On any other day, Kim Yong Chol, a top North Korean official, might have passed through Beijing airport unrecognized. On May 29, senior video journalist Raf Wober, who is based in Hong Kong but also serves as leader of AP Television’s Pyongyang bureau, wouldn’t let him.
Wober used his cellphone to capture video of Kim, alerted the Asia Desk about the arrival and advised that he’d be sending along footage. His quick-thinking set off a worldwide scramble as President Donald Trump later announced that Kim was heading to the U.S. for talks about the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit.
In New York, a team of video journalists picked up Wober’s efforts, setting up exclusive live shots that included Kim’s plane arriving at John F. Kennedy airport, Kim walking on the tarmac to a motorcade, and his arrival at a Manhattan hotel.
For intrepid work, Wober and the New York video team of Sara Gillesby, Joseph Frederick, Luke Sheridan, Ted Shaffrey, David Martin and Robert Bumsted win the Beat of the Week prize.
Wober was passing through Beijing airport on his way home from Pyongyang, where he had covered the May 24 demolition of that country’s nuclear test site. He noticed heavy security at the airport and moved closer. That’s when he recognized Kim being escorted toward immigration.
There had been no indication that Kim was going to be in China.
Wober quickly grabbed his iPhone and filmed as much as he could of Kim as he walked through the airport. Security tried to stop Wober but he moved a bit further away and still managed to get decent shots of Kim. Wober got close to 20 seconds until he was stopped from filming by Chinese immigration security.
Chinese security tried to stop Wober, but he shot almost 20 seconds of video with his phone before he was stopped.
Using a messaging app, Wober sent the footage to the Asia Desk, which then sent it along to London. The Beijing bureau moved a text story, and the Asia photo desk pulled some frame-grabs from Wober’s video. The video was the first and only visual of a North Korean official who has been participating in talks ahead of the summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In New York, media access at JFK is almost impossible. Assignment manager Gillesby figured out where Kim’s plane was due to arrive and bought a refundable ticket to Frankfurt for Frederick – a flight he never intended to take. Once past security, Frederick found Kim’s gate.
To get Frederick past JFK security, Gillesby bought him a ticket to Frankfurt – a flight he never intended to take. It worked.
Frederick fired up the Iris Bambuser live video app and made sure he had clean shots of the plane taxiing to the gate, of Kim walking on the tarmac escorted by security and the motorcade driving away. No other media was there. Producers Sheridan and Shaffrey edited the video and filed it shortly after Kim's arrival. Sheridan also pulled stills off the live shot and sent them to photo editors.
The live shot enabled AP to confirm Kim’s arrival in the U.S. It went unmatched by Reuters and was taken live by multiple clients, including SKY and several Asian clients.
Video journalist Martin also had a LiveU shot of Kim and the delegation arriving at the Millennium Hotel, which again was not matched by Reuters. Video journalist Bumsted later provide a widely used LiveU shot of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kim arriving and departing a dinner meeting at the U.S. deputy ambassador's residence.
Wober’s edit ranked No. 2 in Teletrax that day, with 519 hits, by 57 stations. Teletrax figures were also strong for the JFK arrival shot, showing at least 48 broadcasters used the edit, including over 15 Asian clients, with 280 hits. Teletrax figures were also strong for the hotel arrival, with at least 34 broadcasters using the edit, with 139 hits.
For their quick and creative thinking to net AP worldwide exclusives, Wober, Gillesby, Frederick, Sheridan, Shaffrey, Martin and Bumsted share this week’s Beat of the Week award.