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AP coverage of Katrina wins news, photography awards
AP coverage of Katrina wins news, photography awards

July 27, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) – News accounts and photographs of Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast dominated awards given annually by the Associated Press Managing Editors association to AP staff.

Stories from the dozens of reporters in New Orleans and elsewhere who scrambled to report the hurricane's catastrophic aftermath were honored with the APME prize for deadline reporting. A dramatic package of Katrina images from 16 photographers was recognized with the news photography prize.

Rukmini Callimachi, assigned to New Orleans for a year to help report the recovery from Katrina's aftermath, received the Charles Rowe award for distinguished state bureau reporting for a portfolio of "sophisticated stories that break news and are beautifully written."

In other categories, Richmond, Va., newswoman Kristen Gelineau won the feature writing award for her story "Saved from the Grave," a look at how evidence saved by a reclusive forensic scientist before DNA testing existed years later managed to clear Virginia prison inmates wrongly convicted of crimes. Dirk Lammers, a newsman in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Frank Bass, AP's director of computer-assisted reporting, combined to win the enterprise reporting award for an investigation showing that only a very small percentage of thousands of Sept. 11 relief loans went to companies located in the two cities hit by the terrorist attacks – New York and Washington.

The feature photography award was won by Rodrigo Abd for gripping images of gangs in Guatemala. The John L. Dougherty award to an AP staffer with less than five years experience, three at The AP, was given to Matt Sedensky, a newsman in the Kansas City, Mo., bureau.

APME, an association of editors at 1,500 AP member newspapers in the U.S. and the Canadian Press in Canada, recognizes top performance by AP reporters, editors and photographers. This year's winners were selected during a meeting of the association's board of directors that concluded Monday in New York. The awards will be presented during the APME conference Oct. 25-28 in New Orleans.

In selecting AP's Katrina stories for the award recognizing the roll-out of a major story, the judges credited the "quick, credible, contextual coverage of an immense story."

"On the ground in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast, AP showed an amazing ability to anticipate where the news was heading ... As issues and angles developed, AP got them on the wire immediately."

In addition to the rapidly unfolding breaking news, the judges said, "AP national and international beat reporters explored the political, scientific, religious, environmental, economic and cultural aspects of the story, bringing it home to readers across the nation all in the first day after the levee break.

"This story epitomizes a news organization's efforts to anticipate and exceed the expectations of what people want and need to know."

On the photo side, the judges cited a package of images, many showing the Gulf Coast devastation and flooding from the air and on the ground.

"These photographs tell it all: iconic photographs from the front lines ... depict the faces of horror, grief and humanity; a breadth of aerial photography captures the sweep of devastation and desperation; and images that show everything from the masses crowded at the Super Dome, to a woman standing in the ruins in rural Mississippi, to the president peering out of Air Force One. This is AP at its finest," the judges said.

Callimachi, a newswoman in AP's Portland, Ore., bureau, moved to New Orleans for a year to help report the hurricane's aftermath and the region's struggle to get back on its feet. In six months she has written major insurance stories that received wide use, including one breaking the news that homeowners as far away as New York City and Cape Cod were seeing their policies canceled because insurers were limiting their exposure to catastrophes. Another "deeply reported" piece examined Katrina's lasting effect on children, the judges said.

Gelineau won the feature category for an "extremely vivid story, rich with detail, made more so impressive because her primary subject was dead," the judges said. "She artfully layered different tales of her main characters. This was a great example of natural storytelling that draws readers."

Working out of Sioux Falls, Lammers, co-winner of the enterprise reporting award, came across an odd notation about a Small Business Administration loan to a South Dakota country radio station. "Hit-Kickin Country" had received money from a 9/11 loan fund. The judges noted that was the start of a story that led to a congressional inquiry and contributed to the resignation of the SBA's administrator.

The Dougherty award is given to a staffer who has been in the news business for no more than five years and with AP for no more than three. The judges said they selected Sedensky for "a strong body of work" that included a story about Kansas pastor who practices a ministry of hate, a hoax about sextuplets and crime in New Orleans.

Abd's winning feature photographs vividly portray the life of gang members in Guatemala, including some behind bars. "Every one of these 12 photographs is powerful in its composition, its content and its intimacy. Abd clearly lived this story, capturing an almost anthropological look at nature and effects of gang culture," the judges said.

The judges also awarded honorable mentions in each of category. They are:

— Deadline reporting: AP staff in Islamabad, on the Pakistan earthquake; and Robert H. Reid, an AP correspondent-at-large, on the suicide bombing at Baghdad's Palestine hotel.

— Feature photography: David Guttenfelder, chief Asia photographer, for a package from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Korea; Charles Dharapak, Washington, for a photo of President Bush trying to open a locked door in China; and Vahid Salemi, Iran, on Iranian women paramilitary volunteers at target practice.

— News photography: David Guttenfelder, for an image of a 9-year-old amputee and his father in a Pakistan earthquake zone; and AP staff, Iraq insurgency.

— Enterprise reporting: Ted Bridis, Washington, D.C., on possible U.S. security implications of the sale of a British shipping firm to a state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates.

— Feature writing: Allen Breed, national writer in Raleigh, N.C., for a narrative on Hurricane Katrina flooding; Antonio Castaneda, newsman in Iraq, on the roiling emotions of Marine survivors of a roadside bombing; and Angie Wagner, AP Western regional writer, writing about a 75-year-old international jewel thief.

— Rowe: John O'Connor, Springfield, Ill., on corruption in hiring and contracting practices with links to the Illinois governor's office.

— Dougherty: Jonathan Drew, AP's asap staff; Benjamin Harvey, a newsman in Istanbul, Turkey.

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