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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Dec. 21, 2017

Best of the States

Reporters spotlight burgeoning crisis: More kids entering foster care due to the opioid epidemic

They are the littlest victims of the opioid crisis: Tens of thousands of children forced into foster care because of a parent’s drug use. On Nov. 30, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released data from 2016 showing new foster care cases involving parents using drugs have hit the highest point in more than three decades of record-keeping.

Less than two weeks after that data was released, the AP transmitted a package of stories focused on two of the states with the biggest one-year increases: Indiana and Georgia.

The project came about thanks to an analysis begun months earlier by Washington-based data journalist Meghan Hoyer. Hoyer worked with an analyst to access exclusive county-level data on foster care entries over the past 15 years, giving the AP a unique, comprehensive and localized look at the issues surrounding children entering the system.

That data allowed New York-based national writers Matt Sedensky to focus his reporting in Indiana, where parental drug use was increasingly cited as the reason for foster care removals. Sedensky convinced the chief juvenile court judge to grant him access to courtrooms and files normally shielded from public view. He also worked to get a caseworker to let him follow her as she visited families caring for children removed from their birth parents’ custody, and spent time with adoptive families, medical professionals and others affected.

A second story, by national writer David Crary, also based in New York, zoomed in on one mother who had lost her three daughters to foster care and her battle to overcome addiction and win them back. In interviews and email exchanges over several months, mother of three Kim Silvers told wrenching details of her experience – including an interview at her joyous graduation ceremony after completing the program.

For providing moving insight into the plight of the youngest victims of the opioid crisis and the struggle of some families to break free, Hoyer, Sedensky and Crary share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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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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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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Dec. 01, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP releases mini-documentary package about the US opioid crisis

How best to capture the story of recovering opioid users?

Chicago-based medical writer Lindsey Tanner and Atlanta-based photographer/videographer David Goldman teamed up to produce an intimate look at a diverse group of people – among them, a lawyer, a businessman and a trucker – who got caught up in the worst opioid epidemic in U.S. history.

Their illuminating package – combining Tanner's powerful text and Goldman's photos with a haunting mini-documentary – earns the Beat of the Week.

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April 30, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

In all formats: Nurse battles back from COVID, lung transplant

produced a powerful and intimate narrative of one nurse’s precarious fight to survive COVID-19 — including the double lung transplant that saved her life.National writer Geller had wanted to find a health care worker recovering after being incapacitated by COVID. He started out calling hospitals around the country with lung transplant and COVID long-hauler programs, finally gettting a referral from Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which had performed the first and, by far, the most COVID lung transplants. They put him in touch with nurse Kari Wegg, who at one point before her transplant had been in a coma with little chance of recovery. Wegg got winded during their first phone conversation, a couple of weeks after she returned home, but she and her husband were open to telling their story. The AP trio would spend large parts of four days in the family’s Indiana home. The result was a riveting read with compelling visuals by Arbogast and Crawford, whose video was edited by multiformat journalist Allen Breed. The package won terrific online play, including the Chicago Tribune and Indiana news sites, with remarkably high reader engagement.https://bit.ly/3vtLoMDhttps://bit.ly/3gQXye6

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Aug. 12, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: As imperiled species recover, some pose threat to others

reported exclusively and in all formats on a little-noticed ripple effect of saving endangerd wildlife: Some formerly imperiled species such as bald eagles, gray seals and merlin falcons are harming the recovery of others in dire shape by outcompeting them for food and living space.Studying scientific papers, interviewing experts and reporting from field — where researchers were using a robotic owl — the journalists found the pattern was showing up repeatedly. It didn’t mean conservation laws and programs were flawed, biologists said, but it showed that rescuing individual species wasn’t always enough — ecosystems need protection as well.Read more

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Sept. 13, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scores series of beats on California boat fire that killed 34

for excellent source reporting and coordination that allowed AP to scoop other news outlets, often by hours, on several aspects of the aftermath of a diving boat fire, including: the recovery of 25 bodies, that the boat’s owners had preemptively sued to limit victims’ lawsuits, and that search warrants in a criminal inquiry were being served.https://bit.ly/2kB4XDPhttps://bit.ly/2kDNY3Bhttps://bit.ly/2lL2Mhihttps://bit.ly/2kE9Vjd

June 07, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals details of shooting by Oklahoma police that wounded 3 children

for dogged reporting on the physical and emotional struggles of three children wounded when police officers opened fire on their mother’s pickup truck. Authorities had largely avoided releasing information for nearly a month after the incident, but using Oklahoma open records law, and interviews with police, lawyers and the children’s mother, the team was first to reveal details of the investigation into the shooting, and the long recovery ahead for the children. https://bit.ly/2Wmwvyx

Oct. 09, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP takes readers on one man’s near-death journey with COVID

revealed in evocative text and photos the challenges of a severe COVID case and a long rehabilitation. Their compelling work was made possible by building trust and access with one Indiana man and his family. Murphy heard about Larry Brown, an Indianapolis man who finally came home after nearly 80 days in the hospital – some 50 of those days on a ventilator – and realized even local outlets had not done justice to the story.With expertise as a health writer, Murphy learned about the case and safely navigated spending time with Brown to see what his life is like now. Photojournalist Darron Cummings spent several days with the family, vividly capturing how Brown interacts with the kids, and how his hand therapy and neurology appointments work.Brown sometimes became apprehensive over the story; the AP pair earned his trust by explaining their plan and the importance of sharing his story of recovery and the long-term effects of COVID. https://bit.ly/3d6v1gOhttps://bit.ly/2FgorrM

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Jan. 01, 2021

Best of the States

AP finds hurricane-battered Louisiana residents struggling, enduring months later

Ever since Hurricane Laura hit southwest Louisiana in August, correspondent Rebecca Santana and photographer Gerald Herbert wanted to follow up with the region’s residents. But in a busy hurricane season, it wasn’t until December that plans finally came together. 

Santana researched for weeks, finding subjects and learning about recovery efforts. The pair then spent two days in the Lake Charles area where they saw the devastation firsthand and met storm victims, including a couple whose postponed wedding was finally happening. Herbert, who also shot the video for the stories, went back to Lake Charles eight times, even sleeping in a gutted house on Christmas Eve.

The result was two print stories, three video packages and a photo essay, all of which received prominent play. For uncovering the compelling stories of hurricane victims months after the storms faded from the headlines, Santana and Herbert earn AP’s Best of the States award for the week of Dec. 21.

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May 22, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Inside New York’s Latino congregations, united in grief

produced an important collection of three multiformat stories bringing to light the decimation occurring in New York’s Latino population, and especially the vibrant undocumented immigrant community that is among the most religious – but also the hardest hit segment during the pandemic.

The team first told the story of two congregations united in grief: Between them, the two churches have lost more than 100 members to the virus. They then took a poignant look at a priest who has endured the loss of his mentor, his father and congregation members. https://bit.ly/2ZksJpEhttps://bit.ly/3cW8ySQhttps://bit.ly/2LMVbZhhttps://bit.ly/3cTzenb

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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source work leads to scoop on largest US dam demolition

used strong source development to break news of plans for the largest dam demolition in U.S. history, affecting four massive hydroelectric dams along the Oregon-California border. Native American tribes that have fought for decades to remove the dams and restore vital salmon habitat. Flaccus had reported from the region earlier, but the coronavirus and coverage of Portland’s racial justice protests kept her from returning during the summer. Still, she followed developments and kept in touch with the key players. Her sourcing paid off when she learned recently that an announcement was imminent on plans to demolish the dams. Flaccus pushed for an embargo, reporting and writing the story in advance with the understanding of tribal leaders and the governors of Oregon and California that she would hold her story until the official announcement.Her deeply reported APNewsBreak moved 15 minutes before the official news release, detailing the restructured deal that will almost certainly lead to the largest dam demolition in U.S. history, a first step in what would also be the largest salmon recovery project in history — a project that would also rejuvenate area tribes.Oregon’s biggest newspaper didn’t try to match the story; they used Flaccus’ story and photos in their entirety. https://bit.ly/3qaV8to

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March 13, 2020

Best of the States

Tennessee team does double duty when tornadoes strike on Super Tuesday

When tornadoes tore through Middle Tennessee in the early-morning hours of Super Tuesday, AP’s staff deftly pivoted from preparing for the state’s primary to covering a natural disaster. 

From first light on Tuesday and throughout the day, Nashville and Memphis staffers delivered compelling all-formats coverage of the devastation that left at least 24 dead statewide. The team also connected the disaster to the primary, monitoring the impact on voting.

Strong aftermath coverage followed, including a presidential visit on Friday and well-received pieces on recovery efforts and a worship service at a damaged church. With out-of-state staffers and the entire South Desk contributing to the coverage, the sustained effort showed the AP at its best.

For proving nimble, responsive and collaborative coverage on a major breaking news story under chaotic conditions, the multiformat Tennessee team of Travis Loller, Kristin Hall, Kimberlee Kruesi, Mark Humphrey, Jonathan Mattise, Adrian Sainz and Teresa Walker shares this week’s Best of the States award. 

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Sept. 30, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Families, advocates want more say in $40B opioid settlements

teamed up to tally total opioid settlements in the U.S., then used the onset of that spending to anchor a story around families and others seeking a voice in how the money is used.State government reporter Mulvihill worked with data reporter Harjai to arrive at total settlements — proposed and finalized — of more than $40 billion so far, breaking it down by state. Mulvihill and Ohio reporter Hendrickson then sensitively interviewed advocates and affected loved ones on the front lines of loss, delivering a forward-looking story on how the settlement money might be spent and who gets a say in those decisions.Read more

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