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10 Questions With…Alyona Minkovski of HuffPost Live!

We sat down with Alyona Minkosvki of Huffington Post Live as part of our "10 Questions With..." interview series.
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Alyona Minkosvki is a former Russia Today correspondent who is now a host on HuffPost Live. She was named by Forbes as one of the 30 most influential media personalities under the age of 30, and she has strong views on asteroid attacks...

The Daily Banter:You were born in Moscow, and obviously are of Russian descent. Having been raised in America though, what’s your favorite Russian stereotype or portrayal of Russians in a film/tv show?

Alyona Minkovski: I find it both comical and frustrating that Russians are one of the only 3 types of bad guys in Hollywood. Let’s see a little more creativity people!

And you know how you can’t understand anything the Russian villains are saying in the movies without the subtitles? Neither can I, because they’re not actually speaking Russian.

That said….have you seen the photographs from Russia that make their way around the internet? We’re not doing ourselves any favors.

The Daily Banter:Your mother was a figure skater, though, if we want to talk stereotypes. Did you ever dream of following in her footsteps?

Alyona Minkovski:  My mother has 3 Olympic gold medals, 10 World Championship gold medals, and 11 European Championship gold medals. Would you want to try to live up to that?

Thankfully I was never pressured to attempt pursuing what would have been a painfully embarrassing figure skating career. I dabbled in it when I was young, but it wasn’t for me.

My entire family has been incredibly supportive of whatever I try and they’re a talented and inspirational lot. I’m very fortunate for all the opportunities they made available to me.

The Daily Banter: So when did you start showing an interest in journalism?

Alyona Minkovski: I was all over the place as a kid, but I did always love to write. I just assumed journalism would mean that I could travel all over the world Anthony Bourdain style, with food and booze in the mix.

I always had a healthy dose of skepticism and distrust of authority though. In college, I spent more time philosophizing about Machiavelli and Hannah Arendt than reading the news. Then one day I realized that many of our post 9/11 policies were a real life example of the worst aspects of power and government structures taking advantage of peoples’ fears.

Call me cheesy, but as an immigrant I grew up with a particular appreciation for constitutional rights and freedoms in this country and I felt disillusioned and didn’t want to sit back and welcome their erosion.

Broadcast journalism, however, seemed like an accident. I certainly never imagined hosting a tv show and I’m grateful to RT for giving me that opportunity. Ultimately it’s other journalists whose work I respect, and many of whom I’m lucky enough to now call my friends that made me want to be in the field. There’s power in exposing the truth.

It also doesn’t hurt that they’re a hard partying bunch. I’ll always be thankful to my dear friend Michael Hastings, an amazing journalist who left us too soon. He was both a mentor and one of my biggest supporters.

The Daily Banter: You were one of the first journalists to speak with Julian Assange. During that interview, all I could think was, “Assange looks like he should be in The Matrix.” Did that ever cross your mind at all? If not, can’t you at least totally see that?

Alyona Minkovski: I can’t believe you wasted one of your ten questions on that. Julian and his entire team had a very mysterious air about them. That was a crazy day. I only found out it was happening maybe an hour before that interview when they were presenting the Collateral Murder video at the National Press Club. It’s crazy to think how much has happened since that day. The person I really want to talk to now is Chelsea Manning. I think she’s a brave individual and a hero.

But to answer your question, yes, I can totally see that.

The Daily Banter: Huffington Post really seems like the internet’s first newspaper but that was a relatively long time ago, and it’s as susceptible to the ever-changing media landscape as the other big newspapers’ websites. How do you see it, and other sites like it, adapting to this new media industry?

Alyona Minkovski: The Huffington Post in many ways created the new media industry and continues to be a trendsetter. At the end of the day, it’s a business and there is certain content that drives traffic and pays the bills, and content that is just pure good reporting and good commentary.

Everyone is trying to find the balance and I have no doubt Huffington Post will continue to navigate those waters well. I think what we’re doing with HuffPost Live is a perfect example. It’s a unique platform that provides a space for the community be engaged, allows ample time for thought provoking discussions, and can be clipped into short videos to be watched on a variety of devices whether you’re at home on your computer or on the go.

I think it’s an exciting time for new media ventures in general, especially with developments like the Omidyar project. There are an endless amount of stories to be told and secrets to uncover, unfortunately journalists will just always be at the mercy of funding, and at the moment, there are willing investors with what seem like good intentions.

The Daily Banter: What are your thoughts on the grey area of sponsored content? Is this the necessarily evil that’s going to save journalism?

Alyona Minkovski: I’m not really all that offended by it. As long as media organizations are up front about it, it’s up to the reader to make the judgement call on how it influences their views. Parsing through the available material out there is already that way, and if anything, having a giant line that says it’s sponsored by so and so makes it more obvious and clear-cut. I’m sure most companies and industries are envious of the government. They get kiss ass coverage for free!

The Daily Banter: Arianna Huffington just released The World Post. What do you hope gets accomplished with that venture?

Alyona Minkovski: The World Post is an expansion of the Huffington Post to a broader and more global audience. 40% of our traffic comes in from outside the US, so why not diversify and provide another space on a prominent platform for an international dialogue. I haven’t been directly involved in its development but I think the timing couldn’t be better.

We live in an interconnected world, and the beauty of the internet is that everyone from influential leaders to young students and artists can share their perspective in the same place. Step one is to start the conversation, spurring action is the challenge.

The Daily Banter: Forbes named you one of the 30 most influential media personalities under the age of 30, but if you could make any magazine’s list of the Top 30 Most _____, what would it be?

Alyona Minkovski: I hate lists and superlatives and rankings. As long as I’m not one of the Top 30 people in media you can’t trust, I’m cool.

The Daily Banter: You’ve given airtime to people who have claimed to have hacked major companies in retaliation for banks that refused to work with WikiLeaks. How much faith do you have in those kinds of hacker communities when it comes to vigilante justice like that?

Alyona Minkovski: You couldn’t think of a more recent example? Had to point that out. Overall I think hackers are people with a skill set that can both excite and terrify us all. If they’re carrying out operations for political reasons that point out hypocrisy and lead to greater transparency on the part of governments and corporations, great. Just keep innocent users and their bank accounts and personal data and the like out of it. I think the lack of cohesion amongst these collectives is what can lead to poor strategies and decisions.

The government’s overreaction and heavy handed prosecution of hackers is the most troublesome to me. People like Jeremy Hammond or Barret Brown, you don’t have to like them, but the punishment should fit the crime.

The Daily Banter: If we are all screwed and the world is going to end, how do you see it happening?

Alyona Minkovski: I’m constantly being made fun of for what others claim is my unfounded fear of an asteroid hitting the earth and destroying us all.

I’m mostly hoping it’s not something of our own creation. Watch out for drones and Skynet.

The Daily Banter: What’s your dream story or event to cover?

Alyona Minkovski: The asteroid apocalypse. I WILL have the last laugh.

In all seriousness I’d love to do investigative work and travel more for stories. I have an inferiority complex as a broadcaster that I haven’t spent enough time in the field getting my hands dirty and producing what people consider original material. I know it’s shocking, but I do more than sit in a studio and read a prompter. But I still can’t shake the feeling that I need to prove it.

Of course if the next Edward Snowden happens to throw a massive treasure trove of documents uncovering government wrongdoing in my hands, I’d be ecstatic. Will keep dreaming for now.