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Exclusive Oval Office interview yields big news as Trump nears 100 days

President Donald Trump speaks to Associated Press Chief White House Correspondent Julie Pace following an interview in the Oval Office in Washington, Wednesday, April 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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It was supposed to be a 15-minute interview. Instead, Associated Press Chief White House Correspondent Julie Pace kept President Donald Trump talking for an hour in a wide-ranging Oval Office discussion that was exclusive, illuminating and full of news.

Pace’s sit-down with the president – resulting in multiple stories that others scrambled to follow and a transcript that readers devoured despite its 8,000-word length – earns the Beat of the Week.

Pace had been pursuing an extended interview with Trump for months … making the request part of her conversations with White House sources and making the pitch about AP’s reach.

Pace had been pursuing an extended interview with Trump for months. The Trump campaign, transition team and then the White House each responded with promises, hedges, even a yes – followed by a late cancellation. Pace persisted, making the request a regular part of her conversations with White House sources and giving the full pitch about AP’s reach.

Her diligence was rewarded at just the right moment. Last week, she landed the first interview with Trump to discuss his first 100 days in office. Pace consulted with editors and colleagues on a list of questions. She aimed for a mix of issues that would make news on a few hot topics, but also subjects that might draw Trump into a more leisurely conversation.

In the interview, Trump offered his first comments on the release of an Egyptian aid worker. He broke news of his plans to release a new tax proposal. Pace also prompted the president to offer reassurance to Dreamers; Trump said young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and now living here illegally can “rest easy.”

And she doggedly pressed Trump on whether he should be held accountable for his campaign plan promising 38 different actions in the first 100 days. In a startling response, the president dismissed the plan as somebody else’s idea and called the 100-day marker “artificial.”

Pace resisted the impulse to interrupt. Trump’s long,winding answers led to some unexpected places – a boast that his ratings on a news show were the highest since Sept. 11, an acknowledgement that he didn’t know much about NATO when he called it obsolete and an abrupt moment of hospitality: “Do you want a Coke or anything?”

Trump agreed to the interview if it were text only. After it was over, Pace quickly filed a spot story and fed another story already on the wire. She also did a stand up from the White House and promoted her work on Twitter throughout the weekend. She held back some material for a deeper look at Trump’s presidency as it hits the 100-day mark (a story she wrote from her vacation). All the stories made news and were widely shared on social media. Accompanying the coverage were portraits of the president shot just after the interview by Washington staffer Andrew Harnik.

Politico and numerous text organizations did their own stories based on Pace’s interview. And on Friday evening’s newscasts, ABC and NBC cited the AP interview in reporting Trump’s promised “massive tax cut.”

In a testament to Pace’s strong interview skills, the breakout star of the package was the transcript.

In a testament to Pace’s strong interview skills,the breakout star of the package was the transcript. It was a great read and a stand-out example of sharp,clear questioning. A team of Washington staffers took Pace’s phone recording of the interview and transcribed it late Friday afternoon so it would be ready for Sunday use. The Washington Post annotated it,and it prompted one competitor,Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, to tweet simply: “@jpaceDC is a great journalist.”

On Monday, ABC and CBS mentioned the interview, also quoting from the transcript.

Through April 26,the transcript has had more than a million page views on APNews.com alone,generating over 4.1 million total engaged minutes. Chartbeat shows the engaged time per reader on average is three minutes,50 seconds,peaking at over 4.30. Traffic peaks were driven by Dan Rather,Yahoo,HuffPost,Slate,Reddit and Salon all picking up the transcript,together with the AP’s social media posts. Across customer sites,it has generated more than 100,000 social interactions,according to NewsWhip.

For persistence and reporting that produced insights into the president’s positions and plans as he approached 100 days in the White House, Pace earns this week’s $500 prize.

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