Skid Robot: the street artist drawing attention to LA’s homeless residents is the winning entry for the Matt Kramer Award. LA-based journalist Jordan Riefe is the author of the article, which was originally published in The Guardian on February 23, 2016.
After studying Mandarin in post-Mao China, Jordan Riefe got into the film business as a camera assistant working with directors like Steven Soderbergh and Tom Hanks. He has been covering the film business since the late 90s for outlets like Reuters, THR.com, and the Wrap, and wrote a movie that was produced in China in 2007. These days he reports mainly art, culture, travel, theater and photography.
Interview with Jordan Riefe
PR4P: You’ve worked in the film business… what impact has that made on your career as a journalist?
JR: I did a lot of radio and wrote on the side. Around 2010, that’s when everything started to go to hell. Who listens to radio? I started to do more writing. Major media outlets were suffering. I just kept an eye on what new media outlets were opening. I wrote for The Wrap, a new entertainment industry website at the time. The Wrap was later picked up by Reuters—that helped my career a lot. Later, I was lucky to fall into working as a contributor to The Hollywood Reporter (THR). I try to stick with reputable organizations: Reuters, The Guardian, and The Hollywood Reporter.
PR4P: When did you get your first big break?
JR: At first, I was a camera assistant, eyeballing the distance from the camera to the shot, helping to get the setup ready to shoot. If I stayed on that track, the next step would be to become a cinematographer. And my heart wasn’t in it. I did write a movie, Love Trapped in Baghdad, which was produced in China. So the goal is to keep writing.
PR4P: What projects are you currently working on?
JR: I’ve worked on quite a few documentaries and have developed some with my wife, Diana Lee. This year, I’m on the judges’ panel for the Broadcast Film Critics Award for best documentary. Right now we’re looking at everything before we make the first cut. I’m also writing for TruthDig.com, which was started up in 2005 by LA entrepreneur Zuade Kaufman, with Robert Scheer as editor in chief. It’s mainly political commentary, news, arts and culture. Chris Hedges and Amy Goodman are regular columnists.
PR4P: What projects do you envision in the future?
JR: Just keep writing about the things I love: arts, culture. I’ve even thought about working on staff as a critic. Even as a critic, I’m still writing about the things I love. I’m a big skier. I should write about skiing! I like dance. Last night, I went to the ballet to cover choreographer Matthew Bourne’s U.S premiere of The Red Shoes. I also love working as a travel writer and not your typical guided tour, but writing about culture—telling unusual stories that haven’t yet been told about people that just happen to be in faraway or unexpected places.
PR4P: When it comes to working with P.R. people what are your pet peeves?
JR: All reporters get an avalanche of emails. Put the date and other vital info right on top. Come with a full pitch. Tell me why it’s important and why now, so I can tell my editor why we should care.
PR4P: In the age of so-called fake news, what measures should journalists take to assert the integrity of their profession?
JR: Do double due diligence. If you’re going to make an assertion, make sure you can back it up. Even on small things, check your facts. Get the damn facts straight. When you come right down to it, this whole think about Fake Journalism has made it so there is no better time to be a journalist. Look at how journalists at the New York Times or the Washington Post are doing investigative reporting and breaking news on a regular basis. They’re doing damn good work. There’s a lot of fake news coming from Russian bots. Call them out when you see them.
PR4P: What advice do you have for someone starting out today as a journalist?
JR: Be prepared to make very little money. If you want to make money get into broadcast. Write for organizations that you believe in. Always write from the heart. Get into the conversation. I consider myself an advocate. I get people interested in art and culture. That’s a worthy cause. Hopefully, my work stimulates people to get involved with the arts, to go to a museum or the theater.
PR4P: What current trends and changes occurring in the industry are shaping the future of the media?
JR: Twitter is not a healthy thing for media. It creates a herd mentality where everyone takes off on whatever’s trending. I’m concerned about fake news. More and more people can’t tell the difference between fake news and reality. We need to adhere to facts.