How the U.S news media works -Interview with journalist Lori Harfenist
ITHP Exclusive Interview | July 4th 2012
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Lori Harfenist isn't you're everyday reporter. You won't find her shying away from a difficult question, hunching over a desk all day, or conforming to the trends of the mainstream media. Over the years Lori's unique approach to journalism has garnered the attention of powerful entertainment outlets, launched her hit show "The Resident," and allowed her to become one of Youtube's first 75 partners. Today Lori is an Internet sensation. Her many videos have been viewed by millions of people all across the globe and she continues to report on critical issues the U.S mainstream media so often "forgets" about.
ITHP got the amazing opportunity to ask Lori a few questions about her experiences working with news media and her opinions on how the industry is run. Enjoy!
Over the years you've worked with a variety of high profile news corporations? While working what have you observed that you enjoyed and disliked?
No matter what its unique agenda might have been, every large news organization I've worked with has had really great individual employees with whom I'm truly enjoyed on a personal basis, as well as one characteristic that I absolutely loathe: layers of bureaucracy that inhibit creativity and integrity. For some reason, the sum of an organization is usually lesser than its parts, or the people who comprise the organization. That's why I tend to gravitate to situations where there is less money, less people, and less bureaucracy. The work just feels better, more honest, and more expedient.
Today if you go to any major news site the headlines will be dominated by disturbing stories of missing children, homicide, and scandal. Do you believe these stories are so prevalent because they're cheap to produce and sell or could it be possibly for a darker purpose?
I believe the reason major news sites gravitate toward salacious or dark stories is because that's what sells. More people will click on, "20 Babies Found in Suitcase," over, "A Discourse on How to Redefine the Banking System." It might be because, as I like to say, the world is filled with C-students (the average, middle-ground grade given to students in the US), meaning the bulk of the world's population is of average to low intelligence due to a general lack of initiative. Most people aren't striving to learn and grow and add value. Most people are just looking for pleasure, comfort, and ease. Rubbernecking, as dark as it is, falls into that category. I don't blame or judge the rubberneckers, but I'm fully aware that they are out there, and they outnumber those of us who do strive for more. Since news organizations depend on advertising dollars, they need to generate as many clicks or views as possible. So, they gravitate toward the disturbing or, as I like to think of them, "cheap" headlines. I'm not saying I'm innocent of that, either. I've given ridiculous names to some videos just to prompt people to watch them. I have a video called, "Stephen Hawking is an Idiot," and one called, "Why People Hate the USA." Those videos do well, because people see the crazy title. I consciously try to get the rubberneckers to think a little bit more; I try to trick them into more thinking than they bargain for. News organizations are just going for the ad dollars by and large, though. It's just the nature of the big organization in general.
In the United States I'm sure you've noticed that many major news companies cover the same story and completely ignore others. It's almost as if they have some close line of communication. Does this trend disturb you?
Of course it's disturbing! It's laziness and something more insidious: agenda. It's laziness because it shows that news organizations aren't trying to disseminate more truths, more stories, or more information. They are phoning it in: again, they are being C-students. They are putting no effort into their jobs. They come in in the morning and get handed a rundown by their producers along with corporate emails about vernacular policy, and their stories just write themselves. Then they sit in the hair and makeup chair and gossip about celebrities, and they don't have to think at all. It's easy. On the other hand, news organizations covering the same stories while ignoring others is indicative of agenda. The producers who decide what stories to cover are given those stories by the higher ups (or again are too lazy to do their own research), and oftentimes organizations use those stories as a way to reiterate their organization's agenda. For FOXNews, they will use every story to reiterate their conservative agenda. It's not just them, either. It's every major news organization. FOXNews is just so laughably blatant, so they are easy to single out.
What's your take on Ron Paul and how the media has covered his race to the White House?
Ron Paul is terrific. I wish he would give up on trying to change things from the inside and move to a position in the media. He should get on a soapbox and never shut up. His media coverage is weird, but it almost might be fair, if unintentionally so. What I mean is, I personally don't believe he has a chance to win the presidency, and even if he DID, I can't imagine how he would ever be able to initiate any of the policies he espouses, with Washington being as entrenched and entangled with corporatism as it is.
I think the libertarian ideal, which he embodies, is absolutely fantastic from a theoretical standpoint – something to strive for. Realistically, I don't believe it would benefit society or reflect well on it from a moral standpoint, if completely embraced by a government. Maybe it would be, but that would be placing a LOT of trust in the moral compass of the public sector, of which I'm extremely skeptical.
The fact is, there are a lot of people who can't provide for themselves as well as others, and as a human being, I can't feel good about society forgetting about them. I think we're better than that, or at least should strive to be. So, I think it's understandable – if unfortunate – to discount Ron Paul as a viable candidate, because he is so far removed from the reality of our country's plumbing as it stands today. But, I don't believe that's why the media doesn't cover him. I believe they don't cover him because they don't understand his philosophy, and they are scared of his philosophy. Further, they are again given their agendas from their organizations, and no organization is going to back Ron Paul, because he is the antithesis of corporate sponsorship.
The bottom line is that, no one working at a news organization intends on being a corporate mouthpiece, but they can't help it. When a company is paying your bills, and you work with people whom you like on an individual basis every day, it's easy to drink the Kool Aid and not even notice it. It's not this evil conspiracy that disenfranchised people like to think it is. It's subtler and less intentional. In some ways, that makes it more evil, but in other ways, it makes it more understandable. I wish Ron Paul would just be allowed to speak to the masses more, because his radical libertarian point of view is beautiful from a theoretical standpoint, and the more people understood about it, the more balanced and educated their opinions might be.
While working for the foreign company Russia Today did you notice any differences that separated it from U.S media companies?
I love working for RT. Russians are a great people, and I recommend a night of drinking with them at least once in your life. US media companies have more money and are slicker. Because there is less money and power involved, I'm afforded more control of what I can or can't say and what I can and can't cover.
Other than that, there isn't much of a difference in my own experience. RT has a completely different view of the world than many American media companies, but they have an agenda just like anyone else. Everyone does. If you are a human being, you have a bias. You are taking information in through your own senses, and your entire history of experience will color that information to help you make sense of it. It's a basic condition of humanity, and there's nothing wrong with it.
What IS wrong is professing to be completely unbiased, because that doesn't exist. RT is as biased as FOXNews in some respects; they are just slanting toward a perspective that I tend to agree with more. They are also a lot less crafty about indoctrinating the masses to their perspective, which is commendable.
But I don't allow myself the illusion of absolute truth, because that only comes from all of us, together, combined.
Someone as successful as yourself must have had role models. Was there every anyone in your industry that you looked up to?
The only thing that has led me to this industry has been a winding road, not a role model. I will say that when I was young, I read a book about Jessica Savitch, a reporter in the 70s and 80s from my hometown, who met a dramatic end after a dramatic career, and it made me, someone with an appreciation for both art and intellect, interested in journalism as a field. I never intended on being a journalist. I've just always followed my own path and brain, and it led me here, and so this is now what I'm doing.
In recent years its seemed that you've taken a critical stance to United States foreign and domestic policy. What has recently angered or alarmed you the most about the direction this country is heading?
I've always been critical of what I love, including myself, because I'm a sucker for self-improvement. The same applies for my criticism of the US. I love my country. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
In fact, I've never been off this continent, because my country is so big and I love visiting different parts of it so much. There is nothing more fun to me than picking out a random, small town in the US and visiting it, meeting the people who live there and learning what they're about. There are so many good people in this country.
I'm critical of the US because I know it could be even better. There are two things we need to do immediately to improve the US: reform campaign finance and invest all our dollars in education. The rest will take care of itself in about 20 years, if we just stick with that plan.
What are your plans for the future?
I'm planning on having dinner with my husband tonight. That's as far as I've gotten. In all seriousness, my plan is to keep living as I am, spending my day doing something I love while being able to pay my bills. As long as I'm inspired and enjoying my days and surviving, I'm good. I plan on enjoying every day in my future as much as I'm enjoying today.
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