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BEAT OF THE WEEK 2-13-15
It was one of the most closely held secrets in publishing. Not even Harper Lee’s longtime editor knew about it. In fact, just a few people did - but one of them was AP national writer Hillel Italie.
Thanks to years of meticulous reporting and source building, Italie had been tipped off that Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” one of the 20th century’s most beloved novels, had long ago written another book, and it would be published in July. Italie’s exclusive, one of the biggest literary scoops in memory, is the Beat of the Week.
For decades, Harper Lee had lived quietly in Monroeville, Alabama, deflecting media inquiries and, when pressed, denying any intention of writing or publishing again. Italie, who has covered book publishing for the AP for nearly 20 years, was not convinced; in the course of his regular conversations with her publishers at Harper, he would often ask about Harper Lee. That’s how he broke the story that she would permit "Mockingbird" to come out as an e-book in 2014, despite her stated preference for paper.
Last week, his interest paid off when a source at Harper tipped him off to the stunning news of the plan to publish "Go Set a Watchman," essentially a sequel to "Mockingbird," although it was finished earlier. The publisher was planning to announce the news the next day, but the AP would have an exclusive head start on the story.
Italie told only his editors. Preparing his story, he included details that were not in the publisher’s press release: The book’s length (304 pages), the editing process (it would be published as is, without editing) and the fact that it would be published both in print and as an e-book.
When the news broke - a NewsNow, and a tweet from the AP - the impact was overwhelming. The story was immediately shared thousands of times on social media as other news organizations hurried to catch up. Harper, on its website, linked to Italie’s story. He talked to public radio, and the interview was replayed throughout the day.
The interest was unimaginably huge for a literary story - but then, this was not just any book, or just any author. Birmingham newsman Jay Reeves drove to Monroeville, shot photos and video and talked with folks there about the news of the town’s most famous citizen. The next day, he followed up with a story about questions raised by some of Lee’s neighbors as to whether she was able to make informed decisions about her work. In another piece, he focused on the role of Tonja Carter, Lee’s lawyer, who had discovered the “Watchman” manuscript. http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/books/290830751.html
Lee’s fellow Alabamian and author, Rick Bragg, told the website al.com: “Last year, I did probably more than 80 book events of one kind or another. At no point, not over a rubber-chicken banquet or in a bar or in a chance meeting at an airport, did I ever hear anyone say anything about a new Harper Lee book. I'm just flabbergasted."
BEAT OF THE WEEK 1-28-15
Late last week, bowing to privacy concerns, the Obama administration reversed itself and scaled back the release of consumers' personal information from the government's health insurance website, HealthCare.gov, to private companies with a commercial interest in the data.
Why did this happen? It was the direct result of a story by AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Jack Gillum, reporting that the website - used by millions of Americans to sign up for insurance coverage - was quietly sending consumers' personal data to companies that specialize in advertising and analyzing Internet data for performance and marketing. Their disclosure is this week’s Beat of the Week.
This classic piece of accountability journalism stemmed from a phone interview Alonso-Zaldivar, AP’s ace national health care reporter, conducted with the CEO of a web performance monitoring firm. Alonso-Zaldivar asked the CEO to assess HealthCare.gov and compare how it was working to the disastrous rollout a year earlier. The assessment was positive, and at the end of the interview, the reporter asked the CEO if he had anything else he'd like to share. The CEO said he was surprised by the large number of outside parties that were present in the website's background, and felt it was a privacy worry.
“What’s all this doing here?” the CEO asked.
Alonso-Zaldivar knew this was something to check into and took the tip to tech sleuth Gillum and his editor, Ted Bridis, who agreed the situation merited a closer look. Gillum produced a list of 50 outside parties that were on the site. Alonso-Zaldivar sought a response from the Department of Health and Human Services. Spokesman Aaron Albright initially tried to say that there was no story. Two “very frustrating” background interviews followed, and Albright sent a prepared statement.
The reporters weren’t finished. Gillum went back to work and found the tracking URLs that were sending personal information such as age, income, ZIP code, tobacco use and pregnancy to outside parties. Meanwhile, Alonso-Zaldivar interviewed former White House chief information officer Theresa Payton, who had run her own analysis of HealthCare.gov and come up with similar results to what AP found. She said the website was taking a security risk.
The same day, Gillum shared his new information with the administration, and got no response. He emailed last Saturday to say that the story would run Tuesday morning. Albright waited until Monday evening, Martin Luther King day, to respond via another statement that did not even acknowledge the tracking URLs that Gillum had found and sent.
The story ran as planned on Tuesday: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2015/01/20/health-overhaul-privacy/22035873/
Soon afterward, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Charles Grassley, chairmen of the Finance and Judiciary committees, respectively, wrote the administration seeking an explanation. Subsequently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation ran its own analysis and validated Gillum’s findings (https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/01/healthcare.gov-sends-personal-data).
The New York Times Op Talk blog cited AP, and Alonso-Zaldivar and Gillum by name, in describing the find. NBC, CBS and Fox used the story, along with newspaper websites from Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit to Spokane, Santa Fe, Houston, Salt Lake City and Philadelphia. US News blogged about the story.
Three days after the story ran, the government reversed itself - in a development also reported first by Gillum and Alonso-Zaldivar.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 1-14-15
Beats in text, photos and video distinguished AP's coverage of the Paris terror attacks. Amid all this exemplary work, one scoop stood out: an exclusive interview by European investigative correspondent Raphael Satter. It provided the story behind the chilling images in a video of the gunmen methodically shooting a wounded police officer to death on the pavement outside the Charlie Hebdo office.
From the beginning of the galloping, three-day story, staffers sprang into action. Based on reporting by Lori Hinnant, Angela Charlton and others in the Paris bureau, AP was first to report 11 dead in the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the satirical newspaper – then, three minutes later, first to report in English the final tally of 12, and with a named source. Later, after authorities cornered the brother attackers in a village outside Paris, AP's Samuel Petrequin was first to quote a named source confirming their deaths. (Among several major reporting contributions from elsewhere was the first confirmation that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed to have directed the Paris attack; Cairo’s Sarah El Deeb and Maggie Michael quoted an AQAP member in Yemen on Jan. 10, four days before the group issued an official claim of responsibility.)
AP photos told the story in unique ways, too – from the Thibault Camus' iconic photos from day 1 showing a Charlie Hebdo victim being wheeled to an ambulance and then showing a street crowd holding placards spelling out "NOT AFRAID" in pinpoint lights, to Michel Euler’s image of a man carrying a child to safety after the kosher grocery store siege. These and other photos were used prominently around the world.
Video from AP also dominated. AP Direct delivered nearly 36 hours of live coverage, including exclusive video of police convoys chasing the Hebdo suspects down a motorway after they broke cover from a forest. The BBC described them as: “extraordinary live pictures broadcast around the world.” In all, Teletrax data shows that 1,360 channels used AP video an extraordinary 115,700 times over the three days of the crisis. One edit alone was used 7,290 times – more than 10 times the average for a major story.
But it was one singularly riveting, horrifying video that led to Satter's remarkable beat.
It showed the scene as the Charlie Hebdo gunmen headed toward their getaway car and confronted a wounded policeman, hands raised, on the sidewalk. As he called out, he was coldly shot in the head at close range.
That video was made by a nearby resident named Jordi Mir, who posted it on Facebook, then removed it just 15 minutes later and disappeared from social media; he left a message signing away his rights and imploring the news media to "think of the victims." Once the AP had verified the authenticity it ran an edited version, citing fair use, as did others. But for the AP that wasn't enough.
Satter, who's based in London, sought explicit permission to use the video on all platforms. "We wanted to be standing on firm ground legally," he said. And he wanted to get behind the images. "Every iconic photo has a dramatic backstory – whether it's the flag at Iwo Jima or the mystery of the Tiananmen tank man. That holds for amateur video, too. At the very least, the author's account helps frame a piece of media."
First, Satter left repeated messages for Mir via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to ask for permission. When that didn't work, he pulled the Internet registry records, which gave a version of Mir's email. When they finally connected, Mir told Satter, "All the world's media are broadcasting my video ... without having asked me anything."
He eventually gave the AP explicit permission to use the video, so long as the officer's death was cut – something already done, in keeping with AP standards.
But Satter sensed Mir had more to say. Though lasting only 42 seconds, the video's images were so shocking that they had themselves become a story, especially after the death scene was published on the front page of a French magazine, drawing the condemnation of the French government and sparking the wrath of the victim's family.
Satter met Mir at a bar, and over a beer they talked, first just about family and other subjects. "I let him bring up the footage, and when he did I had him sketch out a map of what he'd seen," Satter said. "I started taking notes as he told me the story."
Mir explained that he regretted sharing the video, saying he posted it to Facebook in a moment of weakness. Alone in his flat, "I was completely panicked," he said. He apologized to the family of the policeman, 42-year-old Ahmed Merabet.
Thinking he was witnessing a bank robbery, he had assumed the men in black with guns were SWAT team members going to help a stricken comrade. "And – horror – they’re not," he said.
The story was widely used internationally and in the French press, and it launched a debate over whether it was right to share the footage. A blog post on medium.com titled "Respecting the eyewitness" details Satter's "fascinating interview," pointedly noting that others did not seek Mir out for permission or comment.
In fact, some other outlets briefly and wrongly credited a 17-year-old YouTube user as the source of the video. It was one of several reporting errors that AP avoided, including retracted reports by others that two suspects were captured on the night of the Charlie Hebdo attack and, later, that a shooter was on the loose in Disneyland Paris.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 1-7-15
In 2006, two years after a massive tsunami washed away hundreds of thousands of lives across Asia, Jerry Harmer covered the opening of a cemetery in Phang Nga province, southern Thailand, a resting place for hundreds of unclaimed victims. Walking amid the headstones, he wondered: Who were these people? What were their stories? Did their families even know they were there?
Every year on the Dec. 26 anniversary of the disaster, he was reminded of this sad patch of sunbaked earth. And when the 10th anniversary approached, he resolved to find the answers to his questions. It would not be easy, but the Bangkok-based video editor was determined. The extraordinary result: an all-formats package that brought a measure of closure to two families and touched the hearts of people around the world. It is the Beat of the Week. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6jnLESXgLg&feature=youtu.be
Harmer’s first step was to contact the Thai police; they proved remarkably forthcoming with their records of all the victims. Harmer and video journalist Papitchaya Boonngok went through hundreds of pages of documents and narrowed their search to those whose data seemed to offer the best chance of a trace – victims with a full name or a portion of an address, victims with a phone number attached to their documents or the name of a relative.
Most proved dead-ends. Phone numbers either didn’t ring or had long since been reassigned; addresses were too vague. Contact names on data sheets led to people who had employed them on a casual basis at the time of the tsunami but now could remember a nickname at most.
But two victims stood out. Both had full names recorded and one even had a full address.
But the address proved a problem. The victim, a young woman called May Aye Nwe, apparently came from a village in Myanmar’s Karen State called Saint Pie. The name looked odd, and staffers in the Yangon bureau said it had to be wrong. Harmer guessed that the transliteration was incorrect. Then he noticed a piece of information tucked away in the data: The information had come from a Myanmar ID card that was found on the victim’s body. Papitchaya got a color photocopy of the card from the police and Harmer sent a scan to Yangon, where correspondent Aye Aye Win determined that Saint Pie was actually Seint Paing, a village near the Karen State capital Hpa-an.
A few days later Yangon photographer Khin Maung Win set off on the long trek to Seint Paing, which has no phone service, to find May Aye Nwe’s family and verify the story. As Harmer had suspected, her mother, Aye Pu, never knew her daughter’s body had been found, let alone that it had been in a Thai grave for years. But that wasn’t all – Khin Maung Win also found the friend who had been with May Aye Nwe on the small boat when the tsunami struck as they made their way to Thailand to start a new life.
A full AP team went to Seint Paing to record interviews with Aye Pu and with the friend, Khin Htway Yee, who recalled how she pushed May Aye Nwe away – to her death – as they struggled in the churning water. She had no choice: Her friend was dragging her down by her hair.
As the AP team left, Aye Pu thanked them again and again for bringing her news that had upended her world.
The other victim identified in police records was Bhesraj Dhaurali. An Internet search showed the name was Nepalese but a check of Nepalese databases drew a blank. Harmer even cold-called two or three Dhauralis in Kathmandu asking, as diplomatically as possible, whether they had a relative who died in the 2004 tsunami. Still nothing. Then he played a hunch. Many Nepalese in Thailand are involved in the bespoke clothing business. Perhaps Bhesraj had been, too. A search of Nepalese tailors in the Phuket area led him to the president of the Thai-Nepalese Association, himself a tailor. He promised to help, and put out the word to his many members. Within 24 hours they had found Dhaurali’s 20-year-old daughter, who had never been told her father’s body was in the cemetery.
At the end of November, with his daughter and 19-year-old son present, Bhesraj’s body was exhumed and cremated with Hindu and Buddhist rites. Harmer and Papitchaya shot photos and video, and the tale of the doomed tailor was part of the text story written by Jocelyn Gecker.
The story and video drew tears around the globe; in comments, email and even phone calls, people asked if they could contribute to bring May Aye Nwe’s body home. “That was the best part of this story,” says Harmer. “Knowing it had touched people’s hearts and helped bring the beginnings of peace to families who have lived with sorrow and grief for 10 years. “
BEAT OF THE WEEK 12-18-14
Sydney photographer Rob Griffith was surrounded and outnumbered by competitors outside the Australian cafe where a gunman had taken 17 people hostage. Yet it was his photograph of a hostage running to freedom, her face twisted in anguish, that became the iconic image of the standoff around the world. The making of that image is a classic story of professionalism, preparation and instinct. The photo led online news sites and international broadcast reports and dominated front pages from The Washington Post to every major newspaper in London. It also wins the Beat of the Week.
Griffith was on a train commuting into work that morning when he saw a news ticker on his iPad about the standoff and, soon after, got a call from Sydney bureau chief Kristen Gelineau. Armed with a full camera kit – including a 200-400mm zoom lens – he headed directly for the Lindt Chocolat Cafe and became one of the first journalists on the scene.
By 9:45 a.m., he was set up and ready to shoot from a position some 130 yards from the establishment – more than the length of a football field away.
For seven hours Griffith stayed put, filing scene setters over his iPad and keeping his eyes peeled for any action or sign that the siege might be nearing an end. The crowd grew so thick that moving was out of the question, even for bathroom breaks. So Griffith sought help from the Sydney technology and office managers, who delivered water and backup camera batteries.
Suddenly, at 4:58 p.m., a female hostage wearing a Lindt apron burst out of a side door and ran into the arms of an officer, grasping his arm with both her hands and sobbing as she was whisked to safety. Griffith began snapping and didn’t stop – in case she stumbled or something else happened – capturing some 35 frames of her alone. Almost immediately, a second woman – another cafe worker – scrambled out the door.
In 12 seconds they were gone, and Griffith was transmitting to the Tokyo photo desk – all the while still holding his camera in case another hostage ran free. He also phoned in a description of the scene to Gelineau so she could quickly update the text story.
Griffith knew from the minute he saw it which photo was “the one” – of that first hostage clinging to the officer and crying. Apart from the expression on her face, there was something in the way she latched onto the officer that communicated the terror of the situation more than any words could. http://bit.ly/1BPYUsm
The photo seen around the world was just one of almost 50 that Griffith filed in the 19 hours he stayed on scene. Even after a freelancer came to relieve him, Griffith remained, wanting to see the story through to the end.
“It was an endurance test to be out there, and not to miss the moment,” said AP’s deputy director of photography, Denis Paquin.
The beat came not only because of perseverance, but because Griffith was prepared with the right lens and had that lens pre-focused on the cafe door so that his shots of the hostage were clear as day from the moment she began running. Competitors filed similar images without the clarity, which made all the difference.
Eight months after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, the world's eyes were turned away. But AP's Laura Mills and John-Thor Dahlburg wanted another look to learn what had happened under the new pro-Russia leadership.
In a story that reads like a cross between a detective novel and an evidence-packed legal brief, they reported the answer: a grab of up to 4,000 companies, factories and plots of land _ even an Orthodox cathedral has become a target – orchestrated by the Moscow-backed government and often carried out by armed men with suspect documentation or none at all. Their shocking, all-formats investigation wins the Beat of the Week.
Mills, based in Moscow, and Dahlburg, AP's Brussels news editor (who previously worked for 7 years in Moscow for AP and the LA Times), meticulously tracked down example after example of assets taken over by Crimea's new leaders under a so-called nationalization law, against the rules of Russia's own constitution. They interviewed victims who lost millions in assets and whose efforts to get justice or compensation have been thwarted. Property was taken from independent news media, the Crimean Tatar ethnic minority and the pro-Kiev branch of the Orthodox Church, among others.
The story was the first to report the large-scale property grab and to link it in numerous cases to the leadership of the new Crimean prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov.
"One must understand that in Crimea, in essence, a gangster regime has been established under the protection of Moscow," Russian opposition leader Sergei Mitrokhim told AP. "Former criminals have come to power, and have started to carve up the property."
Mills and Dahlburg sought documentation – legal filings, copies of the transfer orders, property documents, and the like. They also talked to dozens of people to make the story not just thoroughly documented but highly readable.
"We're left with ruins," said the acting president of privately-owned Black Sea Television and Radio Station, whose cameras and other equipment were seized and office trashed and closed.
"Who am I supposed to sue?" said a lawyer for a 34,600-acre farm in eastern Crimea, which was seized. Mysterious men in camouflage now guard it.
The Orthodox Church has seen 11 of 18 functioning parishes shut, and its crown jewel in Crimea, the Cathedral of Saints VladimIr and Olga, faces closure _ its annual rent has been raised from a symbolic 1 Ukrainian hryvnia, about 7 U.S. cents, to the equivalent of $38,700.
How did AP gather all of these details? Old-fashioned source reporting, but also a clear plan, as the two reporters explained: "Our goal was to document, document, document," producing not just allegations but "the most solid and objective proof possible of what was happening."
Dahlburg, who had been in Crimea in March reporting on the referendum to secede from Ukraine, began wondering three months ago what was happening there now that pro-Russians were firmly in control. His "pre-reporting" interviews from Brussels with Crimean exiles, academics and others quickly revealed "a large-scale property heist going on while the outside world wasn't looking." He followed up with on-the-ground reporting in Ukraine.
Mills spent nine days there, crisscrossing the peninsula to meet sources, to gather documents and in some cases to show up unannounced at seized properties for a firsthand look and for comments.
At one site, she says, a man in camouflage who was "milling around" waved her off, refusing to speak. Walking away, she was soon followed down a street by a Humvee-like vehicle with three men in it. "We ducked into a little grocery store in the local village and waited there for half an hour until the men had left," she says.
The all-format package – including the work of Alexander Roslaykov, a video journalist for the Moscow bureau, and photos by Alexander Zemlianichenko – went everywhere and topped AP Mobile.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 12-4-2014
A scoop tells readers something they didn’t know. AP’s Karl Ritter went further and broke news so exclusive that even experts in the field were surprised. His story disclosed how $1 billion in climate-change financing under a U.N.-led program was being used to build coal-fired power plants in Indonesia.
The story broke as key players in the climate change community were gathering for a summit in Peru, and they reacted with surprise and concern. Coal, after all, is a major source of carbon pollution.
Even U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres acknowledged she was unaware that Japan was building coal plants with climate money, until she saw AP’s story. “There is no argument for that,” she told Ritter. "Unabated coal has no room in the future energy system."
Ritter, the AP’s bureau chief in Stockholm, started with a simple goal. “I wanted to investigate where climate finance money was going because there didn’t seem to be any accountability in the UN system,” he says.
He began by turning to a non-governmental organization that tries to keep track of the scores of channels of climate finance, which is money flowing from rich to poor countries as a way to tackle global warming. Searching the group’s database, he found that Japan had provided funding for the biggest projects so far.
Turning next to the U.N. climate secretariat, he located an annex listing Japanese climate finance projects reported to the UN in 2010-2012. That’s where he spotted the “thermal” power plants in Indonesia.
When he realized they were coal-fired power plants, he thought there must be some mistake. He went back to the NGO and asked if they had any idea how coal plants could get on the list. They, too, thought there must be a mistake: “That can’t be right,” the NGO representative said.
“That’s when I realized we had a story,” Ritter says. “If even NGOs dedicated to tracking climate finance didn’t know about these plants, how would anyone else?”
He started researching the plants in question and found reports from Indonesia saying villagers near the Cirebon plant had protested, in vain, plans to build it.
Margie Mason in Jakarta then led a cross-format team that went to Cirebon in September. Villagers told her that since the plant was built in 2012 their catches of crab, mussels and shrimp had dwindled. Plant officials denied any environmental problems, though they acknowledged there may have been some inconvenience to local fishermen.
Next, Ritter needed Japan’s response. How did officials there justify counting Cirebon and two other plants in Indonesia as climate finance at a time when other developed countries were restricting public money for such projects, precisely because of their high emissions?
Yuri Kageyama and Ken Moritsugu pressed reluctant Japanese officials for comment. In the week before the climate conference in Lima, Moritsugu secured interviews with Japanese officials who not only defended the plants but said Japan will keep counting such projects as climate finance in the UN climate negotiations.
The story played prominently on abcnews.com, MSN News and Huffington Post, among others.
Newsweek did its own piece on AP’s scoop. http://www.newsweek.com/oopsie-1-billion-un-funds-fight-climate-change-built-coal-power-plants-instead-288497
The scoop rippled through the U.N. climate talks. Environmental groups at the talks demanded that the Green Climate Fund exclude coal. Climate activists staged a protest against Japan’s coal funding at the conference venue. And the U.N. climate secretariat called a news conference to showcase its efforts to improve the rules governing climate finance.
“We need to define what is climate finance and what is not,” said Seyni Nafo on the U.N. climate agency's Standing Committee on Finance.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 11-20-14
Each week, it seems there's a new report of a cyberattack on retailers, insurers and financial institutions. But San Francisco-based National Writer Martha Mendoza set out to answer this question: How effectively is the federal government responding to cyberthreats?
Her meticulous analysis helped show how federal employees and contractors often unwittingly undermine the government's efforts to safeguard sensitive information. Months of digging into data, gaining entry to a federal cybersecurity monitoring center and even interviewing a notorious hacker produced an eye-opening package of stories that win this week’s Beat of the Week.
Mendoza filed detailed FOIAs with more than a dozen agencies. Once-secret documents provided rich examples of how attackers easily find their way inside government computers: an Education department analyst clicks on what appears to be an email from human resources, a Homeland Security officer leaves his phone in a cab, a Pentagon staffer opens an infected Serena Williams video.
While the FOIA quest ran its course, Mendoza interviewed former hackers and cybersecurity experts at the Black Hat hacking convention in Las Vegas and began digging into obscure government budgets and reports. She wrangled rare peeks inside classified government cybersecurity centers only after promising not to disclose their precise locations in Washington Beltway office parks.
The AP’s were “the first images of the inside of this place to go public,” a public affairs officer told her.
And she found victims. Distraught and frustrated, Robert Curtis - himself a former government cybersecurity expert – said that after his data was stolen through a Defense Department contractor, criminals had tried to get cash, loans, credit, emergency funds, even establish businesses in his name. His credit union once transferred $32,500 out of his account (he got it back). He and his wife have changed their telephones, their Internet service, they’ve rented P.O. boxes, frozen bank and credit accounts and sent untold registered letters.
After weeks of snail mail and email correspondence, Mendoza was granted an interview with a federal prisoner once considered the nation’s top cybercriminal. The warden allowed her in with a pen and notebook but no recorder or camera, citing security concerns. Toward the end of two hours, Jeremy Hammond was starting to sweat and look really nervous. Mendoza asked if he was OK. “I’ve really got to piss,” he said. The guards told him he was not allowed to use the restroom until the interview was over. Trying to hurry it up for him, she asked how he thinks the FBI got into his own computer.
“My password was really weak.”
What was his password?
“The name of my cat,” he said, looking down at his hands. “It was Chewy. Chewy 123.”
That delicious detail from Mendoza’s story – the great hacker had created a password using his pet and the numbers 1,2,3! – was cited in more than a dozen separate blogs, including Slate and ArsTechnica, and was tweeted in French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Thai and more.
Responding to repeated queries, the Department of Homeland Security defined for Mendoza what types of reported cyberincidents could be categorized as human error. Using those definitions she did her own statistical analysis _ meticulously backchecked by editor Raghu Vadarevu – to show more than half of reported federal breaches are due to human mistakes.
This relentless detail helped her story garner dozens of front pages and sparked a flurry of disbelief. Two U.S. senators asked her work to support a bill to require the government to promptly report breaches.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 11-13-14
The outline of the story began to emerge a few months ago as Esther Htusan reported in western Myanmar: State security forces were extorting minority Rohingya Muslims even as they forced them out of the country. But there wasn’t enough evidence to publish.
Then, Bangkok bureau chief Todd Pitman requested an interview with a human rights activist ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to the Asian nation formerly called Burma. Over lunch, the activist revealed some details from a forthcoming report that corroborated Htusan’s reporting and went even further. There was only one problem: The report was not even finished, and when it was complete, it would be embargoed for use by all media at the same time, essentially rendering Htusan’s information moot.
Undeterred, Pitman went to work, negotiating until he got AP early access to the report. Combined with Htusan’s reporting, this led to a story showing Myanmar security forces’ complicity and profiteering in the Rohingya exodus was far more widespread and organized than previously thought. Pitman and Htusan’s exclusive is the Beat of the Week.
The plight of the Muslim minority Rohingya is well known. In one of the largest Asian boat exoduses since the Vietnam War, more than 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s western shores since Buddhist-Muslim violence erupted in Rakhine state two years ago. Often the refugees travel directly into the hands of waiting transnational criminal networks.
Since being hired a year ago, Htusan has been key to AP reporting on the persecution. Independent newsgathering in Myanmar is tough, and it’s even more difficult in the Rohingya part of Rakhine state, which is so isolated there is not even cell phone coverage. Journalists are routinely followed by secret police. After AP Myanmar correspondent Robin McDowell visited the northern town of Maungdaw in 2013, the government essentially banned foreign journalists from going there because they found McDowell’s reporting too critical.
As a Myanmar citizen and non-foreigner, Htusan can visit regions that McDowell and others cannot. About two months ago, Htusan went to Rakhine state to report on how and why the Rohingya are leaving. Accompanied by a local cameraman, Htusan stayed for four days with a Rohingya family she knew from a previous trip. The AP journalists, possibly seen as visiting relatives, attracted no attention from authorities, even though a small police post was just 10 yards away.
Htusan found people eager to talk, but afraid, so interviews were conducted inside homes. They kept doors and windows closed. Htusan found individual examples of Myanmar authorities colluding in the forced exodus and taking money from refugees, but nothing connecting that to a widespread problem.
The reporting stayed in Htusan’s notebook until Pitman’s lunch with the human rights activist, a source he had cultivated with periodic meetings over meals or coffee. As Pitman heard descriptions of the situation — Myanmar naval boats were escorting refugees out to sea, and the police, army and navy were extracting payments along the way — he knew it was a strong, previously unreported story.
Pitman asked his source for permission to publish a story as soon as possible, and he made sure to mention the reach of AP around the world. After checking with his organization’s board, the activist said no: They didn’t want to annoy other journalists or show favoritism. The embargo stood.
But after cajoling an advance copy of the report and studying it, Pitman again proposed publishing something early, suggesting various timing options – and again stressing AP’s broad distribution and potential impact. This time, the answer came back yes.
Pitman spoke with McDowell, who pointed out the crucial fact that that Htusan’s reporting could independently corroborate the report. Pitman and Htusan’s resulting story was unmatched by any competitor until the next day. http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/ap-exclusive-myanmar-aiding-rohingya-trafficking-26726296
BEAT OF THE WEEK 11-6-14
"We looked at each other and we both thought wow."
And no wonder: What Pyongyang bureau chief Eric Talmadge and photographer Maye-E Wong spotted on the airport tarmac in the North Korean capital was, as he put it, "a very unusual sight:" a large passenger jet, painted blue and white in a pattern like Air Force One, with an American flag emblazoned on its tail.
The AP journalists had just gotten off a flight when their shuttle bus to the terminal swung past the incongruous U.S. government plane. The United States and North Korea, of course, don't have diplomatic relations. So what was up?
"It must have something to do with the detainees," Talmadge thought.
He adds: "Maye-E immediately started shooting."
In no time, they relayed their tip and photos to regional editors in Bangkok and then on to the Washington bureau. There, Matthew Pennington and Lara Jakes worked sources to break news of North Korea's release of long-held American detainee Jeffrey Fowle, and of the U.S. government plane dispatched to pick him up. It is this week's Beat of the Week.
AP's solo position as a Western news organization in Pyongyang paid off (as it did on another story, about a road trip through normally off-limits parts of North Korea); and credit also goes to smooth cross-continent cooperation – not to mention a bit of on-the-fly technical problem solving.
Wong, whose professional camera was briefly inaccessible on the crowded shuttle, explains:
"I had to use my point-and-shoot to capture the image as the bus drove farther away. When we got back to our hotel I then had to figure out a way to get that image to my iPhone from my computer so that I could transmit it from the phone which had the only form of data (very limited) that we had at that time.” The screen-grab-type effort reached Asia photo editor Charlie Dharapak, backing up an email Talmadge had sent about the mysterious plane sighting.
When Wong's photo reached Pennington and Jakes, along with an explanatory note from Asia assistant editor Vijay Joshi, they rushed to their sources.
Pennington got no reply when he emailed a State Department official who handles North Korea issues, and so he headed to a Brookings Institution seminar where he knew another department envoy was to speak.
Buttonholing him in the street outside, Pennington showed him the tarmac photo, "and he smiled and said off-the-record that it looked like a U.S. government plane, and he noted that you could even see the flag. I asked him if it was about the three American detainees, and he wouldn't say."
Instead, he directed Pennington to a State Department spokesperson.
As it turned out, Jakes, who covers national security, was simultaneously in touch with that official.
Jakes worked with the spokesperson, who suggested that confirmation of the tightly held news would come once the plane had landed somewhere safe. Awaiting confirmation, she and Pennington continued to contact other sources, but Jakes stayed in close touch with the spokesperson, at one point chasing her down a hallway to ask when the information would be coming.
By this time, some other news organizations had determined that something was going on and were besieging the spokesperson to find out what.
What was happening turned out to be the release of Fowle, who had been held by North Korea for about six months for allegedly leaving a Bible in a public place in violation of the law. Two other Americans remain in detention.
At last, Jakes says, "I was privately and quietly called into her office, where she handed me the official statement and told me I needed to get it out fast if we were going to have it exclusively. I literally ran back down the hall to my desk."
The alert moved just as the daily White House briefing was starting, buzzing the phones of journalists in the briefing room who then demanded comment on the fly from press secretary Josh Earnest. http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2014/oct/21/us-1-american-released-north-korea/
BEAT OF THE WEEK 10-30-14
That there are Nazi war criminals still living free in this world is a source of astonishment. That they are receiving Social Security checks – now THAT’S a story.
A team of AP reporters stretched around the world to get that story. They discovered that dozens of war crimes suspects were paid, or are still being paid, millions of dollars in benefits even after they were forced to leave the country. Justice Department officials used the promise of monthly checks as a carrot to persuade hard-to-eject Nazi suspects to leave the U.S. And 15 years after Congress tried to close the loophole that made this possible, at least four Nazis are still collecting.
The story made front-page headlines in more than 60 newspapers, screamed across social media, and is the Beat of the Week. http://news.yahoo.com/expelled-nazis-paid-millions-social-security-052318266.html
It all began in 2011, when New York-based investigative researcher Randy Herschaft found newly declassified documents at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland – a 1984 State Department critical analysis of the program, which was run by the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations. Through a source, Herschaft obtained other, previously unseen memos on the program; using these materials, he began to craft document requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Social Security Administration would reject numerous FOIA requests (they remain under appeal), but it did release a document that showed 28 suspected Nazis had received $1.5 million overseas as of 1999.
How many took the deal after that date? The SSA wouldn’t say. Herschaft and Berlin correspondent David Rising were determined to find out.
A subsequent FOIA request yielded a list of seven suspects who had left the country and whose termination of benefits date matched their date of death. To find the others, Rising and Herschaft vetted every suspect removed from the country by OSI to see if there were any telltale signs like “left voluntarily” or “departed before deportation proceedings,” indicating that they may have fallen through the loophole. They confirmed that three others had run and taken the money.
But were any of them alive? Through a contact at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rising located Jakob Denzinger, a former guard at Auschwitz who had lived the good life in Akron, Ohio, before leaving the country in 1989. Twenty five years later, at age 90, he still receives about $1,500 a month from America’s public pension system. Rising interviewed and Darko Bandic photographed him in Croatia. Bandic also took the video, which was edited and voiced by David Bruns in Washington.
International investigative reporter Richard Lardner guided the Washington reporting, pored through National Archives records of legal efforts to get rid of Nazi suspects, filed FOIAs and interviewed Thomas Denzinger, Jakob’s son, who confirmed that his father received the payments. Lardner, Herschaft and Rising conducted scores of other interviews, including other relatives of suspected Nazis; lawyers familiar with Nazi deportation cases; ex-State employees; former U.S. diplomats in Ukraine and Portugal; Holocaust survivors, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the New York Democrat who is trying to close the Nazi loophole.
The story was a sensation. For a time, it was the top trending topic on Facebook. Rising was interviewed by the BBC World Service and CBS Radio; Lardner appeared on Al-Jazeera. Politico called it the “scoop du jour.” The Tampa Times, the Atlantic and New York Daily News editorialized (“No SSNs for the SS,” opined the News). And the World Jewish Congress, which had lobbied to keep the loophole as a way of ridding the United States of ex-Nazis, announced that it now supported closing it.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 10-23-2014
As Thomas Eric Duncan slipped toward death last week at a Dallas hospital, AP scrambled to uncover what happened during the Ebola-infected man's first ER visit and why he was discharged so quickly, putting untold others at risk. Few answers were coming from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital or from government officials, who all cited patient privacy.
There was, however, a real-time account that could answer these crucial questions and more, accurately and fully: Duncan's medical records.
These documents logged by doctors and nurses would run to some 1,450 pages – and AP Fort Worth correspondent Emily Schmall managed to obtain them all. Detailing every step and misstep of Duncan's treatment, they were a window into a terrifying medical mystery, a coup of reporting.
In the end, AP’s exclusive and widely used stories based on these records relied on the seamless efforts of an ad hoc team, notably including Shawn Chen, Central region interactive editor, who, as he put it, "played traffic cop" in getting the mountains of documents into an accessible electronic form and distributed to other reporters to comb through and take notes.
Still, the key in the lock was Schmall's gaining access to the records – three thick stacks, held together with rubber bands. How did she do it?
Schmall has been deeply involved in Ebola coverage. In fact, she shared Beat of the Week recognition last week for her part in reporting in Texas and Liberia that produced many scoops. Back-to-back honors in the contest are rare: The last consecutive wins came in February 2013.
Schmall's backstory is also relevant. "I worked in 2011 from Monrovia, Liberia, as the country director of the NGO New Narratives, a journalism mentorship program," Schmall notes. She mentioned this Liberia connection again and again during interviews about Duncan, who came to Texas from that West African nation at the center of the Ebola outbreak. It helped her gain access to the Liberian community around Dallas, and helped build trust with Duncan's family when they arrived from North Carolina.
"In particular, I developed a rapport with Duncan's nephew, Josephus Weeks, in reminiscing about nightclubs and restaurants in Monrovia," she says. "I got his number and stayed in close touch with him, sometimes just sending a text with the question, `How are things going?'"
It was in one of those followups that he mentioned requesting his uncle's medical records.
A day later, last Wednesday, Duncan was dead. Distraught and angry, his family members soon left to return his grieving mother to North Carolina. The reams of medical records went with them.
Schmall reached Weeks by phone as he drove, and after conveying her sympathies she made a request that Texas editor Maud Beelman had approved: If the family would agree to let AP see the records, Schmall would meet them in North Carolina. The family had no objection. Schmall caught a Thursday morning flight from Dallas.
But how to process the blizzard of records? Many quickly pitched in. Holbrook Mohr, on loan from the investigative team, researched the best model of multisheet document scanner, and Charlotte's Skip Foreman coordinated its purchase and delivery to Schmall at the Charlotte airport.
AP techs got her computer set up with the scanner software, and from Chicago, Chen talked Schmall through testing before she headed to the family's home in Kannapolis, North Carolina.
Duncan's sister escorted Schmall to the kitchen table where for the next six hours she scanned the records in batches and sent them on to Chen, using her phone as an Internet hotspot. All the while, she conversed with tearful relatives and at one point shared Liberian pepper soup.
The documents went to a Dropbox account where Chen quality-checked them, migrated them into the secure APDocs system for access by designated AP reporters around the country, and "played traffic cop for any questions or messages that the reporters had."
By Friday morning, a story under the bylines of Schmall, Mohr and Dallas newsman Nomaan Merchant told the world that not only had the hospital missed information that Duncan had come from Africa, but his fever had spiked to 103 (noted with an exclamation point in one chart) before the hospital discharged him.
The AP remains the only news organization to have the medical records, forcing others to run our story or quote heavily from it. Front-page play spanned from Tacoma to Norfolk, Cleveland to Memphis, and across Texas.
Schmall recorded an exclusive audio interview with Weeks, who said he believed race had played a role in his uncle's care; the family declined requests to go on camera. A followup narrative of Duncan's last days, by Schmall, Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard and National Writer Allen Breed (who also shot photos), got wide play. Other stories, too, have flowed from the records' data.
And for Schmall, all of that was just part of a busy weekend – which also included the wedding of one of her dearest friends. She was due in Washington on Friday but made it on Saturday, ahead of the ceremony. Again, credit smart planning. Before grabbing her spur-of-the-moment North Carolina flight, she "shoved my dress for the wedding and a pair of heels into my carry-on luggage" – along with notebooks full of Ebola reporting.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 10-16-14
Tuesday, Oct. 7, was an ordinary day in Texas until the jarring news from Unit 614 of The Vickery Meadow apartments. Ebola had arrived in the United States, via an infected traveler from Liberia who was staying at that apartment.
AP Texas reporters Emily Schmall and Nomaan Merchant immediately went to work.
At the same time, in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, a multi-format AP reporting team – armed with protective suits, rubber boots, gloves, goggles and, as photojournalist Jerome Delay would write, “enough chlorine to sanitize a 50,000-liter swimming pool” – was on the ground covering the virus that has infected more than 8,000 people across West Africa, killing more than 3,800.
Over the next week, Delay, West Africa correspondent Krista Larson and West Africa senior video producer Andy Drake, along with Schmall and Merchant, would bring the story of the spread of Ebola to the world as no other news organization could.
Their coverage – major scoops and exclusive reporting that went beyond the breaking news to document the epidemic’s scope through the voices, faces and ravaged souls of those affected _ wins this week’s Beat of the Week.
Dallas became ground zero in the U.S. battle against Ebola on Sept. 30, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the case at a local hospital. Within minutes, Schmall and Merchant became AP’s lead on-the-ground reporters.
Merchant, whose mother is a nurse, rushed to the hospital. Schmall, who previously lived in Liberia, persuaded the president of a Liberian association in Dallas to let her tag along as he met with community members. For hours that first night, Schmall sat in the man’s living room as he spoke by phone with others. The next morning, sources slipped her the name of the victim _ Thomas Eric Duncan – giving the AP a jump on identifying and speaking with other relatives.
Merchant scoured Duncan’s Facebook site and connected with a half-brother, who put him in touch with Duncan’s sister – leading to one of the biggest “gets” of the week. Besides confirming his name, she revealed that he had notified health care workers the first time he went to the hospital that he was visiting from Liberia. Still, he was given antibiotics and sent home, potentially endangering others. The information Merchant got contradicted what the hospital had been saying. Duncan has since died.
In Liberia, the AP team had been on the ground for five days, reporting spot enterprise pieces, when they got word of the U.S. diagnosis. They quickly shifted gears and headed to the neighborhood where Duncan was from, telling the story of the widespread suffering in just that one pocket of Africa, the scale of which had not yet been reported.
Over the next days – with their own health at risk – the three documented the anguish of loved ones waiting for word on their relatives, the bravery of first responders and the decimation of infected neighborhoods where survivors are too afraid to care for the orphans left behind.
Telling the story meant speaking with and photographing people who might be carrying the virus, and employing extreme safety protocols. Though they had full protective gear, the journalists soon realized that the only people on the ground donning such equipment were the burial teams, which have come under attack from frustrated citizens. To stay safe without attracting undue attention or hostility, they took other precautions instead.
A typical day involved filling spray bottles with a mixture of bleach and water, packing up enough hand sanitizer for the team and heading off in their car. Any time the three got out in a risky area, they could not touch anything or anyone – not even accepting a hand to cross a drainage ditch or a makeshift bridge of sand bags through floodwaters. Before they got back into the car, the three had to decontaminate their shoes and wash their hands and other items in the bleach and water mixture.
They took their temperatures several times daily, avoided taxis and stayed mindful of the many dead bodies not yet collected – including one just outside their hotel.
Establishing a rapport with sources without being able to shake their hands or sit down in their homes was challenging. The journalists instead worked to convey empathy and emotion through their words and facial expressions. Larson’s main source in Duncan’s neighborhood was a 15-year-old girl. When asked if anyone else in the neighborhood was sick, she told Larson her mother had died that morning. Her father was gone. There was no one to care for her. And, no one could hug her.
Drake filed a package a day. Larson produced three spot features and a larger enterprise piece about an orphan family. She and Delay also wrote gripping first-person accounts. Delay's photography brought home to a global audience the tragedy of those having to cope with the outbreak, especially the children. His images were heartbreaking. A girl being marched away to an ambulance, children praying in school and a young girl crying after learning of the death of her mother.
Still today, Larson, Delay and Drake must take their temperatures twice daily and will do so for 21 days. Drake was unable to return home to Morocco because of new travel restrictions, nor could Larson return to Senegal. While Drake holes up in London, Delay and Larson are in Paris, monitoring their health daily.
BEAT OF THE WEEK – 10-8-14
When Rome correspondent Frances D’Emilio sat down with the mafia clan matriarch and her son, she was in a world where journalists are the enemy. Yet D’Emilio obtained an exclusive invitation inside the fortress-like home of one of Italy’s most notorious crime families. The resulting story, about a new program to forcibly exile mafia scions into rehabilitation, wins this
Riccardo, true to the traditions of the 'ndrangheta, a criminal clan in which men betray nothing, including their own emotions, spoke sparingly. The mother, Antonia Spano’, declined to be quoted, or even mentioned by name, even though she did most of the talking for the family.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 10-2-14
Vatican appointments are kept under very tight wraps, to say the least, with only a few people notified ahead of time. Revealing the secret is considered a major break in church protocol. And so for a reporter to break such a story is a very big deal indeed. Maybe that’s why reporters at a national religion conference went racing to their rooms, trying to match just such a story – one that had just been reported by AP’s own Rachel Zoll.
Zoll had just arrived in Atlanta and was heading to the religion conference. From the subway, she called the archdiocese communications office, but they wouldn't talk. So, she called the person who had been her main source over several months on the status of the selection process.
``Is this the announcement?'' she asked.
The source was at first reluctant to give Zoll the name of the appointee, but said the pope's choice would be a surprise to all who had been handicapping the selection process. The source had promised not to disclose anything more. But hearing the word ``surprise,'' Zoll guessed that it was Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash. Zoll had kept hearing church watchers mention Cupich, but only to discount him as a long-shot. The source confirmed she was right, and after some back and forth, agreed to be quoted, but only anonymously.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 9-25-14
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi got one of the biggest sports scoops in memory. And he got it the old-fashioned way – working a source, pressing for more information, checking and double-checking to make sure he had it right.
Already pilloried for what was perceived to be insensitivity to domestic abuse, NFL officials – and in particular, commissioner Roger Goodell – were accused of lying about when they knew exactly what had transpired when Ray punched out Janay Palmer in February.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 9-10-2014
It was 9:22 on a weeknight and AP airlines writer Scott Mayerowitz was at home when the tweet came in:
Back on Aug. 25, Mayerowitz was checking with sources when one tipped him off to a fight between two passengers on a United Airlines Newark-to-Denver flight, which symbolized just how fed up Americans have become with flying. One passenger used a $21.95 device called the Knee Defender to prevent a woman seated ahead of him from reclining. A flight attendant demanded he remove it, he refused, the female passenger splashed him with soda, and the pilots diverted to Chicago, kicking both passengers off.
With the ID nailed down, Mayerowitz sent his story – accompanied by a radio piece, since he got Beach's OK to record their interview. Again, play was amazing in print, on broadcast and online. It drew 2,000 comments on Yahoo along with hundreds of tweets and Facebook likes on The Big Story alone
Mayerowitz joined the AP in 2011 after working as a statehouse reporter for the Providence Journal and travel editor at ABC News. He combines those experiences in a text book study of how to own a beat.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 9-4-2014
For years, AP Television producer Isolda Morillo has been monitoring the Chinese government’s efforts to close down the Beijing Independent Film Festival, an important and rare outlet for freedom of expression in a tightly controlled nation.
This year, under the new government of Xi Jinping, threats to the organizers were much harsher. The day before the festival was to open, the government announced that it had been cancelled. Morillo and camerawoman Helene Franchineau went anyway. The scenes of repression and censorship they captured, while facing intimidation and threats, have earned
When Morillo and Franchineau arrived at the venue, they were the only members of the media present. They saw uniformed officers and civilians wearing plain clothes controlling the scene. They recognized the civilians as “thugs” – ruffians employed so that police would not be blamed for any repression or violence.
Despite all the chaos, Franchineau’s images of the fighting, the police and the general mayhem were impeccable in quality. Combined with the sit-down interviews previously secured by Morillo, they now had material for a strong, exclusive multi-format piece.
The video was used in its entirety on BBC World, and by broadcasters across the globe:
BEAT OF THE WEEK 8-27-2014
For weeks, embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had been struggling to stay in power for a third four-year term, while opponents were trying to push him out, accusing him of monopolizing power and pursuing a fiercely pro-Shiite agenda. The United States, the United Nations and a broad array of political factions in Iraq had signaled backing for his rival, Haider
“My son,” he recalled, “kept asking me, ‘Have you done?’ and I kept replying, ‘Almost, give me another minute!’"
BEAT OF THE WEEK – 8-14-2014
It could be the makings of a James Bond movie: secure phones and encrypted emails used by AP reporters trying to penetrate a government program whose operatives were themselves using secret codes and trade craft. "I have a headache" really meant "They are watching me." And "Your sister is ill" translated to "Time to get out."
BEAT OF THE WEEK – 8-8-2014
When Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 went down, major news organizations across the world rushed out profiles of the victims. Amid all of these who-were-they stories, how did Kristen Gelineau's narrative strike so deep, touching so many hearts, prompting so many reader tears and accolades? A typical tweet urged, "EVERYONE needs to read this!" But why, exactly?
BEAT OF THE WEEK 7-24-2014
It was late Sunday afternoon and a brief cease-fire had silenced a raging battle in the Gaza neighborhood of Shijaiyah. Dozens of Palestinians were dead, hundreds wounded and thousands fleeing. In a matter of minutes, the battle would resume.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 7-17-2014
Often, beats come in a rush – finding sources fast, racing to file. But in telling the extraordinary, yet disturbingly ordinary story of one homeless woman in a very iconic place, National Writer Martha Mendoza and photographer Marcio Sanchez relied upon a very different reportorial skill: patience. The result is this week’s Beat of the Week.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 7-2-2014
When Nigeria Bureau Chief Michelle Faul found Maimuna Abdullahi, she was sharing a cramped room with her cousin's family. They took her in when she fled her husband. Maimuna was a girl forced to wed but now divorced – a child still, just 14 years old.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 6-18-2014
Most everybody was surprised by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s resounding loss in last week’s Virginia primary.
But caught off-guard? Not AP.
David Pace, AP’s director of race calling, and David Wilkison, director of major accounts and the state’s race caller that evening, were well-prepared and remained cool under pressure.
They called the race -- sending shockwaves across America’s political establishment -- barely an hour after polls had closed and at least 10 minutes before AP’s closest competitors. AP was widely credited by local and national news organizations as others scrambled to catch up.
Here was a case study in the workings of the AP race calling service, which on a big election night operates at a large scale across fifty states. Its careful, fact-based, independent structure is respected and valued across the industry for exactly moments like this.
Pace and Wilkison knew that Cantor faced a genuine challenge: He’d been booed by conservatives at a recent local party gathering; he’d faced questions – and gone on the attack – about his immigration stance.
But there were no reliable independent polls, and Cantor’s own polling showed him safe. No one seriously predicted that Cantor, one of the savviest politicians in America, could lose to political novice Dave Brat.
Suffice it to say, Pace, in Washington, and Wilkison, in Richmond, could not believe their eyes as the results started coming in. Cantor was trailing badly right from the start. Pace called Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee at about 7:25 p.m., giving her a heads-up.
"It’s too early to know for sure,” he said, "but Cantor is trailing badly – we need to prep for a possible upset.”
In Richmond, newsman Alan Suderman was already preparing an alert, bulletin and writethru for a potential upset. Newsman Michael Felberbaum headed immediately to Brat’s gathering, getting there by 7:30 p.m., and AP’s Steve Szkotak to Cantor’s.
New political editor David Scott, still in Chicago, mobilized other resources.
Pace and AP’s team of race callers prepare relentlessly for each election season, doing in-depth training on statistics, the vote count and political histories of various states. AP’s vote count operation, led by Don Rehill, is an invaluable part of that effort.
Because the seat had been safe for Cantor for so long, Pace and Wilkison wanted to make sure that they weren’t seeing anomalous results from just one part of the district, which might then be swept away later in the night if Cantor showed strength elsewhere. As results came in, Pace turned to the AP elections research department’s breakdown of the districts’ voting patterns from 2012 – and also worked with the vote count group to triple check that the results were accurate and clean.
Seeing no errors, and no way for Cantor to make up Brat’s significant lead, Pace and Wilkison called the race at 8:02 p.m., giving AP a huge advantage on one of the biggest political stories this year.
The impact was electric. Fox broke into a talk show. CNN had to scramble a political analyst by phone to get something on-air.
The early knowledge that Cantor was losing allowed AP text, photo and video reporters to get in place for Cantor's concession speech, which most news organizations missed. Steve Helber’s photo of the concession speech grabbed the front pages of the Washington Post, NYT and USA Today. AP also was with Brat in all formats.
BEAT OF THE WEEK – 6-11-2014
When news broke that the Taliban had released Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five prisoners held by the United States, the revelation unleashed far more questions than answers. Among them: Might Bergdahl face punishment for the circumstances of his disappearance from his post? How did the negotiations for his release go down? And what was the real reason that the Obama administration decided to go forward with the swap, without informing Congress?
Again and again, the AP got the answers – thanks to the indefatigable trio of Lita Baldor, Deb Riechmann and Ken Dilanian in Washington.
Baldor had the first beat, when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey called her to say that Bergdahl’s conduct might be investigated, and that the officer could face charges. He also said that Bergdahl’s pending promotion to staff sergeant was not automatic.
Dempsey did not call Baldor by chance. She had been cultivating him as a source for some time, agreeing to travel with him on official trips that might not have generated headlines but did allow her to spend time with the military’s top officer. She also convinced him that AP could be relied upon to tell stories fairly and accurately.
The White House’s treatment of Bergdahl as a returning hero rankled some in the ranks, given the doubts about how he left his post. Dempsey wanted to quell the unrest, so he called Baldor, who was traveling in Europe with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
When the alert moved, Baldor emailed her editor from the plane: "All the other reporters are swearing at me.” They would be left with a far blander quote on the general’s Facebook page, and Baldor’s story would sweep the play.
Riechmann, meanwhile, was searching for someone who could speak authoritatively about how the negotiations for Bergdahl’s release transpired. She called a staffer she knew in the State Department’s Afghanistan-Pakistan office, and told him that she had been making calls all day. She lamented that while she had a lot of information, she felt she was still an arm’s length away from learning how things actually happened. She shared some of the wildest pieces of information she’d collected. Wouldn’t it be better to write what really happened, rather than to repeat misinformation from people who tried to sound like they knew what they were talking about?
Privately, she was betting that a negotiator, still on a high from the talks, would want to tell his story. The staffer called back. He might be able to get one of the negotiators to talk to her, but he was just back from Doha and was still jet-lagged. He asked if Riechmann would mind if he arranged a conference call because other reporters had asked, too. No dice, said Riechmann. This was her story; she had been writing pieces about Bergdahl for the past few months, and had been covering the story for years. A conference call would allow her only one or two questions. Not good enough.
Still, Riechmann was almost resigned to a group call when the staffer called back again and said she could talk, alone, with one of the State Department negotiators who had been in Doha for 11 days, working the deal until the last minute when Bergdahl walked free. He provided extraordinary detail about the talks – how U.S. negotiators were holed up in one room, Taliban negotiators in another, with Qatari intermediaries running back and forth. No other news organization matched her story until week’s end.
Then there was Dilanian, in his third week of work at the AP, setting out Wednesday morning to find out what U.S. officials had said when they briefed senators and their top aides the night before. He made a round of calls to sources, focusing on a claim by authorities that they had to act fast without informing Congress because of Bergdahl’s declining health, an assertion that seemed more questionable by the day.
Key sources told Dilanian that the briefers offered a new reason for their haste and secretiveness: Intelligence indicating the Taliban would kill Bergdahl if the talks fell through, or even leaked.
Suddenly, some of the cryptic statements Hagel and others had made about threats to his safety made sense. Obama administration officials wouldn’t confirm, but they didn’t wave the AP off. A defense official told Baldor there was no direct or overt threat. After the story moved, the NSC put out a statement essentially confirming it, though it would not go on the record about the details.
Maine Sen. Angus King, though, confirmed the story, telling Dilanian that "only the AP” got the story right.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 6-4-2014
There is no bigger story in the nation's most populous state than the drought that has ravaged California farms and cities, prompting severe cuts in water deliveries to many customers and fears of price increases in food produced in the Golden State’s vast and thirsty agricultural lands.
But, it turns out, nearly 4,000 companies, farms and others have unmonitored access to this precious resource and are under no obligation to conserve.
That revelation alone is big news. More stunning: State regulators had no idea how many such users there were in California – or how much water they actually had been diverting – until The Associated Press obtained and analyzed a database of these so-called "senior water rights holders."
The AP revealed for the first time the inner-workings of an antiquated system based on self-reported, incomplete records riddled with errors and years out of date. The story wins this week’s Beat of the Week.
The idea was triggered by an aside AP environmental reporter Jason Dearen heard at a news conference.
Officials were trumpeting their aggressive drought response by imposing 100 percent cuts in water the state sends to many farms and cities. Some of that loss is made up by alternative supplies or water purchases.
But one official noted senior rights holders would not face any cuts. Dearen asked a water agency source how many such rights holders there were and how much water they used. The answer: We don't know.
After weeks of negotiation with state officials, Dearen received a database containing details about these large water users. He and reporter Garance Burke, a member of the newly expanded National Investigative Team, joined with San Francisco data journalist Serdar Tumgoren to begin parsing the numbers – going back and forth with officials until they finally obtained a 2010 dataset that captured usage reports from all 4,000 rights holders.
The reporters soon unearthed some obvious accounting errors. For example, the state's top water user supposedly was a man with only a small weekend farm with a few cattle. Checking further, the reporters contacted all 25 of the state's top users and found serious errors in the usage figures of eight. They confirmed the correct figures with the users, found out how they obtained their century-old rights and asked them how they used the water.
The research provided grist for the main story's findings, a sidebar profiling a half-dozen rights holders and a table of the top 25 water users, comparing usage figures reported by the state and the actual figures AP found. An all-formats AP team traveled to far-flung corners of the state to chronicle the people and places that continue to have unmonitored supplies: city officials from San Francisco at a hydropower station near Yosemite, rice farmers in the Central Valley, the manager of a retirement community and the owner of a produce farm whose family endured the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II.
The print story http://tinyurl.com/l63v37b was enhanced by a spectacular photo essay by photographer Jae Hong, a 2½-minute video story by VJ Haven Daley and a "Read Me" assembled by West Interactive Editor Dan Kempton with tables of The Top 25 reported water users and breakdowns of the types of entities that hold the water rights. (Video: http://wapo.st/1rej4KS. Read Me: http://bit.ly/1k0ZLRB) Data provided to members aided in localization, as well.
The story was among Google News' Top 10 U.S. stories. The video was the second-most-downloaded piece of the week. And, of course, it was a sensation in California, landing on at least 19 front pages there.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 5-29-2014
Any time the pope makes a trip, but especially to a place like the Holy Land, journalists swarm to cover each moment and reflect every papal move in a stream of words and images.
In such an intensely competitive setting, it's hard to imagine how anyone can produce significant coverage that truly stands alone.
Yet Tel Aviv-based photographer Ariel Schalit did just that with a shot from the biblical town of Bethlehem – one that elicited glowing descriptions even from some competitors.
"It is an image that will define Pope Francis's first official visit to the Holy Land," The Guardian pronounced.
"An image which may still be making the rounds years from now," the Wall Street Journal's Middle East Real Time blog agreed.
They were describing Schalit's exclusive of Pope Francis stopping his motorcade to say a prayer at Israel's West Bank separation barrier, with its graffiti messages including "Free Palestine."
Schalit and his Jerusalem bureau colleagues explained how the remarkable photo came to be.
"These events are quick-paced and highly scripted, with literally dozens of pre-planned stops. Access is often limited, and with so many journalists on the ground, competition is fierce," noted Jerusalem news editor Joe Federman.
In planning coverage, he said his first concern was to make sure every stop on the schedule was covered. "After that, we look for ways to be distinctive... The odds of getting something truly exclusive like this are pretty slim. It requires detailed planning, a little bit of luck and lots of skill."
Planning photography for the papal visit was the responsibility of Dusan Vranic, the bureau's photo editor. In Bethlehem, he checked out the pope's expected route and decided to assign one free roaming photographer and three shooters in the square where Francis would celebrate Mass.
But then Vranic picked up rumors that the pope might stop at the separation barrier that the route would pass. The wall engulfs Bethlehem on three sides.
"We decided to bring in Ariel as a second street shooter," Vranic said. "We had to have that frame of the wall" – if Francis did indeed stop there.
Hours before the pope's arrival, Schalit got himself into place near the barrier.
"I waited there with some local children and Palestinian police and security guards," he said, acknowledging he was doubtful that Francis would stop. When he did, Schalit, who had covered the two previous popes' Holy Land trips, relied on his experience.
"I just pushed my way to get close to him, as he walked to the wall," he said. "As I saw the graffiti I positioned myself behind him so I can place him in the context of where he is – in Bethlehem, Palestine and a wall."
Schalit's lens caught Francis' face as he touched his hand to the barrier, as he closed his eyes in silent prayer, as he seemed to read the spray-painted protest phrases.
Afterward, many would interpret the moment captured in Schalit's gallery of photos.
Palestinians praised the pope's gesture while Israeli officials argued that the barrier had been built to thwart terrorist attacks. A Vatican spokesman said Francis was merely "against the barriers in the world and in our hearts."
Other photojournalists, meanwhile, weren't interpreting – but instead were trying desperately to come up with a match.
"They were sent scrambling to find people with iPhones who took photos. They were in a panic mode," recalled Vranic, who was on a roof with other photographers and videographers.
"I hate to brag, but I will anyway. AFP had eight people in Bethlehem that day. Been thinking since Sunday if we were smart or the rest were just dumb...," he said. "But I'll take the result."
Some handout photos taken by the pope's official photographer, "the only guy around with a real camera," were distributed hours later, he said. Even then, they were not as well shot and lacked a very significant detail found in Schalit's images: Graffiti easily readable in Arabic calling for a free Palestine.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 5-29-2014
2007, when Brazil was chosen to host the 2014 World Cup, and in 2009, when it
was awarded the 2016 Summer Olympics, the country’s leaders promised great
venues and fine games: "We are going to show the world we can be a great country,”
said President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Five years later, as the football championships approach, the AP’s staff in Brazil has taken a central role in putting those promises to the test. Three times in one week, the AP broke stories revealing serious concerns about Brazil’s preparation for its time on the world stage.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 5-8-2014
Pentagon reporter Lolita Baldor noticed something interesting in, of all places, a women’s bathroom at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan: posters on the wall advertising a sexual-assault prevention hotline and giving someone to contact in case of assault.
Baldor, who was traveling with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, said that the posters made her wonder: Were similar posters up in the men’s bathrooms? "Most people consider this a ‘women’s crime’ -- but it’s clearly not,” she says. "Men are just too often embarrassed to report it.”
Baldor had broken the news in December that the number of reported sexual assaults in the military increased by 50 percent last year. That reporting relied on information she obtained from two longtime sources and the gathering up of preliminary data piece by piece.
After her return from her February trip to Afghanistan, Baldor knew the final, full fiscal year numbers would be coming out soon from the Pentagon. A source tipped her that the military was beginning to plan the roll-out for its report, so she started asking around. In part because of her accurate reporting earlier, senior Pentagon officials agreed to speak to her and be quoted a day before the report’s formal release – and ahead of the defense secretary’s own announcement -- something that is extremely rare.
Baldor’s May 1 story (http://goo.gl/54FMgu) ran a full cycle before other news organization. It reported not only the final data confirming her original scoop, but spotlighted that the Pentagon is concerned about the small number of men willing to report being victims of sexual assault.
As the story showed, only about 14 percent of the reports of abuse involved male victims, a lower fraction than what anonymous surveys would suggest. That, Baldor noted, opens a new front in the military's effort to fix the sex-abuse problem in the ranks, illustrating the need to encourage more men to come forward.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 5-8-2014
The letter arrived on the desk of AP's Brett Barrouquere in Louisville, mailed by a murderer on death row at the Kentucky State Penitentiary. Its news tip: Inside the prison, an inmate named James Embry had committed suicide after he'd "had issues with getting medical treatment."
"I was definitely curious," says Barrouquere. Over the next five weeks, his dogged reporting -- from further contacts with inmate sources to exhaustive open records demands and interviews with officials -- nailed down the almost incredible story that Embry, a 57-year-old mentally ill inmate, went on hunger strike and was allowed to starve himself to death while in state custody (http://goo.gl/5WkF4T).
No one else had the story for a simple reason. As Barrouquere notes, "Nobody else talks with these guys."
He, on the other hand, has corresponded regularly with inmates for a decade or so, concerning pastoral visits, lethal injection, prison food, medical and other issues. While alert for self-serving claims, he adds, "I've worked hard (and spent more on postage than I care to calculate) to make myself known among the prison population and be known as a reporter who will treat them with respect and fairly."
After the late February tip, he reached some lawyer sources who were aware that something was going on with a prison doctor, but they had no details about the inmate. Prison mail is slow, but inmates Barrouquere contacted eventually told him more: The doctor might have been fired, and they provided the first, shocking tip about possible starvation. (The initial letter wrongly said that Embry, who was serving a nine-year drug-related sentence, had hanged himself.)
Next, Barrouquere asked the coroner for the autopsy report and death certificate, which confirmed the suicide starvation part of the story. He requested the personnel file for the doctor involved with the inmate and any other records related to the death, which turned up "a treasure trove," including a damning Department of Corrections internal report on the death and even a photo of Embry.
Now it was the prison system's turn to be curious – about how Barrouquere had found out so much before it had finished its own investigation.
The story traced a tragic timeline. The mentally ill inmate had stopped taking anti-anxiety medication, then asked to resume it but was turned down by the medical staff. Last December, after weeks of erratic behavior including banging his head on his cell door, he began refusing meals. "I don't have any hope," he told a prison psychologist. By the time of his death in January, he had lost more than 30 pounds; the 6-foot-tall prisoner weighed just 138 pounds.
The internal investigation said medical personnel failed to give Embry drugs that could have kept his suicidal thoughts at bay and failed to monitor him as his health obviously declined.
Reaction to Barrouquere's exclusive was swift and strong.
In Kentucky, newspapers ran it on front pages or section fronts and followed with editorials expressing outrage about Embry's callous treatment. "His death, detailed this week by Brett Barrouquere with The Associated Press, should shock the conscience of Kentucky," said the Courier-Journal, demanding state action. Investigative hearings in the Legislature were announced, along with a criminal review by the state attorney general's office. Broadcasters produced followup stories; one station interviewed the AP reporter.
Online, the story drew top billing and a flood of furious comment on websites from ABCNews and Gawker to Salon and Mother Jones, which said incredulously: "It's 2014." More than once, noted Barrouquere's editor, Joe Danborn, commenters quoted novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky's famous observation, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."
AP's Paula Froke received this note from MSN News: "Ky. inmate story ... has been kicking ass all afternoon _ our top performer by far."
A quieter response came the next day, when Barrouquere received a phone call at the office.
He had ended his story with mournful understatement: "Embry, a heating and air conditioning repairman by trade, had no family or friends visit him at the prison, and no one claimed his remains. He is buried in a potter's field near the penitentiary."
Now on the phone was Embry's estranged stepdaughter, who had learned of his death through AP's story. Tearfully, she said the family would make arrangements for a proper burial.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 5-2-2014
Youkyung Lee was nervous when she arrived in Mokpo, South Korea, to interview survivors of the sinking of the ferry Sewol. The Seoul-based technology writer knew that the environment would be hostile -- distraught families had turned their anger and frustrations on the media.
Lee went to the hospital where a dozen survivors were being treated. It was late in the evening; checking room numbers, she went looking for eyewitnesses to interview.
In one room, Lee found a woman sitting on a bed, her eyes welled up with tears. Politely, unassumingly, she explained that she was a reporter for The Associated Press. Did she have family on the ferry? Yes, her husband was on board. Might she speak with him? Yes, if her husband was willing.
The woman left the hospital. Lee followed, and was introduced to the husband, Oh Yong-seok. The family was going to dinner; Lee asked to interview him while their food was being prepared.
It was only then that Lee learned that Oh was a member of the ferry’s crew -- and that he was on the bridge and with the captain as the catastrophe unfolded. The family invited Lee to join them for the meal, and they ate as Oh recounted the frenzied last moments of the Sewol.
The story that resulted was the first eyewitness account of what happened on the bridge. It was cited repeatedly by others in the days that followed, and newspapers from around the world asked the AP for Oh’s contact information.
Lee was not the only AP staffer who successfully negotiated the difficult conditions. Seoul-based reporter Hyung-jin Kim was one of the first reporters to visit a school in Ansan, where hundreds of students who were on a school trip on the ferry are missing or feared dead.
Amid much hostility – as he worked, shoving matches broke out between other reporters and family members – Kim managed a series of emotional, powerful and exclusive interviews with family members of the missing and dead students, their friends and neighbors.
He spoke to a grandmother who anguished about how her handsome, strapping grandson couldn’t get off alive; with a vendor who remembered joking with missing students when they came to eat chicken, but now described the neighborhood as like a funeral home; with a single mother who remembered her son telling her he wanted to become a doctor because she’d had heart surgery.
Hyung-jin got details from inside the school, reporting on empty classrooms with desks cluttered with textbooks, gym clothes and water bottles and painfully poignant messages written on blackboards, expressing hope for the survival of classmates.
Meanwhile, Kim interviewed others, including the survivor of a group of 60-year-old grade-school classmates who had taken a ferry trip as a sort of reunion. And in a series of early morning encounters, she talked again with Oh, the surviving crew member who trusted her with his story.
"I knew he was tired of talking to reporters about the evacuation and how he survived so I asked him other questions ... then he opened up about how he felt sad that all the crew members are being treated like criminals even as some of them remained until the ship sank to help rescue,” she says.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 4-23-2014
A picture can be worth a thousand words, but Brussels News Editor John-Thor Dahlburg had just one word in mind when he exclusively obtained six satellite images showing military hardware and units amassed near the Ukraine-Russian border: Proof.
Following a key meeting of NATO foreign ministers earlier this month, Dahlburg began pursuing an interview with the alliance's supreme commander in Europe, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, to learn more about Russia's latest moves in and around Ukraine and the alliance's response.
But he also requested something no other journalist had thought to seek: tangible proof of the alliance's accusations that the Kremlin had positioned thousands of troops along or near the Ukrainian border that could be mobilized within hours for invasion.
After submitting an email request to NATO military headquarters in southern Belgium – known by the acronym SHAPE – Dahlburg followed up with a telephone call and a tenacious challenge: "Give us something we can show the world that makes your case." An officer said they'd look into the request but made no promises. Besides, the officer said, any pictures released to the media would have to be vetted by intelligence officers, not often the most generous of sources when it comes to providing information.
A slew of emails and phone calls later – some of which came as Dahlburg biked through the countryside around Brussels on his days off -- a date was fixed for an interview with Breedlove in Paris. Last Wednesday afternoon, at a luxury hotel near the Paris Opera, Dahlburg arrived with Jamey Keaten, newsman, Paris, who specializes in security issues; photographer Remy de la Mauviniere; and videojournalist Oleg Cetinic.
The interview itself provided a scoop: Breedlove told the AP team that plans in the works to counter the Russian military's threat against Ukraine could include deployment of American ground troops to alliance member states in Europe that feel at risk, including Poland and the Baltics.
As Breedlove said goodbye and began heading out, Dahlburg buttonholed a member of his entourage: What about the proof of Russia's hostile military posture? he asked. Stand by, he was told, and check your email in the next two hours.
At 6:30 p.m., as Dahlburg was putting the finishing touches on his story, the email popped up. The photographs were clear and crisp. The product of a commercial satellite service, they were reviewed by NATO's military arm, which said they showed Russian tanks, combat helicopters, warplanes, troops and other assets deployed in an arc around Ukraine's eastern border.
Dahlburg sent the material to news and photo editors in London and Moscow. Bob Burns at the Pentagon, whom Dahlburg had alerted in advance, also jumped in and quickly found a non-governmental expert for an independent view of what the satellite photos proved or didn't prove. The analyst said that the forces depicted did not appear to be involved in training exercises but, rather, were "in combat readiness" and that they could "go quickly" if ordered into Ukraine.
The AP story and pictures were on the wire a full day before NATO released the photos to AP's competitors, and got wide play in the U.S. and Europe. CBS TV called Dahlburg for information on the photos' provenance. A competing news agency was "running like hell" the next day to match the pictures, the AP was told. The Kremlin also took notice, and the RIA Novosti news service, a government mouthpiece, issued a story that claimed the photos were from military exercises last year.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 4-17-2014
Just when it seemed there was nothing the U.S. had not tried in an effort to undermine the Cuban regimes of two Castros, the AP discovered something new under the Caribbean sun – a digital-age twist to the saga that has bedeviled 11 American presidents over more than half a century.
A U.S. government program had created a secret "Cuban Twitter,” a text messaging service, to stir unrest on the communist island. The social network, dubbed ZunZuneo, was built by the U.S. Agency for International Development, using secret shell companies and financed through a foreign bank.
How Turkey chief correspondent Desmond Butler, Washington investigative reporter Jack Gillum and Honduras correspondent Alberto Arce broke the story also brought to center stage two related AP initiatives: One, to combine investigative reporting from international and the U.S. and the other to bring top flight video story telling deeply into investigative and enterprise reporting at the point of impact.
It all came about because of previous AP work on a U.S.-Cuba story and support across all formats – and across one ocean.
The seeds of the story surfaced in early November, when Butler got an email from a source alerting him that 1,200 documents had just been dumped for AP’s use. The source was familiar with Butler’s work on Alan Gross, the American contractor serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for "crimes against the state.” Interactive Newsroom Technology Editor Troy Thibodeaux arranged to download the documents into a secure AP site that is text-searchable. With that, International investigations editor Trish Wilson in Washington and the team were off and running.
For weeks, Butler read through the documents and dozens of spreadsheets to understand the scope of the story. The information to support a narrative had to be pieced together by reading the downloaded memos, PowerPoints, emails, chats and other documents. Gillum, with his expertise with secret servers, the routing of computer messages around the world and the scraping of websites and databases, joined the team.
Butler flew to Washington in January to meet with sources and develop a reporting strategy with Gillum. They wanted to start the story with a key chat between a contractor and her brother, who lived in Nicaragua. In the chat, another sibling’s phone number was listed. They verified the number and the person it was linked to. Working with Monica Mathur of the News Research Center in Washington, they created a profile of each of the 40 people named in the documents, compiled a timeline and drew up a flow chart illustrating the byzantine network of companies, contractors and players.
Eventually, Arce was tasked with tracking down a Nicaraguan who was one of the project’s original creators. Arce read additional documents and reached out to two Spanish companies to figure out their roles. Meanwhile, in Cuba, newswoman Andrea Rodriguez and acting chief of bureau Peter Orsi spoke to the users of ZunZuneo to get them on the record, and on camera. There was little chance many of the principals would talk, so any visuals would have to come from Cuba.
As the last interviews began, Global Video Enterprise Editor Chris Hulme, new to the AP, joined the team. His task was to ensure that the footage already gathered was topped with the elements needed to deliver high-end TV to broadcasters and online clients.
Hulme wanted to get Joe McSpedon, the USAID manager who appeared to have led the project, on camera. Mathur was able find an old address linked to his name and discovered he had gotten married and moved with his wife to a new home in Washington. Bingo! McSpedon was on his way home when Hulme and the video team met him. He wouldn’t answer questions, except to confirm his identity. But the shot of him walking away as Hulme asked "Was this a covert operation?” put a strong live scene into the piece.
The video was representative of how all formats converged, with reporting, still photos and video from Chile, Havana, Costa Rica and the U.S. Interactive producer Kevin Vineys supplied a strong timeline and visual aids to understand the network in both a graphic and interactive.
Play across all formats was tremendous on a scoop that could not be ignored by competitors. Even Reuters credited the AP.
In addition to widespread use across news sites, tech sites gave strong play, and it was a dominant topic on social media. NBC’s "Today” show aired a long segment that featured Gillum on-camera. Altogether, he did nine radio and TV appearances in a single day, and Butler and Arce had multiple interviews with international clients.
The New York Times wrote a story about the AP story, as did The Washington Post, Slate, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Nicaragua’s La Prensa and Cuba Debate in Havana, among others. The story, which ran in Spanish as well, generated White House, State Department and congressional reaction and came just as USAID hearings were scheduled on Capitol Hill. It ran on the front page of the Miami Herald and 29 other U.S. papers, leading to an online petition and its own Wikipedia page. It also made headlines in Europe, where it was translated into Turkish and French, and in Latin America.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 4-10-2014
"Why didn't federal agency alert car owners?" That was the headline one website put on our AP IMPACT look at the troubles of Chevrolet’s Cobalt.
The headline captured exactly why the story was so ground breaking. It earns its authors, Detroit auto writers Dee-Ann Durbin and Tom Krisher, this week’s Beat of the Week. Durbin and Krisher debunked the claim by federal regulators that Cobalt’s problems did not really stand out as unusual (and therefore didn’t call for their intervention). In a virtuoso display of digital shoe leather Durbin and Krisher hand-searched thousands of records to gather data for a statistical analysis that went beyond the federal watchdogs’ own number-crunching to show that the Cobalt had many more reported problems, proportionally, than other similar cars.
Last month, General Motors Co. recalled 1.6 million Cobalts and other compact cars because of ignition switch failure that could lead to stalling, even at highway speeds. (Related recalls since have raised the total number to about 2.6 million.) The ignition switch can slip out of "run" position, the carmaker said, causing the engine to stall and knocking out power steering and power-assisted brakes. Power to the device that activates the air bags is also cut off.
GM has linked the problem to at least 13 deaths.
The company recently acknowledged knowing that the switch was defective at least a decade ago. And the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, or NHTSA, started receiving complaints about the 2005 Cobalt within months of when the model went on sale.
"We were incredulous that NHTSA reviewed the GM cars in 2007 and 2010 and still didn't recall the cars," Durbin and Krisher said, explaining the origins of their story. They learned of a meeting between the agency and congressional staffers, during which the agency said it didn't investigate GM or seek a recall because complaints about stalling and about air bags not inflating were no worse in Cobalts than in "peer vehicles."
"Our instincts, and knowledge of the cars, told us that the claim needed to be put to the test," the writers said.
They knew that wouldn't be easy: "The NHTSA database is so dirty that you have to go through each complaint by hand to be accurate."
First, they hand-checked the air bag complaints for 2005-2007 Cobalts. It turned out that Cobalts' numbers were only slightly higher than those of similar vehicles, as the agency had said. But Durbin and Krisher did not let it go at that.
They sorted through mounds of stalling complaints – and found that these were far more numerous than for peer cars.
The story noted NHTSA's contention that the 2005-2007 Cobalts had no more safety issues than their peers and that for years regulators sent form letters to worried owners of Cobalts, saying there wasn’t enough information about unexpected stalling to establish a trend or warrant an investigation.
But Krisher and Durbin wrote: "The data tell a different story."
And the data involved more than raw numbers of complaints. By percentage of cars on the road, Cobalt's numbers were worse than those of any of the comparable vehicles, the writers found.
Toyota's Corolla had more complaints, but it also had far more cars on the road; by percentage, Cobalt's numbers were worse.
Safety experts said there was enough data that the Cobalt should have been investigated.
"They're not connecting up the dots," Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Auto Safety, said of NHTSA. "That's the generous explanation. The not-so-generous is that they did connect the dots but they just didn't do anything."
The writers also talked with crash victims' families, including Laura Christian, who had done her own Cobalt research after her daughter's death, trying and failing to interest the regulators. "Basically, it was `No, thank you," she said.
The story won wide play. It led the Arizona Republic’s business news section and appeared prominently on the websites of the San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post and ABC News, among others.
Krisher and Durbin have been covering the auto industry beat since 2005. Before that, Durbin covered NHTSA in Washington. So both are very familiar with the company as well as the regulatory process and what data NHTSA makes public; and they have good relationships with sources in Detroit and Washington.
"I went to Washington to cover politics and came back to Detroit wanting to cover cars," Durbin says. "It's a complicated industry with so many avenues to explore, from electric cars to brand marketing to what makes the paint so shiny. Part of the story of the industry is the government's role in it" – such as setting fuel economy standards or, as happened just this week, requiring cars in the future to have backup cameras.
"But," she adds, "it's also supposed to serve as a watchdog and ensure people that the cars they're driving are safe, and that they'll be fixed if they're defective."
Krisher grew up in Akron, Ohio, "in a blue-collar neighborhood where everyone worked on cars, and it was a big day when someone on the block brought home a new vehicle. I've always loved cars and followed the industry."
"In this case," he says, "we had evidence that a government agency, for whatever reason, didn't do what it was supposed to do, and people died. That needs to be exposed. That's why I got into journalism."
BEAT OF THE WEEK 4-3-2014
One good beat often leads to another. That fundamental of beat reporting begins to explain how Jake Pearson of the New York City bureau cracked the closed world of the city's biggest jail and scooped an army of journalistic competition to report the tragic death of a mentally ill inmate left for hours in an overheated cells.
In one official's indelible description, which echoed around the nation and the world: "He basically baked to death."
Yet Pearson would not have gotten the Rikers Island jail story if he had not already produced a string of exclusives on his cops-criminal justice beat.
"A city official tipped me off to a `really horrible' death at Rikers," though not to the inmate's name or background information, Pearson says. "Just, cryptically, that there were heat issues."
"I wouldn't have gotten that call had I not previously written a few other stories based on documents detailing problems at Rikers, including the handling of mentally ill inmates and violence there," he adds. Further, the city source he went to next, who filled in essential facts of the latest incident, "has been increasingly helpful" – again, because of his past jail coverage.
When the death was fleetingly mentioned – without identifying details – in a regular meeting of the jail oversight board and then Pearson learned that The New York Times was looking into it, "I knew I had to act fast," he says.
But that was not to be, as major breaking news intervened: Two buildings exploded in Harlem, and Pearson plunged into reporting the police and fire department response, which took up much of the next few days.
Still, each evening, Pearson went back to the Rikers story. By now, sources had given him the inmate's name, Jerome Murdough, his age, 56, and much background, including his service in the Marines. Pearson also learned circumstances of the arrest, confinement and death in a 100-degree cell. But he wanted more.
"I went out looking for Murdough's family," he says. "It didn't feel right writing about his case without finding his people, and I knew it would make the story stronger."
He went to the location where the criminal complaint said Murdough was arrested, and talked to nearby residents and homeless people. No luck.
At the man's last-known address, a public housing complex in Queens, a neighbor – "upset by what I told him" – said the family had moved but he would ask around. At 10 p.m., Pearson's cellphone rang. The neighbor, working through other relatives, had found Murdough's 75-year-old mother, who would call him.
"At about 10:30 p.m. over the phone, I spoke to Alma Murdough and broke the news to her that her son was dead and how he died," says Pearson, who the next day went with photographer Jason DeGraw to talk with her for two hours. While describing Murdough's bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and his "beer problems," his mother said, "He was a very lovely, caring guy."
Pearson's story began:
NEW YORK (AP) – Jerome Murdough was just looking for a warm place to sleep on a chilly night last month when he curled up in an enclosed stairwell on the roof of a Harlem public housing project where he was arrested for trespassing.
A week later, the mentally ill homeless man was found dead in a Rikers Island jail cell that four city officials say had overheated to at least 100 degrees, apparently because of malfunctioning equipment.
The officials told The Associated Press that the 56-year-old former Marine was on anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medication, which may have made him more vulnerable to heat. He also apparently did not open a small vent in his cell, as other inmates did, to let in cool air.
"He basically baked to death," said one of the officials.
- Read the story on Yahoo! News
The exclusive story got huge play. It was a top-clicked story on AP Mobile, Yahoo and MSN. The local New York media – notably the Times, Daily News, Post and Wall Street Journal – all credited AP.
Mayor Bill De Blasio said he was struck by the story and promised reforms. "Very troubling," he said. "My heart goes out to his family; we lost someone who served his country."
The Opinion Pages blog on NYTimes.com cited Pearson for shining a light on problems at Rikers. Pearson was interviewed by CBS, among others.
And radio's NY1 devoted an entire show to the story, asking the mother how she learned of the death. "It wasn't until a nice reporter named Jake came and told us," she replied.
Pearson's editor, James Martinez, said, "Some might question why we would pursue a corrections beat in New York City. Isn't that too local?" But he was confident that the worst problems at Rikers could break news of interest and relevance to a wider, even global audience. Noting how Pearson parlayed past breaks into this one, Martinez predicted: "That story will consequently lead to still more tips."
For cultivating sources on a highly competitive beat, then enriching an exclusive story with sensitive, shoe-leather reporting, Pearson wins this week's $500 prize.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 3-20-2014
Despite its subject, the marijuana beat is anything but mellow – at least the way Seattle newsman Gene Johnson works it.
He’s in constant contact with prominent attorneys, police, state officials and longtime illegal pot growers. Countless phone calls, lunches and coffees have paid off with a series of scoops, culminating with a major exclusive: While the U.S. Justice Department insists that states ensure that no criminal elements are involved with legalized marijuana, the FBI is refusing to perform background checks on people who would deal in dope in Washington state.
It started with a tip from a longtime federal source. In the course of lunch, the source mentioned that at one point last fall, there had been some dustup about whether the FBI would run background checks on Washington state marijuana business applicants.
According to the state's own rules, applicants needed to pass a federal background check before they were awarded a license. And last summer, the Justice Department announced that states would have to tightly regulate marijuana markets to keep out those with ties to organized crime and to prevent legal pot shops from becoming fronts for the trafficking of other drugs. Without nationwide background checks, how could the states expect to accomplish that?
Johnson sought answers from the state's Liquor Control Board. At first, one spokesman said he thought the issue had been resolved, but a few days later the board backtracked: No, it hadn't been settled. The FBI had not responded to a year of requests from the board asking whether it would perform the checks, and the state had received no explanation for the silence.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan would only say she was "working on it” and promise an interview that would never come to pass. Johnson, meanwhile, reached out to newswoman Kristen Wyatt in Denver, and together they discovered an odd twist: The FBI had conducted pot-industry background checks there since 2010, when Colorado regulated its medical marijuana industry. There was no apparent explanation for the discrepancy.
Johnson spent another day pestering the DOJ's public information office in Washington, D.C. Finally, the Justice Department issued a statement that didn't explain the inconsistency, though it tacitly acknowledged that Washington and Colorado were being treated differently. It said the DOJ was reviewing its policy to ensure a consistent national approach.
As for the matter of the state issuing licenses in violation of its own rules requiring background checks? A spokesman at the Liquor Control Board essentially acknowledged it, saying the state was ready to supply the fingerprints of applicants as soon as the FBI was ready to run the checks.
The story received prominent play on websites and on front pages. Even a one-time felon who has applied for a grow license called Johnson to say he couldn't believe out-of-state criminal records weren't being checked.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 3-12-2014
China is not the easiest place to develop sources even under ordinary circumstances. This was hardly ordinary. The Chinese Communist Party was being accused of torturing its own officials to get them to confess to corruption as part of government anti-graft efforts. It would be virtually unprecedented to get those revelations on the record – in China of all places, with the likelihood of retaliation.
But Beijing newswoman Gillian Wong did it, breaking a huge story.
In a rare act of public defiance, three local officials and another party member described months of abuse they said they endured in detention. One, Zhou Wangyan, said he was deprived of sleep and food, nearly drowned, whipped with wires and forced to eat excrement. The others reported being turned into human punching bags, strung up by the wrists from high windows, or dragged along the floor, face down, by their feet.
All said they talked to Wong, and allowed use of their names, because they were victims of political vendettas and wanted to expose what had happened.
Wong called Zhou last October, when she first saw essays by him on his lawyer's blog. The censors saw the essays, too, apparently and forced them to be taken down.
But Wong was already on the case. At that point Zhou refused to talk. The next day, his lawyer told her that Zhou's phone was being tapped and that shortly after her call, a local official warned him not to talk to the foreign media.
Over the next several weeks, Wong called Zhou, texted him descriptions of the AP's work and told him why she was interested. In January, Zhou said he was willing to be interviewed. He had changed his number twice, and Wong changed hers, too.
The story, with video by senior producer Aritz Parra and pictures by photographer Andy Wong of officials re-enacting abuse, brought the accusations to life.
Zhou had vivid memories of refusing time and again to confess to bribery he says he didn't commit, even as his four interrogators were forcing his legs farther apart than they could go. He begged them to stop, but the men taunted him and kept pushing.
"Then," Wong wrote, "with a loud 'ka-cha,' his left thigh bone snapped. The sickening crunch reverberated in his mind, nearly drowning out his howls of pain and the frantic pounding of his heart."
The story drew strong play, with tweets, retweets and praise from many competitors, and chilling reaction from Communist Party leaders who denied any abuse.
Zhou said friends conveyed a message from the deputy party secretary of Liling city to "be careful." A party member who said he was fed hallucinogenic drugs was verbally threatened.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 3-6-2014
The tip off came in a single tweet, spotted by Dubai-based video journalist Dalton Bennett, who was on assignment in Ukraine and on the move (monitoring Twitter as he went): Men believed to be Russian troops were seen at a Ukrainian military base in the strategic region of Crimea.
Bennett and Belgrade photographer Darko Vojinovic, traveling together near the area, raced to the Perevalne base to find out precisely what was going on. They were the first journalists to arrive.
On the base, the situation was tense. The Russian troops had pulled up to the base on the Crimean Peninsula in a convoy that included at least 13 trucks and four armored vehicles with mounted machine guns. The trucks carried 30 soldiers each and had Russian license plates.
In response, a dozen Ukrainian soldiers, some with clips in their rifles, placed a tank at the base's gate, leaving the two sides facing each other in a standoff. It appeared to be the first case of Ukrainians standing up to Russian military might.
While Vojinovic made photos, Bennett called the story into the Moscow and Kiev news desks. Their quick reaction time – getting there, getting imagery and filing quickly – paid off with a beat in all formats. The video was exclusive on Eurovision, and Reuters caught up with their own images only hours later. "All the clients, all their desks, everyone was saying, `AP says…',” said Derl McCrudden, APTN’s head of newsgathering.
On the text wire, Bennett’s information – script and quotes, coming in rapidly from him and Dave McHugh on the desk in Kiev – formed the basis for a vivid spot story filled with material that became the centerpiece of the day’s text efforts for several hours. "We just started seeing the images on APTN and started using them,” Assistant Europe Editor Sheila Norman-Culp said. "They were sending scripts in, quotes in. We would just pluck and drop.”
Following Bennett’s and Vojinovic’s reporting, dozens of international journalists streamed to the Perevalne base, forming an odd and frenetic scrum. "The standoff had become a circus,” New Delhi’s Tim Sullivan wrote later from the base. "The international media had arrived, trailing tripods and generators and mobile satellite dishes."
The two video edits of Bennett’s work were the top two stories on Sunday, used a combined 2,126 times, according to Teletrax – a very high figure that reflects the scope of the beat. And though Sunday was already the end of the week for purposes of measuring mobile traffic, different versions of the Ukraine story containing Bennett’s and Vojinovic’s reporting occupied the fifth and sixth spots of AP Mobile’s top 10. Together they won the week with 59,464 hits – 17,000 more than the next story.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 2-26-2014
Washington reporter Alicia Caldwell was spending a leisurely weekend morning at home when her cellphone buzzed. The long-time law enforcement source on the other end first apologized for bothering her on a day off – and then coughed up the news that would give Caldwell and The Associated Press a spectacular worldwide beat on one of the biggest triumphs in the war on drugs. Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, head of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel and that country's most-wanted drug dealer, had been caught.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 2-20-2014
Mat Pennington didn’t just beat his competitors on a headline-making United Nations report on North Korea. He beat them by three days, and the U.N. wasn't at all happy about it.
Pennington covers U.S.-Asian affairs for the AP's North America desk in Washington; he has long cultivated sources among government officials, activists and experts on North Korea, and often writes about its nuclear and missile programs. But he's also focused on human rights in in the reclusive communist country, and in February 2013 broke the story that the U.S. was going to support the push by Japan and the European Union for a U.N. commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of atrocities under the regimes of Kim Jong-un, his father and his grandfather.
After the commission was formed, he was one of the few Western reporters to cover public hearings in Washington in October, when defectors and experts gave testimony, and he kept an ear out for the commission's findings, figuring it would be the strongest international effort yet to criticize Pyongyang for its rights record.
On Wednesday afternoon, in the course of a long conversation on another matter, a source volunteered that the final report was about to come out, and that it would indeed accuse North Korea of crimes against humanity and call for an international criminal investigation.
So far, so good. But Pennington needed a second source. He cast about for one in Washington, while correspondent Edie Lederer was enlisted to mine her sources at the United Nations. Finally, on Thursday night, Pennington emailed his editors: A U.S. official had confirmed the story. Pennington wanted to nail down a few details before he could write it in the morning.
There was one ticklish complication. The report, for release at 8 a.m. Monday, was supposed to be distributed to the media on Friday; once it was conveyed to anyone from the AP, we would be honor bound to observe the embargo. Pennington made sure that didn’t matter. By the time Geneva chief correspondent John Heilprin picked up the report at 6 p.m. Friday Geneva time, Pennington had moved 900 words. No extra details from the document were included in writethrus filed after that time. (Defying precedent, a spokesman at the North Korean diplomatic mission in New York did provide Lederer with a response: North Korea rejected the commission's findings regarding crimes against humanity and would never accept them.)
The story made headlines worldwide for days. Even outlets that did their own versions, including The New York Times and Washington Post, credited the AP's reporting prominently.
Another result: The U.N. had a fit. It accused the AP of breaking the embargo, while telling the U.N. press corps that the embargo was intact because the AP hadn't broken it. In Geneva, Heilprin felt the worst of the U.N.'s wrath. A spokesman suggested the AP story was "calculated to undermine the impact and credibility of the report" and added: "Congratulations to AP for its gift to Kim Jong-un."
He subsequently notified Heilprin that a planned AP interview with one of the investigating commissioners had been canceled because AP did not abide by the embargo. Then Heilprin was informed before the press conference for the report's release that in further punishment he was barred from asking any questions.
John Daniszewski, AP's senior managing editor for international news, rejected the criticism. "Mat is a dogged journalist and knows his story. This U.N. report was bound to be news, and we had sources willing to discuss its findings ahead of the choreographed rollout. That's fair game to report, and we are proud that AP's members and customers got it first."
BEAT OF THE WEEK 2-13-2014
Tokyo correspondent Yuri Kageyama started gathering data in early 2010 on U.S. military sex crime cases in Japan. She wanted to know how many Japanese women had been assaulted by American servicemen and how the cases were handled in the wake of several well-publicized cases that had set off protests in Japan.
What she ended up with, almost four years later, was a very different story, the deepest look yet into military justice (or lack of it) in sex crime cases.
The data and records she eventually obtained covered a seven-year period. Kageyama, international investigative reporter Richard Lardner and Asia enterprise editor Leon Keith found that there were many more American victims than Japanese, and that most service members found culpable never went to prison but instead were fined, demoted, restricted to base or removed from the military. In about 30 cases, the only punishment was a letter of reprimand.
Getting the records was an excruciating process that involved multiple Freedom of Information Act requests, a rejection, and an appeal that AP won. By late 2012 Kageyama had several hundred cases. When Keith joined the project, the two created a dozen spreadsheets, keying in the data by hand. Meanwhile, more than 600 cases from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service arrived in early 2013 and were much more complete than those that had been provided by the other military branches.
Still, the story had yet to crystallize.
"Many of the cases, of course, were shocking, but when we were done, we weren't quite sure what we had,” Keith said.
Viewed from a Japanese perspective, the AP data didn’t break new ground. The numbers were pretty much the same as those reported by the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
"I was a bit discouraged,” Keith said.
Fortunately, in the fall of 2013 the new international investigations team was launched to help nurture global projects and those overlapping with Washington. This was the perfect story to test the concept.
International investigations editor Trish Wilson asked Lardner, who has a long background covering the military and Congress, to work with Kageyama and Keith to analyze the material.
It was at this point that Kageyama, Lardner and Keith developed a strategy to use the cases to tell a tale of judicial chaos, focusing not on the Japanese victims but on the role of the commanders and the nature of the judgments. They had to overcome the fact that all the names in the files had been blacked out, so it took even more time to track down victims, offenders and the commanders. In addition, the people in these stories were all over the world, which sent our all-formats journalists on a global search.
The result was a story that went straight to the heart of the debate over whether the military justice system was tough enough on perpetrators of sex crimes. The story went live on Sunday. The all-formats package included APTN, U.S. and online video, photos from Tokyo, Washington and Oklahoma, an interactive of annotated cases and a link to 600 never-before-published military sex crime reports for readers to see for themselves.
The play was huge, with 96,000 hits on AP mobile on Sunday alone, the front pages of at least 26 Monday newspapers in the U.S., strong play in Asia, particularly in Japan, which ran TV and text in Japanese, a good ride on Twitter and more than 7,000 hits online.
By Monday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand jumped on the findings. She had been arguing for some time that commanders should be relieved of their authority over sex crime cases. To see if the AP findings in Japan could be replicated elsewhere, she demanded that the Pentagon release the same sort of records for the largest military bases in the United States.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 2-6-2014
Special reporting brings us eye-to-eye with the news. It's about fighting for access, getting past obstacles, even formidable ones.
Suppose you want to report on a sensitive type of training for the Pakistani military, a famously closed, press-shy institution. That's the access challenge that Rebecca Santana confronted.
Or suppose you hope to show the plight of Afghan refugee children in a Pakistani slum, where parents and elders make clear that they want them left alone. That's what Muhammed Muheisen faced.
But these veteran AP journalists, leaders of our coverage in Pakistan, each won the access they sought and produced two separate, exclusive closeups – Santana’s all-formats view of soldiers at a school to deal with the deadly menace of homemade bombs, and Muheisen's haunting gallery of portraits showing the youngest faces of war and displacement.
In each case, it required first an inspired story idea, then doggedness, persuasion and patience to pull it off.
Santana, acting bureau chief in Pakistan, has been trying to gain closer access to the military since she arrived in 2012, after covering the war in Iraq and the U.S. military there. Last May, she was the only foreign correspondent at a conference on roadside bombs, during which one Pakistani general mentioned the new counter-IED school. Santana quickly put in a request to visit and then for months repeatedly nudged military officials about it.
She well knew the importance of the training. Of more than 4,000 soldier deaths and 13,000 military injuries in the war, most have been caused by improvised explosive devices.
When Santana's persistence finally brought an invitation after six months, AP became the first foreign news agency to be allowed to visit the school, where she was accompanied by both TV and photos. They also went to a military hospital where victims of the deadly bombs are taken for rehabilitation, and Santana interviewed U.S. military officials who have sometimes been critical of the Pakistani military but lauded the bomb-detection school.
The story was used extensively on MSN, Yahoo, Fox, The Washington Post and others, including Pakistani newspapers.
One reason Santana wanted to do the story is because the military often is covered from the viewpoint of headquarters in Rawalpindi and how generals there relate to the civilian government or to the U.S. and Afghanistan.
"Obviously, that's a very important story," she says, "but I'm also interested in looking at much lower levels of the military, the lower-ranking officers, the enlisted soldiers. They have been such an important part of the war on terror, and I really want to understand the toll that it's had on them."
During chilling training to detect bombs hidden, for instance, behind a cupboard door in a mock residential compound or set to go off by trip wires, one trainee soldier confided to Santana: "We face it whenever we travel, or if there is a compound, a path, or some other place, it is always in our mind."
Muheisen similarly sought out a ground-level view: AP's chief photographer in Islamabad and part of the team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for Iraq coverage, he has been committed to documenting daily life in Pakistan.
As part of that, he has often visited the slum areas where Afghan refugees live. These areas, makeshift camps on the edge of the city, are difficult to access. People there tend to be more conservative Pashtuns who are fairly suspicious of outsiders, and there are security issues because militants have been known to hide among the refugees. In addition, there's crime in these areas, meaning it's best not to stay too late in the afternoon, even if that’s when the light is best for shooting pictures.
But regardless of the hour, photographs of female camp residents are especially unwelcome. The few young girls seen running about are skittish and run away at the sight of the camera. Women in the area sometimes yelled at Muheisen to leave, and men argued with him.
His response was calm and simple: He talked with them, explaining to the elders who he was and what he was doing, saying he wanted to show their situation to the world.
His repeated visits and reassurances over six months finally broke through their suspicion.
"With time I managed to become invisible," he told Santana, "a friendly face instead of a stranger who just comes to snap pictures and vanishes after."
His photos are classic in their simplicity and power. Each presents a single child, some as young as 6, or perhaps an older sibling holding a younger one, most looking directly at the camera. A viewer immediately notices the tatters in their brightly colored clothes, the smudges on their faces, and, above all, their eyes.
In Britain, The Guardian photo editor, Fiona Shields, explained why her paper ran one of the photos on the front page: "We chose that child for the extraordinary depth of expression in her eyes."
In Time magazine, which showcased the photo gallery in its Lightbox features, Muheisen himself was quoted as saying: "Their tough life makes them look older and react as elderly people, but their innocence is right there in their eyes."
He added that photographing the children singly and up close was a way of refocusing the image of Afghan refugees, legions of whom have been displaced by wars for decades.
"By portraying each child, instead of being called 'The Afghan refugee boy and girl,' they will be called and remembered by their names," he said.
Readers around the world got the message. As the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees tweeted:
BEAT OF THE WEEK 1-30-2014
It’s the moment investigative reporters live for: when they realize that months of nose-to-the-grindstone probing have paid off and paid off big.
For journalists these occasions are rewarded not with gold figurines and flowery speeches, but rather the simple satisfaction of seeing misdeeds acknowledged and addressed.
For National Security Writer Robert Burns that moment came last week, when the Pentagon spokesman held a news conference to announce that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was ordering military leaders to fix sloppy and dangerous issues with the nation's nuclear force – largely because of Burns' reporting on the issue.
Burns himself got first crack at the announcement ahead of other media, another in a succession of beats on a topic that Burns had turned into headline news. He was first in reporting Hagel's decision to summon top military leaders and demand an "action plan" for how to fix the security lapses and serious morale issues that Burns had been alone in reporting since April 2013, as well as the drug and cheating scandal the Air Force recently announced.
Asked at the news conference why Hagel was taking action now, the spokesman said: "Well, he's been following the coverage, particularly in The Associated Press."
But for Burns’ work over the past nine months, Americans – including Hagel -- might never have known that the keepers of the world's most deadly weapons were in disarray. His exclusive story last spring about an e-mail in which an Air Force deputy commander declared America's nuclear missile forces were infected with "rot" turned into an eight-month probe of the missile forces. With reporting rooted in source development and persistence, Burns uncovered missteps and lapses, deliberate safety violations and personal misbehavior.
Among his findings:
For months Hagel was publicly silent about the problems, but in January he made a special trip to a nuclear missile base to boost morale. It was then that the military disclosed that two launch officers were implicated in a narcotics investigation. That drug investigation ballooned into a scandal over cheating on a proficiency test in which dozens of nuclear officers were sidelined and stripped of their clearances, straining the force even further.
Two weeks later, Hagel ordered the forcewide review.
BEAT OF THE WEEK 1-23-2014
John Heilprin was curious. What WAS that paper that the Vatican's U.N. ambassador consulted as he testified before a U.N. committee on sex abuse?
Reading from it, the ambassador said 418 cases of abuse had been reported to the Vatican in 2012. But Heilprin, AP's chief correspondent in Switzerland, had a hunch that there was more to this document.
He was right – but first he would have to acquire a copy of the spreadsheet. And then acting Italy bureau chief Nicole Winfield, in a moment reminiscent of a Dan Brown novel, would have to decipher and analyze a complicated document that was written in the three languages of the Vatican – Latin, Italian and legalese.
Finally, when the Vatican denied the AP report, Winfiel