Friday, May 18, 2007
David Filipov: a foreign reporter comes home
Working as an editor at the Boston Globe after covering wars in Afghanistan and Iraq might seem a let-down to some people. But not to David Filipov. The former Moscow Bureau Chief for the Boston Globe and now Weekend Metro editor for the newspaper finds his current job exciting. "It's probably the closest to being a foreign reporter that you can be while working in a newsroom," he said enthusiastically in a recent interview with the Mosquito.
Filipov was inspired to pursue Russian Studies at Concord-Carlisle High School where he took a Russian class taught by Barbara Monahan. He went on to earn his B.A. in Russian Studies at Brown University in 1984. He traveled to Russia as a junior, in 1983, and hadn't yet figured out, in 1983, that he wanted to be the one to tell the story to the people back home.
After receiving his master's degree in Russian Language and Literature from Bryn Mawr College in 1987, Filipov returned to Russia on several exchange programs. "I happened to be in Moscow on an exchange program in 1991," he recalled, "and I began working on an English language newspaper, the Moscow Guardian. That's how I got into journalism. His first job as a journalist was with CBS News in 1991, and then he was hired as a reporter for the Moscow Times, where he remained for two years covering Russian politics. His reporting caught the attention of the Boston Globe, which hired him as a "super stringer" — he was salaried, went on assignments, and sold his stories to the Globe. Filipov joined the Globe staff in 1994 as Moscow correspondent, and from 1996 to 2004 he was the Globe's Moscow Bureau Chief.
Learning on the job
"I never trained to be a journalist," said Filipov. "So many things in journalism are from the hip — studying for it is useful, but you can learn on the job." But in 2003, the Globe did send him to hostile environment training courses — "what to do when you're at a checkpoint" — even though he had already covered wars in Chechnya, Afghanistan and had just gone to Iraq. "I'm still learning on the job," he commented about his current job at the Globe. "There's no handbook on how to be an editor or how to manage other reporters."
A combination of factors brought Filipov and his family back to Massachusetts after eight years overseas. "My wife Anna Badkhen is a Russian citizen, and we had been thinking about living here for a while." Badkhen is also a journalist, working for the San Francisco Chronicle, which allows her to be based in the Boston area. Filipov and Badkhen and their two boys, who are almost 10 and 11, live in Plymouth.
"I've always thought of Concord as home, and imagined I would be coming back to Massachusetts sooner or later," said Filipov. A major lure back to Boston was the Red Sox, whom Filipov followed while he was overseas. "In Moscow in the late '90s you could watch on the Internet for $4 a month and see a 20-minute condensed version of the game." In Iraq he watched as the team nearly won the World Series in 2003. "It reminded you that this is where you're from, this is where you'll go back. Actually, I got back here and the Red Sox won it all [in 2005]!"
Family also drew him back. Filipov's mother lives in Concord and one of his brothers lives in Salem. His father, Alexander Filipov, an engineer, was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11 that hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Covered key moments in history
Filipov has reported on some major stories under dangerous and stressful conditions. He was in Russia in 1991 during the tumultuous time when Boris Yeltsin stood atop a tank to face down a coup attempt against Gorbachev. "Every day something new would be happening," he recalled.
He was reporting in Iraq in 2003 when it was "dangerous but you could still get around, could get a car and a translator and cover the story. Not like now." He had been covering the war in Afghanistan in 2003, and when war with Iraq began, newspapers sent experienced war correspondents who were already overseas. Filipov covered the fall of northern cities, like Mosul, and noted that people there were unhappy with their "liberation." "The emotions and chaos that I saw in Mosul looked ominous," he said. "They had Kurds and Sunni Arabs fighting each other, looting and random violence, and vigilante groups in neighborhoods. I thought, 'What if this becomes a model for what could happen across the whole country.'"
Working at the Globe
Now that Filipov is off the front lines and back in Boston, he finds producing the weekend edition of the Globe challenging and enjoyable. He likened it to being a foreign correspondent in that, "at the beginning of the day you know nothing and by the end of the day, you have a finished product. "It reminds me of parachuting into some distant place like Afghanistan, where you know nothing, know nobody, but you're going to get a story."
His job does not lack excitement. On one of Filipov's first weekends at the Globe, a New Bedford man attacked some patrons in a bar with an axe. He fled to Arkansas, where he was in a shoot-out that also involved a female companion. "We had to send someone to Arkansas, and extra people came in to work to make this big story come together. It would have been a challenge for the full Metro department and we did it with just a few reporters."
According to Filipov, one of the challenges in covering local news is telling the stories in interesting ways to readers who already know all about the area. "The Globe has been coming out for 130 years, and certain stories have already been told," he said, adding, "People care about what is happening here in our bailiwick." Citing the local controversy over the Middlesex School trying to develop part of Estabrook Woods, Filipov's job is to make the ongoing story interesting. "That's the magic of local news."
Casting a look at the newspaper world in general, Filipov observed, "Newspapers are downsizing at a time when interest in the world is as great as it's ever been," and acknowledged the alternative means of accessing the news today. "But we think that 500 journalists working in one building can do a better job than a guy sitting in his basement, blogging."
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito