Apart from Orthodox faithful at Epiphany, there are probably few even longtime Moscow residents who have taken a wintry dip through a hole cut in the ice. Despite having only lived here for three years, journalist Lindsay France is one of them.
“It was very frightening,” she said of the experience.
“I had to actually replicate what it would be like to fall in unexpectedly,” France explained. Her working environment has since changed, however, having swapped icy lakes for a warm studio as a host of RT’s new morning show, “Privet Russia!”
An inquisitive nature
Interviewing an explorer wasn’t much of a stretch for the 31-year-old native of Wenatchee, Washington.
“I was just always really adventurous and loved the outdoors… and exploring,” France said.
Her explorations were not just walks through the local forests. A tradition of watching the evening news with her father fostered her curiosity about the world at a very young age.
“My dad would explain things to me, like what the little crosses were on the videotape,” she said. “He’d say, ‘Those are the little kids in Ethiopia who died because their mothers didn’t have food for them.'”
Growing up with such images from around the world prompted her to study international relations at Seattle Pacific University. After graduating in 2003, she moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for a political action committee and later for a missile defense lobbying organization. Still, she never really felt at home in the U.S. capital.
Volunteer work at a community television station provided France with a path to a more suitable location and profession. An interview with Philip Smucker, an overseas reporter and writer, helped her “network my way into my first real journalism job as a production assistant at CNN in New York.”
Starting in September 2004, she helped cover everything from that year’s presidential election to the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. The job “was trial by fire,” she said. “I got paid pennies and it was an excellent education.”
Ready for her close-up
Leaving CNN in September 2005, France began doing freelance production work for the History Channel and the Discovery Channel, which soon left her unsatisfied.
“I was compiling so much research and so much information to hand over for someone else to read,” she said.
She returned close to home in 2006, to the agricultural community of Yakima, Washington, where she moved in front of the camera as a reporter at a small ABC station. Over the next 3?1/2 years, she trekked around the countryside researching, producing and presenting stories on food science, agriculture and ecology.
It was, she said, “the time of my life.”
It was also a time of budget cuts, and the slow economy stood in the way of any significant advancement.
“Plenty of colleagues were making lateral career moves for little money, bad benefits and almost no expansion on what they got to cover,” France said.
Having little interest in domestic network news, she worked on a couple of short-term university fellowships on technology and the environment, all the while keeping an eye out for opportunities – such as working for RT in Moscow, a job a friend told her about.
“I had never given the idea of working in Russia much thought, but I welcomed the opportunity,” she said, making the move in 2010.
Moving to a different country always involves an adjustment period, especially with the learning curve involved in working in a different culture, and France’s experience was no exception.
“Learning the way Russians manage a company versus how Americans do, and getting my footing, were definitely a trial,” France said. Her uncertainty, however, didn’t last long.
“I came into a really good atmosphere,” she said. “It’s just been this amazing experience, where I have gotten to do things I would have never gotten to do, report on, or see at any U.S. news station ever.”
Her work has included coverage of issues affecting Russia’s wilderness and two trips to Kazakhstan, for a three-part series on the disappearing Aral Sea and to cover an International Space Station expedition launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The next wave
Although France misses her family and the “beautiful silence” of rural living, she isn’t quite ready to pack up and return to the United States.
“I have what I call my ‘Moscow moments,’ where I’m like, ‘How much more can I take?'” she said. But “I’m still just taking it as it comes [and] keeping a very open mind about what’s possible here.”
Among the possibilities are a show now in early development, in which she can take a more intimate look at technology – an issue of increasing relevance in Russia, not just in terms of the economy, but also the environment.
“My love has always been innovation, technology, how it affects the environment, how it affects society, how it affects business, how it affects politics,” she said, attributing to her fellowship studies her awareness of an ever-increasing desire for environmentally friendly living patterns.
“The next wave that’s going to hit [Russia] is this concept of eco-living… The things I learned just show that the thirst for this isn’t going to go away.”