Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re likely aware of the growing tensions between Russia and the United States. It seems everyday there’s a new report about the possibilities and implications of Russian tampering with the latest presidential election, or which politicians have Russian ties. It’s obviously a complicated political environment and I won’t pretend I’m an expert or have anything that could be construed as a solution. However, two women who have first-hand knowledge or Russian-American relationships and are working to address some of the stigma in this trying time are friends Smith and Olivia, hosts of She’s in Russia.
Smith, based in New York, and Olivia, in St. Petersburg, record She’s in Russia with the goal of removing any media bias or propaganda and discussing the complicated relationship in a reasonable and logical manner. Though they disagree in some areas, it’s refreshing to see level-headed discussion by two articulate women about a fairly divisive topic.
I got a chance to speak with Smith about their podcast, how they got started, their goals, and her take on the latest wave of “fake news”. Take a look below for our full Q&A.
Discover Pods: What’s your podcast about?
Smith: A podcast where two best friends — one in St. Petersburg and one in Brooklyn — try to ward off Cold War II by talking about Russia and Russian people in a nuanced and responsible way.
DP: What’s unique about your podcast?
Smith: I like to think we hit on a key intersection between casual conversation and diligent research. Also, Lily is my best friend (and partner in many ways) and so I think our dynamic feels very honest, trusting, and comfortable. Lastly, we’re two 25 year-old women talking about Russian politics, which just isn’t that common.
DP: How did you and Olivia first meet? Were you always on two different continents?
Smith: We met in school – we lived on the same dorm floor freshman year of college. After we graduated Lily moved to St. Petersburg.
DP: Why did you choose to podcast?
Smith: Lily has lived in Russia for the past three years. Since the beginning, we’d been having this ongoing conversation about the real dearth of nuanced information about Russia in the mainstream American media. With the 2016 election and the resurgence of anti-Russian fervor, the ongoing conversation we’d been having became that much more relevant. We wanted to augment the American imagining of Russia and Russian people. We already spent hours a week talking to one another on the phone, so a podcast seemed like the natural medium to capture our ideas.
DP: Has your friendship been challenged through this previous election period and the allegations of Russian tampering? Or are you two typically in agreement?
Smith: The whole premise of our podcast is to push back against the recent resurgence of anti-Russian rhetoric that is mostly peddled by mainstream liberal media. Generally, we both believe Russia’s influence on the 2016 election was negligible and that the narrative of Russian interference is used to deflect responsibility of a failed democratic campaign. So no, I would not say our friendship has been challenged, if anything it’s strengthened by the fact that we now talk for at least 2 hours a week.
DP: The latest news suggests the influence is much larger on social media sites than previously thought. What do you think the social media companies’ responsibility is to thwart “fake news”?
Smith: I was talking to Lily about this and we had semi-conflicting views, but I see where she’s coming from. My take is that companies have an obligation to behave ethically (okay what ethically means is still unclear) in the same way that individuals do. Generally, I think the spread of disinformation in certain contexts is unethical. When we say social media is a platform, we mean it not only provides a literal space for information but also architects and manages the environment. It changes the form in which we communicate and therefore has a responsibility to ensure that communication is responsible.
As Lily pointed out to me, this is where we get into sticky territory. She’s of the opinion that just because a company owns a platform does not mean they should control the relationship of said content by some notion of “objective truth.” Particularly because this “objective truth” is very unclear. If you manage someone’s communication by this potentially false “objective truth” then you must address the implications of censorship.
We’re both of the opinion that people should be more internet literate, thus avoiding the need for regulation from on high.
DP: What’s the most difficult challenge you face as an indie podcaster?
Smith: The main thing is time. Our podcast probably takes about 15 hours/week, as a side project that’s quite a bit. It’s easy to get that feeling of “but we just recorded an episode last week.”
DP: Where do you see podcasts headed in the next 5 years?
Smith: Honestly, I haven’t given it much critical thought. I assume it will become more commercialized and we’ll see more companies following the Gimlet model (i.e. supplementing revenue with sponsored content). I do think though that currently podcasting seems to accommodate a wide range of production and I’m curious to see if the Patreon-for-Podcasting model flourishes.
DP: What type of equipment do you use?
Smith: We use the Audio-Technica AT2005USB mics, record with Audacity and Reaper, and edit and mix with Reaper. We call each other on Skype.
DP: What are your five favorite podcasts?
- The Read
- This American Life
- Mystery Show
- Bodega Boys
- Chapo Trap House
DP: Anything else you’d like to add?
Smith: I recommend people read The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. It doesn’t have anything to do with our podcast, it’s just a very good book.
Check out some other sweet Russian-themed podcasts:
Sean’s Russia Blog Podcast
Russia House Podcast
The Russia Guy
Everyone Hates Moscow
DP: Where can listeners find you?