Christopher Brennan is an Associate Editor with The Moscow Times and runs that publication’s website and Facebook feed. He formerly served an SRAS-arranged journalism internship there over the summer of 2012 while studying Russian at MGU. He is a recent graduate of Columbia University with degrees in Political Science and Russian Literature and Culture.
SRAS: You are currently an Associate Editor with The Moscow Times in Moscow, Russia and formerly served an SRAS-arranged journalism internship with that paper in the summer of 2012. First, can you tell us a bit about your internship – what did it involve and what do you think you learned from it?
Christopher Brennan: Though I had always been involved in student media, my internship at The Moscow Times was my first dip in the water of what it means to put out a daily paper in terms of reporting, meeting deadlines, and getting all the stories ready for print. Working with former Arts & Ideas editor Kevin O’Flynn was great for my writing as well, as he pushes writers to find out what is the most interesting part about an event/person and then convey that to readers.
SRAS: You now work for The Moscow Times as an editor. First, can you tell us how you found out about this job and, second, can you tell us a bit about what it involves?
CB: When I graduated from university I originally had plans to go to journalism school, though I began to realize more and more that I wanted to get some real experience writing and editing rather than spending any more time in a classroom. All of my friends had left for Memorial Day weekend and I was sitting in a coffee shop in New York when I got a strong whiff of a smell that reminded me of Shokoladnitsa, the questionably-priced Moscow coffee chain. I checked The Moscow Times’ website and saw that they had an opening. I sent an email asking about the job and copied my former editor on it. Within a couple of days I was planning how to get the documents for my visa.
My work now is much more involved with The Moscow Times website, and I edit the work of our reporters in addition to running our Facebook page and writing my own pieces. My work is more editorial now in that I help decide which stories we will cover. Choosing what to write on is always an interesting opportunity to reflect on the response I give to the oft-asked question “So why Russia?” Whether it is from a second cousin at a family Christmas party or a SRAS survey, I always answer the “What interested you about Russia” question by saying that Russia’s stories interest me, that Russia is a place where complex, interesting, and unexpected things happen.
SRAS: Great to hear that your internship helped you land a paid position – we always love to hear that. And certainly after ten years of living here – I certainly could not agree with you more on the stories that come from Russia. So, you majored in Political Science and Russian Literature and Culture at Columbia and became active in journalism early in your college career. Have you always planned to work abroad in Russia?
CB: As someone who loves to travel and who loves to write, I think I’ve always found the idea of working as a journalist abroad to be an exciting prospect. I had no idea that I would get the opportunity so quickly in my career. Often times the reporters working in Moscow at larger outlets like The New York Times already have tons of experience under their belts covering domestic affairs in the US before heading overseas. I’m lucky that The Moscow Times likes to take chances on young writers.
SRAS: Although many former reporters from The Moscow Times have gone on to larger careers in the US at major papers there. So they must have fairly good instincts there. So what is the most interesting experience you’ve had while abroad?
CB: I had the opportunity to break a story about racial discrimination at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy that I’m proud of.
SRAS: With all your international knowledge and experience, where do you hope to be in five years?
CB: In January 2019 I would love to be a reporter looking back at a year that saw me covering a successful World Cup in Russia capped off by a dramatic US victory. I don’t know which country I would hope to be based out of, but I think that spending time working abroad can provide much-needed global insight to American writers who return home.
SRAS: What advice would you have for other students hoping to study abroad or work abroad in Russia or Central Asia?
CB: Immerse yourself in as much of the native-language culture as you can. I was never a big fan of stereotypically dry language exercises but watching Russian movies, reading Russian books and listening to Russian music is a must for understanding a language as a real, usable skill. One of the best academic experiences of my life was at Columbia when as part of a small seminar class we spent an entire semester reading War and Peace in the original.