RJI Fellow is building tools for producing documentary journalism

RJI Fellow Jarrad Henderson believes on-demand documentary journalism content for platforms such as Netflix and Hulu holds gold — in new money and in audiences — for the news industry.

The USA Today multimedia producer knows there’s little time or money for traditional journalists to move from short news videos to longer-form visual stories.

He plans to help.

As a 2018-19 fellow at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, Henderson is developing a digital resource guide with best practices, ethical considerations and tools for visual journalists bridging the gap between editorial video and documentary filmmaking.

“Those skill sets, although they are similar, are wildly different in their execution and also in their pre-production,” he says. “What we’re talking about is an entire paradigm shift.”

Henderson believes it’s a shift worth making.

The Economist projected this summer that Netflix would dole out as much as $13 billion on programming, including documentaries, this year. A New York Times article about climate change is the subject of a future Apple TV program. The Times itself is developing a new show “The Weekly” that will stream on Hulu.

The news industry still needs to churn out traditional news products. At the same time, it has “the opportunity to build some brand-defining, award-winning type content that will help introduce our brands to new audiences,” he says.

Among the documentary tools will be ethical considerations, often where documentary goes beyond traditional journalism. Questions include, “Are you asking people to do things for the camera that you wouldn’t normally have them do in real life?” and, “Is the situation being manipulated in a way that could be perceived as fake?”

“In our current political and social climate, viewers want to know that what they’re seeing from news organizations is legit,” he says.

Henderson will also talk to journalists, filmmakers and distributors about the challenges and opportunities in filmmaking as well as practical guidelines for storyboarding, editing and character development. He plans to include information on how to pitch these story ideas to gatekeepers and make Netflix or film festival-worthy content.

“Companies are making a mad dash to find the next beautifully told story,” he says. “So much so that even platforms like the upcoming Apple and Disney OTT platforms are being sold content and they’re not even live yet.”

Want to help Henderson help journalism? Please fill out this survey if you:

  • Are willing to share your experiences in digital storytelling,
  • Or have suggestions for things you’d like to learn.

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