Anja Kueppers-Mckinnon, broadcast journalist and anchor at DW.

Anja Kueppers-Mckinnon, broadcast journalist and anchor at DW.

Media dialogues: Anja Kueppers-Mckinnon
A broadcast journalist with international experience in anchoring, reporting, writing and editing TV news programs at DW in Germany
28 Mar 2024

This article is part of a series of interviews with people who work in the media to provide the news and views that shape our perceptions of world affairs. Anja Kueppers-Mckinnon, News Anchor and Reporter from Deutsche Welle, spoke to UN Today about her life and career in media.

What is your professional background?

I was 14 years old when I first knew I wanted to be a journalist. I was watching the BBC’s Kate Adie reporting live and in a flak jacket from Tiananmen Square. Seeing her communicating the momentous events unfolding around her, I knew she was doing something really important and that I wanted to be a journalist, too.

I was born in Australia to two German parents and we moved to the UK when I was four years old, so travel, languages and navigating different cultures are in my DNA. But after graduating from university, I allowed my journalism plans to be sidetracked by well-meaning friends and family members who suggested that getting a job as a reporter would be too difficult and that a ‘sensible’ career path in corporate London would be much more suitable. This was an important lesson to trust yourself.

I was 28 when I finally got on with things. I started writing articles for a variety of magazines and newspapers while travelling around Thailand. I moved to Sydney to complete a Masters Degree in journalism and while I was at university, I volunteered regularly at a community radio station. That’s how I first connected with Germany’s international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle. I left Sydney after I graduated and went to work for DW in Bonn, where I spent the next several years presenting english-language radio programmes and reporting with a focus on environment and climate issues in Germany and internationally.

My environmental reporting experience helped me secure a job as the Climate and Energy Communications Advisor at the German Embassy in Washington, D.C.. Our team there launched the ‘Transatlantic Climate Bridge’ to encourage American and German policymakers to work together on climate and energy initiatives. President Obama had recently been elected, and there was a heady sense of dynamism in the world of international climate politics at the time.

Fast forward to the summer of 2015 – I was married with two children by then – and my family and I arrived in Berlin. My husband, also a journalist, and I had been recruited to join DW’s newly relaunched TV news service. It was the year of the European refugee crisis when more than 1 million migrants, many of them escaping the Syrian civil war, traveled across the Mediterranean and Europe to reach Germany. It was a tumultuous year in European and German history, and the year I cut my teeth working in 24-hour news.

I’ve spent the last nine years reporting, producing and anchoring in a whirlwind of early and late shifts and breaking news stories. I love the speed and excitement. I work with talented and lovely colleagues in DW’s multi-lingual newsroom. Most of all, I love connecting with people from around the world through the interviews I get to conduct as an anchor. I’m consistently moved, sometimes to tears, by their stories.

News today is a tough place to work though. We report so often on people who are experiencing unimaginable pain and suffering. I’m happy to see an increasing focus on the mental health of journalists. I’ve personally learned the importance of self care in recent years. Taking time out is so important – whether that involves walking our dog, meditating, or going for a run. The strength I draw from my family also plays a huge part in keeping my feet on the ground and not getting swept up in the 24-hour news cycle. My career path reflects the choices I’ve made while combining my roles as a journalist and mother, with a spouse who’s also a journalist. There are opportunities both of us have bypassed so we could be at home with the children. But I’m proud of what we’ve built and I bring more focus, empathy and pragmatism to my job as a result.

Anja Kueppers-Mckinnon, broadcast journalist and anchor at DW.

What’s the best interview you’ve ever done?

The best interviews for me are when I can feel the connection with the person I’m speaking to. That natural chemistry helps me ask better questions and makes the interviewee feel comfortable opening up.

One of my favourite interviews was with John Shipton, a quietly-spoken man who was speaking out against his son’s incarceration. John Shipton is Julian Assange’s dad and he was in Berlin because a documentary about the WikiLeaks founder was opening ‘A Human Rights Film Festival.’ John joined me in the DW studio to tell me how his son was doing and what hopes he had for his future. I remember him speaking quietly, but with great dignity and determination. I could relate to his emotion as a parent, speaking about the son he loved and wanted so much to be free.

I also remember the seconds counting down and my producer urging me, through my earpiece, to bring the interview to a close. As ever in TV news, the clock was ticking and there wasn’t much time left until the end of the show. But I really wanted John to have the space to express himself without interruption. So I listened. And he kept talking. Then he finished his thoughts. We smiled at each other. I thanked him for joining me on DW. And three seconds later, the show ended. It was perfect.

What is the interview you’d like to do but haven’t been able to yet?

The relationship dynamics between leaders and their spouses or partners fascinate me. If I could choose, I would interview Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his wife Olena to ask them how they’ve navigated his transition from comedian to war time leader, and how that’s affected their marriage and their family. I remember a photo of the Zelenskyys with their children several years before the war started. He and his son, Kyrylo, both have their faces painted as if they’ve just been to a party. They’re laughing and look happy and carefree.

Former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, by Anjia Kueppers-Mckinnon, May 18, 2023.

Compare that to photos of Zelenskyy in Bucha in the wake of the atrocities carried out there, or to any current photo of him. The toll of the war is etched on his face. How have he and his wife navigated those experiences together? Imagine maintaining a work-life-relationship balance while leading a country at war against Russia…it’s hard enough as a shift-working journalist!

I’d also jump at the chance to interview the British environmental journalist George Monbiot. His writing for The Guardian is always courageous and straight to the point. I’m reading one of his books right now called ‘Feral’, which explores the idea of rewilding. I’m fascinated by the idea of nature being given more of a chance to take care of itself, of reintroducing animal and plant species to habitats where they used to thrive. I’m sure the magic that happens when modern society is reconnected with wilder nature must offer at least part of the solution to many of the world’s societal crises. George Monbiot has a deeper understanding than most of our profound connection with nature and I’d love to learn more from him.

What is your view on the role of the media?

The media must communicate vital information with facts that can be trusted. A journalist’s job is to create understanding between people, regions, cultures and nations. A journalist must put events into context and make ideas digestible and relatable. If people are aware of what’s happening in their neighbourhood, in their country and around the world, they have a much greater chance of feeling connected and empowered. Uncovering and communicating the truth starts with conversations. Journalists need to reach out to ask direct questions. Beyond simple phone calls, they must get outside, ask people what they think and listen closely. I’m thinking of a recent conversation that CNN’s Clarissa Ward had with an Egyptian woman activist at the Rafah crossing. The woman angrily confronted Ward about the biased media coverage of the war in Gaza, and shouted at her to “come talk to me like a human being”. Ward agreed, listened to the woman and broadcast their conversation. It’s an example of the kind of newsreporting that builds trust and understanding.

Prime Minister of Lithuania, Ingrida Šimonytė, by Anja Kueppers Mckinnon, March 14th 2024.

What is your vision of media 10 years from now?

I recently read a New Yorker article entitled ‘Is the Media Prepared for an Extinction-Level Event?’. Then I saw a post on LinkedIn by a former colleague who wrote, “My training was rigorous and my degree effectively prepared me for a journalism world that no longer exists.” The media is without doubt in the midst of massive change. Levels of trust in journalism continue to plummet. And then there’s the increasing roar of A.I. Will there be any journalists left 10 years from now? I do think we have to embrace inevitable change because despite all the ‘reshaping’ of recent decades, more is coming.

The media needs to be open to this, more flexible and also more diverse. But we shouldn’t simply chase the clicks. With the level of polarization around the world, truthful and independent reporting must play a role in helping people understand how things work – in their neighbourhood or on the other side of the world. People who are well-Informed make better decisions in the way they live, vote and treat others. Journalists and media organisations that produce unbiased news have a responsibility to deliver, regardless through which medium. And that, I believe, will still be relevant 10 years from now.

Could you share an interesting work-related anecdote?

I think any recent anecdotes that come to mind involve me racing between the newsroom and the studio. I remember a time we were broadcasting from a different studio three floors up from the newsroom and I arrived five minutes before the programme was due to start. I’d forgotten about the green screen in this smaller studio though, which meant the green blouse I was wearing would make my body invisible on camera! I somehow managed to change and get back in front of the camera with about 15 seconds to spare…breathing a little heavily as the newscast started.

Also, I think about those times I find out about an interview I’ll be doing with precious little time to prepare, such as when I interviewed the former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, shortly before his arrest in May, 2023.

But here’s a nice anecdote from about 15 years ago which doesn’t involve any rushing around. I was in Uttar Pradesh, India for DW, working with a local journalist at a partner radio station. We were producing a documentary about gender equality and the focus was women-only courts or Nari adalats. In this deeply patriarchal and rural society, female judges listened to people’s problems – such as domestic violence or property rights – and determined just outcomes without judicial intervention.

We travelled several hours through the countryside, along pot-holed roads, to watch a Nari adalat in action. Crouched on the floor with our microphones at the ready in a hut-like structure without walls, we watched a young couple take a seat in front of the women judges. The husband, handsome and confident-looking, was accused of beating his new wife. He looked dismissive while she looked meekly on. But as the discussion progressed and the judges engaged the couple in conversation, the wife’s confidence grew. She got angry, started speaking up and admonished her spouse for his actions. We expected him to ignore her. Instead, and to everyone’s astonishment, he suddenly burst into tears.

The judges calmly continued to talk to the couple to agree on a way forward. They reminded the husband that the community would be watching his behaviour from now on, and then quietly gave them permission to leave the court. It did feel like we were witnessing real societal change – and the sounds we recorded of the wife shouting and the husband sobbing were the icing on the cake for our radio documentary about gender equality.

* Julián Ginzo is a member of the Editorial Board of UN Today.
Read more articles about GLOBAL AFFAIRS