After completing a degree in English Literature and Language at Victoria University of Wellington, Anna embarked on just such a career and is now the Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post.
While her reporting has encompassed everything from Iranian foreign policy to Japanese school lunches, she has gained a reputation as one of the world’s best sourced reporters on North Korea. Over the past 15 years, Anna has established links with state officials and defectors alike and has broken major stories, including news of American student Otto Warmbier’s return home in a coma after a 17-month imprisonment in North Korea and the Trump Administration’s agreement to pay for the cost of Warmbier’s medical treatment.
Anna has brought together the insights she has gained on life and politics in the pariah state, and the motivations of its leader, in a new book The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un.
“It’s impossible to write a complete biography of Kim, given how little information about him is available. But my book aims to be the closest thing to a biography we can produce, describing what we know of Kim’s background and upbringing and analysing why he acts the way he does,” Anna says.
“Western reporting on North Korea tends to be sensational or exaggerated. One thing I wanted to correct is the perception you often get in Western media that Kim is an irrational tyrant—that he’s an almost cartoonish villain who has walked straight out of a James Bond movie.
“In fact, he has acted in a very strategic way from the moment he came to power as a 27-year-old. From pursuing a nuclear weapons programme to opening a dialogue with the United States to pursuing certain economic reforms—it’s all about consolidating his grip on power.”
Looking back on her career so far, Anna says she feels incredibly lucky to have been able to fulfil her teenage ambition of being a foreign correspondent.
“I never really planned all this out. It’s very much been a case of putting my hand up when opportunities came along. My first big break came at the Financial Times in London. I was supposed to go for three months’ work experience but I volunteered to do various other bits and pieces when they came up and I ended up spending 13 years there.”
Anna reported from places as far-flung as Iraq, Libya, and the Arctic Circle, before taking on a role as White House correspondent in Washington, D.C. She then spent a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University before joining the Washington Post.
“I’m a great believer that journalists are generalists. You have to be prepared to learn quickly and take things on the fly, and I think liberal arts degrees are great for that.
“My passion at university was Anglo-Saxon poetry—in my final year, I didn’t study anything written after 1500. But the basic skills—how to research and write, how to structure an argument, how to analyse and think about what’s in front of you—are relevant for a whole range of careers.”