Venting Frustrations With Corporate Media: An Interview With “The Resident” of the Russia Today Network

Perhaps you’ve never heard of “The Resident,” or the Russia Today network for that matter. The Resident is Lori Harfenist, a counter cultural news personality that delivers quick and insightful assertions during the late afternoon on the Russia Today (RT) network. Harfenists argues that “society pushes people to be mindless.”

RT America focuses on covering the Americas from a Russian state perspective. Based in RT’s Washington, DC bureau, the station includes programs hosted by other American journalists. The Resident (Lori) provides social and political commentary, news coverage, and cultural satire. She is based in New York and Washington, DC.

Lori offers a direct approach to news. For someone on television, she is remarkably free and open and serves as a grassroots and bottom-up news personality. She states that, “the medium does not matter,” as long as you stick by your convictions and message. Lori started The Resident as a form of expression that’s asks the consumer world to engage in critical thinking. Initially she simply created videos in New York City while archiving her critiques of the system.

Dan Falcone: Could you tell me about your educational background or intellectual influences that shaped your ideas and thinking about how to utilize and approach media? What do you see as the importance of democracy and education as they relate to western media formats?

The Resident: I got a BA in Communications from Pace University in New York City, but all I did in college was smoke weed and listen to music. My intellectual influences all came from the arts – music and literature, primarily – and the streets. I always thought politics was nonsense. After working in news now for years, I know that to be truth.

I started The Resident as a public access TV show in NYC (on MNN) in 2001, before video existed as a norm on the Internet. I did a lot of social experiments on the streets and in parks with people, and I ranted about our culture. I never wanted to get into news or politics. The Resident was more about me expressing myself and my frustrations with how society pushes people to be mindless, brainwashed sleepwalkers.

When YouTube came along, I had years of content ready to upload. YouTube featured my videos a lot during a time when the mainstream media was turning to the Internet to get some of that hot, user-generated content. CNN, NBC, FOX, RT – they all reached out to me to make them content that felt homemade but could still tell a story and stay on-brand. And just like that, I found myself with a career in news.

I never chose TV or Internet news, in other words. I don’t think the medium you choose is important. What’s important is what you do with it, and how authentic your message is.

As far as our democracy – it’s a sham. As far as our educational system – it’s a joke. But I still consider myself lucky to be an American, because as screwed up as this country is, it’s a lot freer than other places. It’s free enough where I can spout my mouth off on TV and the Internet and not be jailed. There’s a lot to be said for that.

Whatever hurdles anyone faces, in terms of government or social system, the bottom line is this: the medium doesn’t matter. Different media come and go. It’s the message that counts. The more authentic your message is, the more it’ll get out there to people, regardless of the medium you choose.

Can you explain the concept and the type of news you deliver and journalism you do? How would you categorize it and is it fair and accurate to call you an “internet sensation.” My thinking is that you took a simple concept and turned it into a constructive force. No?

I’m not a journalist. Neither are about 80% of the people who call themselves that in today’s over-saturated market. Sitting at a computer and finding news stories on the Internet isn’t journalism, but that’s pretty much what everyone does nowadays.

I do news commentary. I find stories about stuff perpetrated by the government and corporations, and I say, look! This is messed up! Stop buying their crap! I share these stories with people to hopefully wake up a person or two from their brainwashed sleepwalking. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, I just want to nudge them a little, to awaken a spark in their eyes.

I wouldn’t call myself an ‘Internet sensation,’ either. I think that’s left over from a time when YouTube was brand-new. I managed to get 25 million views on YouTube, but now in today’s over-saturated market, that’s not much at all. I was early on YouTube, at the right place at the right time, and I was smart enough to capitalize on it.

Again, it comes back to the same thing – the medium isn’t important to me. Whether my work is on the Internet, on TV, or on a bookshelf doesn’t matter. What matters is just trying to be honest and authentic in anything I produce.

How would you describe The Resident? Is the Resident you or the show and in what ways are they one in the same if at all? Also, where do you get information for assembling your content?

People call me The Resident, which is always funny. I named the public access show The Resident as a kind of generic, catchall way to describe the fact that the show was just about me, a person who lives here on the planet, who has something to say. Like a resident at a town hall meeting. The name just kind of stuck. I don’t think about it much. I’m terrible at branding. The thought of trying to brand myself makes me want to puke. If people want to call me The Resident, that’s fun. If they want to call me Lori, I’ll answer to that, too.

I get my information from the Internet. I get ideas from just walking around New York City, watching the news, watching terrible TV, surfing the web – everywhere. I just get mad at stuff, a lot of stuff, and that gives me ideas, and then I turn to the Internet to find information to illustrate what’s setting me off.

People ask me where I find my stories specifically, and that’s pretty impossible to say. Everywhere. On dot gov sites, through press releases, alternative news sources, typing into Google and trying to find some deep web stuff. The ideas come from just being alive in this crazy society.

The Internet always has information to back up those ideas. It’s extremely important to do as much due diligence as possible, since I am working for a news outlet that expects my facts to be accurate. It’s important to remember that much of the Internet is misinformation, not information, and to find your way to the truth as best as possible.

Do you feel that activism is inherent in your work or do you constantly combat people trying to co-opt your work with awards, advertisement opportunities and corporate models in an attempt to claim your concepts and online celebrity? You basically took the purest form of news creation and made it accessible for the masses. How would you address these matters?

It’s funny. I’ve worked for NBC, YouTube itself, CNN, FOX, DirecTV, lots of mainstream places. I’ve had corporate clients. I’ve had sponsors. They’ve all been very nice and lovely. But I’ve never been able to sustain any kind of relationship with advertisers or mainstream outlets, because I am relentlessly anti-establishment.

I’ve had sponsors walk away for that exact reason, where they’ve actually told me I’m too anti-corporate for them. So I guess the way I combat people trying to co-opt my work is simply to never sell out. To not produce work I don’t believe in. If they don’t like what I’m saying, that’s fine. We just won’t work together.

I’m doing this for self-expression and to wake up humanity, not for any kind of career. I’m an artist first, one who just happened to find herself working in news. But if all video clients were to dry up, I’d just find another way to get my anti-establishment ideas out there.

Say something about RT – its meaning and message and which areas around the world and societal concerns interest you the most as The Resident?

All mainstream media outlets and corporate sponsors have all walked away from me, or I’ve walked away from them. The only media outlet I’ve sustained a long relationship with is RT.

Now, why do you think that might be?

Every single news outlet is bought and paid for, by someone, with some agenda. Make no mistake about that. It’s not even an evil or nefarious plot, it’s just the way the world works. It costs money to put on the news. That money comes from someplace, and you do not mess with that if you want to keep getting paid. Welcome to society.

I’ve always been an anti-establishment American, and the only news outlet that lets me be that is RT. The Russians. The enemy of all Americans, as we’re told from Day One. They let me be a punk because they want the world to know their perspective. And their perspective happens to match mine that America’s government and corporations do a lot of screwed up stuff.

RT has been vilified in the American media, and I’ve taken a lot of heat for that. I’ve had ‘friends’ end ‘friendships’ because they simply couldn’t understand how I could work for such a villainous country. So stupid. Clearly they were never friends and have their heads somewhere else.

RT has been great to me. They let me do what I want and pay me for it. And they are made up of extremely hard-working, smart, passionate people – largely American punks like me, willing to take a lot of heat so they can get their truth out, as unpopular as that might be with The Man. No wonder the MSM likes to vilify RT.

No news outlet or political party is more truthful than others. There are only individual perspectives on individual stories told through very biased lenses. The best we can do is stay open-minded and check lots and lots of sources, because the truth is always somewhere in between them all.

Unfortunately, in today’s screwed up politically correct world, there’s no room for individual thought. People are more close-minded than ever, and those that are open-minded are too afraid to say anything because then they’ll have to face the PC monster. It’s just as Orwell predicted, only instead of it being openly stated, it’s this strange pressure that we’re not even allowed to talk about.

That, to me, is what’s angering most in America today. We’re censoring ourselves, and for that, we’re moving further away from a truthful, authentic existence.

As an American, it’s my right to point this out. And interestingly enough, only RT lets me do just that. Says a lot, doesn’t it?