As the world’s attention was focused on Beijing yesterday evening for the opening ceremony of the Olympics, in a small hanok in Bukcheon another celebration was taking place. Anna Fifield, the FT’s Seoul bureau chief, was having a farewell party to mark the end of her four years in the Land of Morning Calm.
I’m told that the FT is the only UK newspaper to have a permanent bureau in Seoul, and I believe is one of only two western newspapers to have a presence there – the other one being the International Herald Tribune. Apart from the standard news stories you expect the FT to cover, Fifield has produced a steady stream of out-of-the-way features highlighting particular aspects of Korea in depth. Maybe some of the subjects are familiar to people who immerse themselves in the Korean blogosphere, but even for such an audience Fifield’s feature-length articles pull things together nicely, and of course for the general FT reader provide insights they wouldn’t normally get. And even for the Korea specialist she produces material hard to find elsewhere.
Her most recent feature was about the slightly odd “well-dying” product being sold by Korea Life Consulting (When death is a reminder to live, 21 July 2008), and the above photo shows her researching that particular story. My own favourite is the interview with Shin Dong-jin, the man charged with increasing Korea’s birthrate, published at the height of the DPRK missile-testing crisis (Room for one more, 7 July 2006).
Other features include
- Winter Sonata (S Korea’s soap operas win fans across Asia 13 Dec 2004)
- Living in Seoul (Can you share soup on a first date? 10 June 2006)
- Seoul’s hanoks in Bukcheon (New life for an old way of building, 6 Oct 2006) (which attracted criticism from her near neighbour in Bukcheon, David Kilburn)
- Vietnamese brides (S Korean farmers look further afield for brides, 28 Nov 2006)
- Seoul’s future architectural development (Architects bid to restore ‘soul of Seoul’, 15 July 2008)
(note that you only get four free clicks on the FT website in any 30 day period, so prioritise your browsing if you want to read one or two of the articles in full)
She has also enjoyed her trips north of the DMZ, and was recently runner-up in the 2008 SOPA awards for editorial excellence for her coverage of North Korea, in the Human Rights Reporting category:
An excellent overview of one of the great unknowns that must be closely observed in Asia. Good reporting and analysis of key issues from different sides. It has taken a long time for the FT to tackle this issue and report on the plight of the refuges in China. This was another example of a journalist supplying excellent insight about a notoriously difficult subject. The reporter has clearly gotten to know her story, and was able to give the reader a detailed view of North Korea from a variety of angles.
After a few years at the same job, anyone is entitled to get itchy feet, and Fifield is now off to the middle east, where she will cover Lebanon, Syria, Iran and northern Iraq from the FT’s office in Beirut. At LKL we’ll be sorry to see her go.