Big Think Interview With Max Lugavere

A conversation with the host of Current TV.
  • Transcript


Max Lugavere: My name is Max Lugavere.  I am one half of Max and Jason of Current TV.

Question: How is Current TV different from other networks?

Max Lugavere: Well, I think that the most obvious way in which Current is different from other networks is that the values that are sort of written into our constitution are inherently, you know, born of this web 2.0 time, which we sort of have all come into where we sort of accept an interactive medium as sort of standard where, as like CNN has iReport, and MTV thrived with MTV Flu-which is a website.

Current TV is inherently a dual screen experience where users can participate in a multitude of ways in our programming and, you know, that can range from creating a short form documentary in its entirety to submit to the network or, you know, you can leave web comments and text comments, web cam responses on our website for inclusion into our show or on the air many other ways. We sort of launched with the goal of seeing Al Gore's mission of democratizing the most powerful medium that exists. And that...we haven't gone a day without trying to figure out new and more innovative way to do that.

Question: Why is your user-generated content so important?

Max Lugavere: Our favorite segments to talk about on-air are the viewer-created segments, because part of the reason why we came onboard was because we submitted a film that we produced in college, and so it's always refreshing for us to see the work of other young filmmakers. Not only on that but sometimes you get-most of the time you get-a perspective that you just won't see on traditional news media. It's not always journalism, but the perspectives are just unbelievable, I mean, we feel very honored to sit on the frontline of this, sort of the highest value, user-generated content production pipeline that exists today.

I mean, YouTube obviously is bigger and more ubiquitous, but you have a lot of videos of like people's cats jumping through hula-hoops or the next Chris Crocker. It's all entertaining, but the user-generated content that you are going to see in Current is just, the production values is just impeccable most of the time, and so we love it. We get to see stories like, you know, the underground party scene in Karachi, Pakistan, nose jobs in Iran-apparently it's the nose job capital of the world. You know everything from that to underground drifting circles in Northern California. So it's just, it's really compelling and it's great for us because...we get to keep our finger on the pulse of what's on the mind of people our age, you know, these are in short documentaries that come from focus groups or board rooms and large media conglomerates, you know, they came from people just like Jason and I, so it's great. Those are our favorite pieces, those and then the in-house journalism that Current produces on our vanguard show.

Question: Is Internet content too dumb?

Max Lugavere: I think that one of the reasons why the Internet is amazing is because you really can have both, and I don't see a problem, per se, with enjoying the occasional consumption of celebrity websites and the like. I think ultimately you want to live a life of balance. I do think though that what a journalist is...that perception is shifting and evolving at a rapid phase. Now it's social broadcasting sites like Twitter news, and information is disseminated often from regular people that haven't gone to graduate school for journalism, and I think that we're starting to see that people are becoming more engaged with conscious media. We've seen Obama come to office and we definitely... Jason and I have been privy to the entire generation of outspoken passionate people that really see changing the world and have created ultimately the changing of the world with his election. Yeah, so I think that with sites like Twitter and even Facebook, people are definitely using media for the betterment of a... for a society. While they have their Firefox tab open to Paris Hilton, like that's another situation, but I wouldn't bash it 'cause, you know, occasionally people want to know what's up with the latest.

Question: What's the appeal of short form content?                         

Max Lugavere: Well, I think the virtue of short form programming is that it's well suited to a generation where we're all sort of media over-saturated. We all have ADD to one degree or another. I think it's, I just think it's easier to consume a broader range of media when it's all sort of, you know, short form. I mean, Twitter's super popular for having status messages that can only be a 140 characters. Also, I think that in terms of production, because I'm also a filmmaker. I went to school for film... the immediacy of getting to create a short form documentary is great, because, I mean, it requires so much less time to tell a story than the production that would go into a feature length documentary. I don't want to discredit feature length documentaries, I think that some stories you know, when a story is good you can, you know there is no time limit as we've seen with "Inconvenient Truth" and you know "Sicko," I love Michael Moore's documentaries but I don't agree to everything he does, but I think that he obviously has a knack for creating feature length documentaries that are compelling all the way through. But in terms of daily consumption, I just think there is an immediacy to the short form pod that didn't exist before bite size information was really as ubiquitous as it is today.

Question: How do you keep people from using Current as a platform for their causes?

Max Lugavere: Well, I know that it's a struggle that we've faced before. For example, we have a segment on Current where one of our journalists infiltrated the sort of skinhead sect in Russia. There's a large population, I guess, of neo-Nazis in Russia and, you know, that is a story that needs to be told and nobody else has really told it the way that we did but you, you know, you always want to be careful to not perpetuate their hate. You don't want give them a voice, you want to tell people what's going on without sort of giving them a soap box to stand on, so to speak.  So that is definitely a tricky situation, but that has always been a tricky situation for any journalist. I think that with the sort of ability for... with the range of stories that are now being told and sort of with the information or overflow that is at all our fingertips, I just think that people are going to... their sensors are going to be more into it to detect what is bullshit, what is not; what is sort of, you know, worth reading up on, or what is not, and I just think that the more information the better. 

The more information we have available to us, the more fine-tuned our filtering-our internal filtering devices-will get. It's not a one-way broadcasting network, it's sort of a communication with the powers to be in media in general, and with that will become a greater sort of medium, where the truth lies.

Question: What's the craziest story you've covered for Current?

Max Lugavere: When we first launched, one of the first stories that I covered with Jason was certainly crazy for me because I graduated from college like 6 months ago-prior to that point. I was going to purchase a fake social security card with Jason in Macarthur Park, and obviously Jason speaks Spanish so he was, you know, able to go in and really speak the language and get the job done, whereas I stuck out like a sore thumb. I wearing board shorts at the time and sunglasses... in the context of the segment I looked ridiculous, but at the same time it was pretty interesting for the two of us to really get to see that world. And so Jason, you know, bought himself a fake social security card which a lot of undocumented workers in Los Angeles need order to-at least on paper-be able to say they can legally work for whatever it is, a carwash, you know. And so we wanted to sort of see how that was done seeing how everyone was talking about it and so we did that, and Anderson Cooper actually had us on the show to talk about what that experience was like. So that was definitely crazy, I mean, I was sort of... Jason was actually in the room, I was walking around Macarthur getting accosted by sex workers and drug dealers while he was getting the ID, but it was crazy nonetheless. I think, you know, we've covered the immigration situation in Miami; we've covered the homeless situation in L.A., all interesting topics. I can't say that we've really risked our lives to tell a story, it's not something that we want to do-we love telling stories. We're both passionate storytellers.  But there are journalists on Current TV that are way more courageous in that sense.

Question: Where do you see Current TV in 5 years?

Max Lugavere: I think we have yet to see mobile technology really coming to fruition in the way that I think it eventually will. I think Current will be heavily involved in that when it does. I also think that Current has a long way to go in terms of mass penetration which, you know, for better or worse, all of our marketing up until this point has been very grassroots. It's just people that stumble upon the channel or see something about us on the web, tune in and then become hooked and then they told their friends. It's been very vital in that sense. But that said, it doesn't have the mainstream following that "The Hills" has and I think that that is sort of a crime, you know, and then, I think that in 5 years what I'd like to see is just Current being a massive hit, with people all over the world tuning into Current TV to see a perspective that you are not going to see anywhere else. We really want to enrich the dialogue between young people and the concept of news, it's just... it's all about information dissemination and I think that the more eyes, the more power you have, and Current definitely, we want to have the power, we want the influence, we want to use it for good.

Recorded on: April 14, 2009