National security reporter Ellen Knickmeyer, video journalist Dan Huff and producer Tracy Brown landed an exclusive all-formats interview with U.S. climate envoy John Kerry just weeks before a critical global climate conference, breaking news on the administration’s limited expectations for the meeting and Kerry’s concerns about the stalled infrastructure bill. The piece showcased ”The AP Interview,” a series of sit-downs with key newsmakers.
Knickmeyer, with an assist from AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee, had long pressed Kerry aides for an interview. The timing was ideal in the run-up to the Glasgow, Scotland, conference, but Knickmeyer was promised only 15 minutes with the former secretary of state. Knowing Kerry’s decades of experience in fielding reporters’ questions and managing interviews, Knickmeyer prepared extensively to ensure an interview that would break news.
She honed her handful of concise, targeted questions after consulting with outside climate experts and AP colleagues — her editors, science writer Seth Borenstein and congressional colleagues Matthew Daly and Dustin Weaver, as well as producer Brown — who provided valuable input toward hard-to-deflect questions.
When the time came, Knickmeyer pressed Kerry for specific answers, politely but repeatedly interrupting when he sought to move the conversation to more upbeat topics. In the short interview she asked variations of the question on Biden’s climate legislation four times. Kerry’s comments represented a swing to a more realistic assessment of the trouble facing Biden’s signature climate initiatives, and the impact that was having globally.
Technical challenges arose also. State Department staff did not know how to shut off the fluorescent lights in the dull, empty conference room, so video journalist Huff worked for hours to set up lighting suitable for his video and the photos by Patrick Semansky. Immediately after the interview, Brown worked quickly to turn around the video for AP clients and consumers.
The resulting package had impact, with many news outlets using AP’s story and video directly, and others citing AP’s work in their own reporting. Washington reporters with AP and other publications pressed administration officials on Kerry’s comments for days.