IFC Takes a Critical Look (But Not “Uniformly Critical”) At Media

By SteveK 

The IFC Media Project’s 2nd season debuts Sunday night at 11pmET with a look at the “American Worldview.” The program, created by Meghan O’Hara {Fahrenheit 9/11) and hosted by Gideon Yago (formerly of MTV & CBS News), looks at how the news gets made and how it impacts our lives. The first two episodes look at the push to get Al-Jazeera English into U.S. homes, the coverage of the Russian-Georgian conflict, a profile of the infamous shoe-thrower and even pirates (“we had no idea they’d be in the news,” said O’Hara). TVNewser spoke to O’Hara and Yago earlier this week:

TVNewser: What has been the reaction to the first season?

Meghan O’Hara: Universally, very, very good. I think that even if some people took issue with one story or another, the general consensus was that it’s a great show that is actually saying something really important that nobody else is saying. The network kind of turned around immediately and said let’s do season 2.


Gideon Yago: All my experiences have been anecdotal. The two distinct ones were colleagues and other journalists who work in news and then people who didn’t work in the industry, where it wasn’t an exercise in naval gazing, who were like, ‘Holy shit, I had no idea that was what the process was like.’ Ultimately for us the goal has been to serve that second group for those who are not the hard and fast participants in the news business, and give them who the players are in the craft.

TVN: What’s different about season two?

MO: We’ve put the episodes together in much more of a thematic way. The pieces have relationships to one another. The first episode is basically looking at how Americans view the world and how we look at world news.

GY: We had access to a journalism grad student who shot personalized footage, and a very personalized piece. The broader editorial questions were looking at how the Cold War narrative perpetuated almost immediately. We’re really fortunate the IFC audience is critical and very savvy about everything, which serves the needs of our show, serves the mission of our show.

After the jump, how IFC Media Project covered the shoe-thrower, whether Americans are “famously incurious,” and plans for a potential Season 3…

TVN: Let’s talk about the shoe thrower segment. It certainly seems to be the most sympathetic of all reports about him.

MO: There were two things that really attracted us to the story. First was what a huge story it was here, but almost always it began or ended with a joke. The footage was crazy but you never saw anything but the shoe being thrown. But why is it with a room full of cameras, you never saw anything else? Hearing from other journalists who have to work in that environment I thought it was really interesting. What we wanted to ask was, ‘Did he cross a line?’ And I think everybody said he went from journalist to activist.

TVN: In the first show, BBC World News America EP Rome Hartman is interviewed, and says Americans are “famously incurious,” and a lot of stories that interest news consumers are “nonsense” and “bullshit.” What do you think of this characterization?

GY: I don’t think it’s wrong, but it’s emblematic of the huge amount of cynicism in the way people rely on and tell stories and craft things and call it journalism. I just come from the point of view where I have seen the last couple years as the golden age of documentary filmmaking. Documentary used to be a dirty word but now filmmakers are getting big distribution deals and seeing life on all kinds of cable channels. I don’t think it’s disinterest amongst the American public, but everyone wants to eat their candy more than their veggies. I think there are innovations and ways to reach their audience, in ways non-fiction filmmakers have done an exceptional job with and journalists have not.

TVN: We’ve talked about the broadcast world, but one of the upcoming episodes focuses on print. What did you find in your reporting?

MO: The whole episode is about the economics of news. First of all, it couldn’t be more timely — it’s depressingly timely. Our first interview today was supposed to be with Portfolio. They called and canceled today for obvious reasons. [The Conde Nast magazine folded Monday] It’s a bummer. We didn’t want to approach from same perspective as everyone else. We tried to approach it from a more cinematic perspective. The mini-feature is great: it’s about the closing of the Rocky Mountain News, and is the culmination of footage gathered over a year-and-a-half. We wanted to do a little bit of an homage to that type of journalism.

TVN: Last question. If IFC told you today that they were picking up the show for season 3, do you have a subject that you know you’d want to cover?

GY: Oh, yes! … I think there’s a lot of pieces to be done still looking at the implicit racism of some disaster coverage: how you tell stories about Africa and Asia, and how much you’re willing to tolerate the “other.” When they’re not being adopted by Angelina Jolie or Madonna, how else are you going to get that into the news.

I want to look at specific players in the game, working in print or broadcast. My broad hope is the more work we do, the more people see our show, the more our peers and colleagues are willing to open doors to us and talk about what’s working and what’s not working. The point of the show is not to be uniformly critical — we want to praise exceptional journalism, especially under tense conditions. We’re all fascinated by the news business.

(this interview has been edited for clarity and length)