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“Take Notes: We Experienced So Much, Inevitably You Can Miss Or Forget A Lot Of The Experience”

Words of Wisdom With With John Madlena Star of True North


Words of Wisdom With With John and Chavala Madlena Stars of True North

We had the pleasure to interview John Iadarola, producer/host of The Young Turks and star of the new 16-episode docuseries “True North” which recently debuted on Verizon’s streaming platform go90. True North follows John and journalist, Chavala Madlena, on a journey throughout the Arctic, presenting an unprecedented view of life in a part of the world that few will ever see. From exploring a shattered coal mine to an expedition through the Arctic Ocean, Iadarola and Madlena provide a unique perspective on life in the Arctic and the impact climate change has had on the land and its people. Viewers follow along as Iadarola and Madlena spend time in below freezing temperatures, visited unique places including a ghost town, and embrace local native cuisine and culture, all while highlighting current dangers that threaten the Arctic way of life.

Can you share your backstory on how you came to host “True North” and why you wanted to be involved in this project?

In this case we were lucky to have a fan working for an organization that conducts research in the Arctic. They were organizing an expedition, and knew how committed to climate change coverage we are at TYT. So, they reached out to us, and although initially the idea of traveling that far north for several months seemed… overwhelming, I was glad to be given the opportunity. Personally, I’m not satisfied with simply reading about what’s happening, up there and around the world. I wanted to see it for myself, and in particular I wanted to have the opportunity to meet and work with the scientists actually doing research up there. The work of climate scientists seems so abstract, to those of us who have never taken part. I wanted to be able to put faces to the work, and this trip allowed me to do that, while at the same time generating some interest in the topic among our fans.

What do you think makes the show stand out from other streaming shows? Why is its message so important to share?

Well, there are certainly elements of our show that we made a conscience decision to make closer to other shows of this sort. By that I mostly mean the adventurous elements. We wanted to draw people in with the excitement, the beautiful landscapes, the animal videography, and the “fish out of water” elements that some other shows share, and use that to introduce them to the harder science aspects, which, if we focused entirely on that, might turn some viewers off. In the end I think we struck a very good balance, and while the show deals with very serious material, I think it also keeps it fun throughout.


Did you have a favorite episode that you filmed?

Learning to dogsled was a once in a lifetime experience, but the most fun had to be the food episode. Early on we got to shadow some people working to make fresh vegetables available in Svalbard, which is notoriously difficult. Later on though, we filmed a meal at Huset, which is a restaurant that attempts to update historic arctic food for modern times. It’s incredibly fancy, incredibly tasty, and they give you way, way too much wine. We sampled something like ten dishes, each paired with a wine or liquor, some of which are made in the arctic. That was a night to remember.

What advice would you give to other political activists who want to get involved in climate change or even host a show like this?

The most important thing is to educate yourself. I want people to care about climate change, regardless, but if you’re going to attempt to communicate the urgency of dealing with the problem, you can’t just have passion. You need to have knowledge. That means talking with scientists, reading papers, and basically going beyond the outer layer of the issue. With that, you can find what aspects of the issue you’re most interested in. Someone interested in “climate change” could want to focus on agriculture, or energy, or transportation, or consumption. It’s so incredibly varied. Education can help you hone in on where you can contribute the most.

You’ve had a very successful career at The Young Turks, who have been some of your mentors in the business or anyone you feel inspired you?

I suppose the person who did the most individually to get me to where I am would be Cenk Uygur. I was a fan of him on The Young Turks years and years before I ever had any ideas about possibly starting a career in the media. Since I joined TYT, he’s given me great leeway to do things the way I want them done, which is great, because my background in academia means I approach a lot of topics differently than other analysts. Similarly, at TYT I’ve been surrounded by a number of great people who have each taught me so much, including Ana Kasparian, Ben Manciewicz, Michael Shure, and others.

Outside of that, though, early on in life I was inspired by the endless curiosity of Bill Nye, and more recently, in terms of media, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver are still some of those I attempt to live up to the standard of.

Many viewers are inspired by you. What key attributes do you think makes a good leader?

I think that a leader needs to be able to help cultivate what is best in those they lead. I see a leader as being a facilitator. That said, as a leader you also have to be the one who, at the end of the day, makes tough decisions. In that, I think you need to strike the incredibly difficult balance of sticking to your guns when you know what’s right, while also not being so proud that you reject advice where it can help. I don’t know how exactly you get to the point where that is natural, but it’s something I think about quite often.

If you could tell your younger self 5 tips, or even yourself before filming this show 5 things you know now, what would they be?

Here is what I would have liked to have known before spending months in the Arctic, largely cut off from the outside world.

  1. Don’t even bother trying to ward off seasickness. If any of the pills, patches, or wristbands I used helped, I didn’t notice it. Also, they come with their own side effects. In the end, I simply needed to suffer for a few days and then eventually I got used to it.
  2. Take notes: we experienced so much, and wish so much work to be done, inevitably you can miss or forget a lot of the experience. We’re lucky to have the documentary as a way to remind ourselves what we went through, which I feel very lucky for. Still, I wish I had taken some sort of journal to help keep the smaller things, the emotional things, fresher in my mind afterward.
  3. Appreciate your favorite foods before you head, because while certain parts of norwegian/svalbardian food is incredible (the beers, the licorice, and some of fine dining) once you get on the boat it’s going to be fish and potatoes for weeks. It wore on me by the end.
  4. You’re going to feel the isolation. The two months were filled with discovery and adventure, but it also felt like we were out there for months. Being away from my girlfriend, my dog, my family, and my friends for so long (and also cut off from news about the world) led to some brief bouts of depression. Long term travel like that, especially in harsh conditions, takes a toll.
  5. You won’t get eaten by a polar bear. It seems irrational in retrospect, but I spent the months before the trip learning everything I could about polar bears, and I did a great job of terrifying myself. It worked out in the end.

Originally published at medium.com

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