Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-and-chief of the Huffington Post, spoke at Bay Path University’s 2016 Women’s Leadership Conference on Friday, April 29th.
MassLive got the chance to ask Huffington — who is the author of 15 books, including her newest, the “The Sleep Revolution” — a few questions ahead of the event that’s was held at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield.
Huffington provided insight on writing about Donald J. Trump, the media’s role in covering the 2016 presidential election and fitting enough sleep into a busy schedule.
Check out the Q&A below:
MassLive: Your new book, The Sleep Revolution, makes the case that men tend to “wear sleep deprivation as a badge of honor,” and that exhaustion impacts productivity levels. On the same topic, you yourself are the editor-in-chief of a major online news organization, a prolific author and a world traveler. How do you manage to find time for the adequate amount of sleep that you advocate for?
Huffington: To me, this idea of burnout as a badge of honor is the ultimate indicator of our sleep crisis – not only are we dangerously misguided in our attitude toward sleep, but we are bragging about it!
No matter what your job is, doing it well is about prioritizing sleep, and recognizing that there are enough hours in the day for the important things. And understanding that sacrificing sleep in the name of productivity is the wrong choice. Once you see the benefits of getting enough sleep, it becomes much easier to make it a priority.
MassLive: You’ve said phones have no place at the dinner table, and that people should turn off their phones before a meal – an interesting assertion for someone who runs an enterprise dependent upon people tapping into their phones for news. How do you personally strike a balance in your everyday life in terms of technology and face-to-face interaction?
Huffington: As for me, I have a specific time at night when I regularly turn off my devices — and gently escort them out of my bedroom. And at The Huffington Post, since the news is nonstop, there is definitely the temptation for editors, reporters, and engineers to try to match the twenty-four-hour news cycle. So we do a lot to prevent burnout. For example, we’ve always made it very clear that no one is expected to check work email and respond after hours, over the weekend, or while they’re on vacation. But in spite of this, as we all know, it’s very common for people to go on vacation and put up an out-of-office message, but still respond to incoming emails – often seconds after the sender receives an out-of-office email! Why? Because we are addicted, and because once we see an email, we feel obligated to answer it.
So, inspired by the German auto company Daimler, we decided to create a tech solution that would eliminate the temptation. With our new vacation email tool, all emails sent to you during your time off will be automatically deleted. The sender gets an auto response asking them to resend their message when you’re back or to contact someone you designate if it is urgent.
So, yes, The Huffington Post wants people looking at their screens, but not to the exclusion of their sleep, their vacations, their family or their dinner companions.
MassLive: The Huffington Post has made the editorial choice to append a note onto stories about Donald Trump, calling him a lying, xenophobic and racist bully. You have said news outlets have been “mainstreaming” Trump’s extremism, and that it’s “a dereliction of duty for a media organization not to have a point of view on Donald Trump.” How does a news organization convey a sense of fairness while clearly identifying a particular point of view? Or is it the up-front identification of that point of view that makes the coverage more fair?
Huffington: To me, it’s not about fairness, but truth. And too many outlets prefer balance to truth. Over the years, we’ve seen it again and again, from the run-up to the Iraq war to the financial crisis: in the name of “objectivity” or “balance,” the media pretend that every issue has two sides, and that both deserve equal weight. For the Pontius Pilate press, washing its hands of responsibility, the best route is to stand on the sidelines — leaving the question of “what is true” to the public. But it should go without saying: Not taking a stand is, in fact, taking a stand.
And we’re happy to see we’re not alone in our desire to present the unvarnished, un-euphemized Trump. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank opened a recent column by writing, “Let’s not mince words: Donald Trump is a bigot and a racist.” And he went on to back that up, which isn’t hard and is the approach any reporter with an interest in telling the truth to his or her readers should adopt.
So, whether he’s the nominee or not, if Trump’s words and actions are racist, we’ll call them racist. If they’re sexist, we’ll call them sexist. We won’t shrink from the truth or be distracted by the showmanship.
MassLive: Donald Trump’s primary way of getting his message into the world, like all candidates, is through the media, and he can count on news organizations to quote him — especially if he says something incendiary or controversial. In your opinion, how can journalists thoroughly cover the presidential campaign without, in a sense, providing Trump a megaphone for what many would call hate speech?
Huffington: Well, to build on what I said in answer to the last question, you can do it by giving the readers and viewers context. We’ve covered plenty of Trump’s outrageous statements, but then we’ve also put them in context. If what he’s saying is bigoted and racist, or if it’s a dog-whistle way of playing on bigotry and racism, we’ll point that out. There’s a history and context for how the Trump campaign exploits and whips up these ugly sentiments, and that should be part of how he’s covered. The responsibility of the press is more that just, “here’s what this candidate said today, and here’s what the other candidate said.”
MassLive: Some writers and editors, like Brooke Gladstone of “On the Media,” have said that media has changed in a such a way that allows for journalists to insert their opinions into stories, especially those that require some analysis. What are your feelings on this, particularly in relation to presidential election coverage?
Huffington: If it’s analysis or opinion, it should be labeled as such. But, as the same time, like the press critic Jay Rosen, I reject what he calls “the view from nowhere” – the idea that reporters and journalists can be these empty, neutral vessels of objective facts. Good reporting inherently has a take, usually built into the story itself. In “Beyond the Battlefield,” the series about the sacrifices, challenges and hardships faced by our soldiers after they return home, and which won a Pulitzer Prize for David Woods and the Huffington Post, Woods definitely had a view from somewhere – and that’s what informed the piece and made it so moving.
MassLive: How can news organizations better and more fairly report on the presidential election in general? What is the mainstream media missing?
Huffington: They need to get past the idea that balance is somehow guiding principle. The truth is not always in the middle. In fact, it’s almost never in the middle.
MassLive: How have your views of the role of media changed since founding Huffington Post in 2005? Is there anything you now know that you wish you’d known then?
Huffington: I think there’s a convergence happening. The never-very-useful division between “old media” and “new media” has become increasingly blurred, as traditional outlets adopt the tools of digital journalists — including speed, transparency and engagement — while new media adopt the best practices of traditional journalism, including accuracy and fairness.
And one thing I wish I’d known then is the value of getting more sleep!
MassLive: You have from the beginning argued that journalism should be a two-way conversation. How would you characterize the media’s role in that conversation?
Huffington: The media is facilitator of that conversation, a platform provider and an interlocutor and participant. And those are all crucial roles, especially the latter one. It’s important for journalists to realize and respect the role the reader plays in that ongoing conversation.
MassLive: In a historically male-dominated field like the media, how can women help shape the future of news, and what role should their voices play in the media?
Huffington: Madeleine Albright once said “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” And that means that the converse is also true – that there’s a special place in heaven for women who help other women. So that’s one way women can help shape the future of news, by helping other women up the ladder.
And we can also help by rejecting the male-created culture of macho burnout and sleep-deprivation, the negative effects of which disproportionately affect women, who, even when they’re working, are still doing the lion’s share of work in the home. Having a system in which the only way to signal that you’re serious and dedicated is by spending 12 hours a day at the office is a backdoor way of excluding women.