news that the man charged with killing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts was a Mexican citizen believed to be in the United States illegally, Republican leaders from President Donald Trump to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds injected the case into the political debate, blaming lax immigration policies for allowing the man into the community.

Amid such comments, Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley got a tip from two longtime Republican Party sources: The suspect lived on land partly owned by Nicole Schlinger, one of the party’s most prolific national fundraisers, the sources said.

Foley was determined to discover whether that was true. He obtained property records showing Schlinger and her husband owned the farm trailer where Rivera had lived, and her husband was president of the farm. Foley then got confirmation from Schlinger, who had avoided his questions for days.

Further, Schlinger’s fundraising client list included anti-illegal-immigration hard-liners, including Reynolds, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and even the Stop Sanctuary Cities PAC.

The story was used extensively by Iowa newspapers and was a big online hit, with hundreds of postings and 40,000 Facebook interactions.

For scooping local and national competitors on a high-interest topic even as he reported on spot developments, Ryan Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 06, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Deep reporting on a failed KKK murder plot reveals white supremacists working in Florida prison

Some stories just stick with a journalist. For AP investigative reporter Jason Dearen, a sparse 2015 announcement — three currrent or former Florida prison guards, identified by the FBI as Ku Klux Klansmen, had been arrested for plotting a former inmate’s murder — sparked a yearslong reporting effort.

Dearen’s big break came last summer when trial transcripts revealed an FBI informant was the star witness against the KKK members, his secret recordings providing a rare, detailed look at the inner workings of the klan cell and the domestic terrorism probe. Dearen and visual journalist David Goldman retraced the klansmen’s steps through Palatka, Florida, then producers Marshall Ritzel, Samantha Shotzbarger and Peter Hamlin stepped in to create a riveting online presentation.

The resulting all-formats package had immediate impact, with Florida papers featuring it on home pages and front pages, and prompting calls for investigations into white supremacy among prison workers. The story found 360,000 readers on AP News and kept them there for an average of more than five minutes — longer than any other AP story in memory.

For dogged reporting and an immersive all-formats narrative that exposes a salient, timely issue, Dearan, Goldman, Ritzel, Shotzbarger and Hamlin win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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April 14, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation uncovers brutal murder of a 16-year-old by Burkina Faso soldiers

A video in Burkina Faso showing men in military fatigues walking among the bloodied bodies of boys with their hands bound surfaced on social media in mid-February. A six-week AP project delivered a frame-by-frame analysis of the graphic, 83-second video of the killings and tracked down the relatives of one of the victims: Adama, a 16-year-old cattle herder, piecing together his final hours. A soldier smashed his head with a large rock.

Government officials denied involvement in the killings, but analysis by Global Investigative Reporter Michael Biesecker was able to show the soldiers were wearing uniforms and had vehicles consistent with members of the Burkinabe military. After West Africa Correspondent Sam Mednick got a tip, Biesecker was able to geolocate the killings to Camp Zondoma, a military base near Ouahigouya.

Mednick and her Ouagadougou translator located the teen’s family after people in the capital with ties to Ouahigouya connected them with Adama’s uncle, the first person willing to talk. The translator whose identity cannot be disclosed played a key role in getting the family to speak, despite great personal risk. Mednick persuaded the uncle to let her interview the boy’s mother, who was unaware that her son’s death had been filmed.

Visual journalist Marshall Ritzel produced a video highlighting the visual investigation and exclusive interviews with Adama’s family. An edit of the video by digital audiences producer McKinnon de Kuyper was among AP’s top social posts of the week.

For shining a spotlight on the sort of casual murder that takes place in countries around the world, Mednick, Biesecker, Ritzel, the anonymous translator in Ouagadougou and de Kuyper win this week’s first place best of the week.

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May 31, 2018

Best of the States

Mentally disabled man made false confession to murder in 1998 – now it's used against him

A mentally disabled Louisiana man walked free last week after 20 years in prison for a killing his attorneys say he didn't commit. But New Orleans reporter Janet McConnaughey questioned why his plea agreement blames him for obstructing justice.

Corey Williams was a 16-year-old who still sucked his thumb, often wet himself and had been hospitalized for extreme lead poisoning when Shreveport, Louisiana, police brought him in for questioning in 1998 about a shooting that killed a pizza deliveryman.

For hours, he said he was innocent. Finally, Williams told police he did it and wanted to go home and lie down.

Two decades later, with doubts swirling around his murder conviction and the case submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court for review, Williams accepted a plea agreement, pleading guilty to manslaughter and obstructing justice.

McConnaughey asked the district attorney's office for documentation outlining the plea deal. There it was: Williams said he’d obstructed justice by removing evidence from the crime scene and by providing “a false inculpatory statement to police." Williams’ signature was in inch-high printing, with big circles over the i’s.

McConnaughey’s story received strong use by AP customers. For pursuing the underlying details and shining a light on a deal that set Williams free – but only after putting the blame on himself for a false confession – McConnaughey wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 23, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Tim Reiterman, survivor of airstrip attack, tells story of the Jonestown mass murders

When Tim Reiterman set out to tell the story of the 40th anniversary of the Jonestown mass murders and suicides, he didn’t want to retread territory he’d covered with previous anniversary stories, or rely solely on his own harrowing experiences in the South American jungle.

Instead, Reiterman mainly focused on those he hadn’t interviewed before, including the adopted black son of the Rev. Jim Jones. He also focused on those who grew up in the Peoples Temple, or joined as teenagers. These survivors, due to happenstance or their own efforts, were all away from the Jonestown community in Guyana when Jones ordered his followers to drink flavored poison.

The order that ended 900 lives came after a California congressman, temple defectors and journalists including Reiterman were ambushed on a nearby airstrip. The Nov. 18, 1978 attack killed U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, as well as Reiterman’s photojournalist colleague at the San Francisco Examiner, and three others. Reiterman was wounded in the attack, but went on to shoot photos of the bloody aftermath and write a detailed account two days later.

Reiterman’s approach to the 40th anniversary provided an unparalleled look into the massacre through the eyes of survivors who had to go on grieving close family members and forge new lives back in the United States. It also allowed Reiterman the opportunity to explain the tragedy for readers and viewers who might only know its broad outlines, if that. The all-formats package Reiterman wrote and helped coordinate – with assistance from staffers in all formats throughout the AP – wins this week’s Best of the Week.

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Oct. 07, 2016

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Why is Chicago a murder capital? Clues from a bloody month

for combining government records requests, hard-to-get interviews and descriptive narrative writing to illustrate one month in the city’s ongoing cycle of fatal gun violence. Babwin obtained the list of 91 homicide victims in August, the city's deadliest month in two decades, and then detailed some of their personal stories against trends revealed in arrest and court records, coroner's reports and police department logs. http://dpo.st/2dyuEhE

Oct. 07, 2016

Best of the States

Why is Chicago a murder capital? Clues from a bloody month

As Chicago’s homicide rate has surged throughout the year, the police department’s tally of the previous month’s body count has taken on an air of the routine. Even as the city’s murder rate has passed new milestones, the figures have provided little more than a headline. And little insight into the causes and victims of the city’s violence.

Chicago reporter Don Babwin set out to shed light on that violence in the wake of the announcement that August was the deadliest month in the city in two decades.

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Nov. 26, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Enterprising AP coverage of Rittenhouse trial reaches far beyond the courtroom testimony

AP’s team coverage led the pack for the three-week Kyle Rittenhouse trial — including word of Rittenhouse’s full acquittal in the killing of two protesters and wounding of a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin — thanks to smart, detailed planning and deep knowledge cultivated throughout the proceedings.

The foundation of the coverage was the daily testimony, but following a blueprint laid down during earlier coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis, it was the spinoff coverage, starting weeks ahead of the trial and carrying through after the verdict, that was key. A multiformat team of journalists delivered more than a dozen AP Explainers, enterprise pieces and video debriefings that went deeper into what was happening in court — and in some cases anticipated developments in the case.

The expansive team coverage figured prominently among AP’s top stories throughout the trial. AP’s explainer on the charges against the teenager remained at the top of Google’s “Rittenhouse” search results, placement that drove some 3.5 million pageviews on AP News before and after the verdict.

For comprehensive, speedy and illuminating coverage of a trial that riveted the country, the Kyle Rittenhouse trial team earns AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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May 31, 2019

Best of the States

The one that got away: Survivor of serial killer adds emotion, depth to execution coverage

Execution coverage often focuses on the condemned inmate or the manner of death. So, faced with covering his eighth execution – a Florida serial killer – Tallahassee correspondent Brendan Farrington told the extraordinary personal story of a victim who escaped and helped police find the man after he raped her decades ago. That woman had chosen to witness the man’s execution.

Farrington doggedly tracked down the woman, now a sheriff’s deputy, who finally agreed to an interview on the eve of the execution. Her compelling story resonated with readers everywhere.

For his persistence and sensitivity in telling a personal and emotional victim’s story in what could have been a rote story on a serial killer’s execution, Farrington wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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April 09, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Tip from puzzled reader leads to 1600s pirate mystery

turned a reader’s polite complaint into an engaging mystery story of 17th century piracy. Amateur historian Jim Bailey questioned why AP had run an item on a 1796 penny found in a Maine churchyard. The coin was not significant but, he added, he had found one that was. The tip put Kole and Senne on the trail of ancient Arabian coins unearthed around New England that were traced to Henry Every, an English pirate whose crew raped, murdered and pillaged in 1695, making the captain the planet’s most-wanted man. Kole interviewed historians and archaeologists who said Bailey’s discovery — a 1693 Yemeni coin found with a metal detector in a pick-your-own fruit orchard — indeed was significant and that it provided evidence that the subject of the world’s first manhunt did not just vanish into the wind after plundering a ship carrying Muslim pilgrims home from a pilgrimage to Mecca — he and his crew may have spent time in colonial New England spending their loot. Bailey found documents showing that the way the pirates hid out was by posing as slave traders, then a “legitimate” profession in Newport, Rhode Island.Kole's story rocketed to the top of the news cycle on the day it was published, getting more clicks than any other story on apnews.com. https://bit.ly/2Ov95UV

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Dec. 11, 2020

Best of the States

True West: Enterprise reporting reveals lurid story that led to Idaho cold case arrest

An arrest in a decades-old Idaho cold case started Boise correspondent Rebecca Boone digging, aiming to tell a broader story about the victim, the suspect and the colorful — and at times shady — pro rodeo and gambling circuit. 

Forty years ago, Dan Woolley was shot in the parking lot of a small-town bar in the Idaho mountains. The shooter crossed the street to the only other bar in town, ordered a drink and declared, “I just killed a man.” Then he disappeared. But late last year an 87-year-old man was arrested in Texas for the slaying — a former pro rodeo rider.

Boone spent months building trust with Woolley’s son and other sources, talking to long-time central Idaho residents and historians. All while juggling her state coverage of breaking news, the pandemic and the 2020 election.

The result of her efforts, an engaging 1,900-word Saturday piece, was among AP’s top stories for the weekend. For an absorbing read that is a textbook example of a general assignment reporter chipping away at a challenging enterprise piece, Boone earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

In Mississippi, ‘Looking for America’ examines Black voting rights

looked at at the circumstances faced by Mississippi’s Black voters for the third installment of AP’s “Looking For America” road trip series.The highly evocative package was framed in the context of the “Mississippi Burning” murders of three civil rights activists in 1964 – and it found that too little has changed. The AP team saw the issue through the eyes of a now-elderly activist who was close to two of the murder victims more than 50 years ago. They reported that while poll taxes and tests on the state constitution may be gone, Black voters still face obstacles such as state-mandated ID laws and the disenfranchisement tens of thousands of former prisoners.The text, photos and video, with digital presentation by multimedia journalist Samantha Shotzbarger, perfectly captured the frustration that so many decades later, Black voters are still challenged by the state.The work was highlighted in a long entry in Politico’s Playbook, and attracted attention in the U.S. and internationally.https://bit.ly/31THAI1https://bit.ly/3jzaKCphttps://bit.ly/3oCX50E

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Oct. 06, 2023

Best of the Week — First Winner

Last living suspect in 1996 drive-by shooting of Tupac Shakur indicted in Las Vegas on murder charge

It was in mid-July when Las Vegas reporters Rio Yamat and Ken Ritter began working their sources, after the police raided the home of a suspect in connection with an investigation into the 1996 killing of rapper Tupac Shakur. The result months later was a super scoop on a riveting story nearly three decades in the making.

Through their deep and extensive sourcing in law enforcement and criminal justice, Yamat and Ritter sought to penetrate a grand jury case shrouded in secrecy. For months, they regularly contacted everyone who was likely involved. It all paid off when they learned they should prepare for an indictment in mid-September. From there, it was a lesson in patience and persistence.

After months where Yamat and Ritter attended court hearings and drafted prep for a potential break, Yamat began hearing rumblings an indictment was imminent. She and Ritter were able to nail down the next morning from multiple sources with firsthand knowledge that Duane “Keffe D” Davis had been taken into custody on suspicion of murder in Tupac's killing.

They broke the news at 9:27 a.m. PDT. The alert published 93 minutes before the court convened for grand jury returns when the indictment would be made public.

For dogged reporting and deep source work that allowed AP to dominate a story that’s mystified fans for decades, Yamat and Ritter are this week’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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April 23, 2021

Best of the States

Teamwork, enterprise deliver deep coverage on fatal police shooting of Chicago teen

When Chicago police released the body camera video of an officer fatally shooting a 13-year-old boy in an alley, AP staffers in Chicago and across the AP sprang into action with aggressive reporting, sharp enterprise follow-ups and thoughtful standards discussions about how to responsibly portray the gruesome incident for photo and video clients.

The end result was three days of distinctive spot and enterprise coverage on a story that resonated with audiences around the world, especially with renewed focus on police violence in the midst of the Derek Chauvin murder trial.

For comprehensive coverage providing depth, detail and context on the shooting, the all-formats team of Michael Tarm, Don Babwin, Sara Burnett, Kat Stafford, Dave Bauder, Shafkat Anowar, Robert Bumsted and Derek Karikari shares this week’s Best of the States award.

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