“Documentaries aren’t journalism, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” read the headline of an article published in October by Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday. “The journalist’s mission is to share information, whereas the filmmaker’s mission is to elicit emotion.” As a professor in a school of journalism that prides itself on teaching compelling storytelling and accurate fact-gathering, this struck me as a spurious distinction.
Whatever their medium, reporters aren’t scribes—they gather and synthesize facts, choose quotes, decide what context is most relevant, and unfold a story to create meaning. Journalism has evolved beyond a very narrow concept of “objectivity” to include notions of fairness and inclusivity, ideas that have fed a diversity of voices in the current age of documentary. By Hornaday’s logic, her own work as a critic wouldn’t count as journalism, since it incorporates opinion. Nor would about half the articles in any newspaper. Saying all documentaries aren’t journalism is akin to saying longform magazine writers aren’t journalists.
Still, Hornaday’s critique highlights a debate that has raged within the documentary filmmaking community since the form emerged nearly a hundred years ago: What is “truth”? And when capturing it, what role should filmmakers play? Revisiting the history of the modern documentary in the United States may shed some light.
In 1955, Edward R. Murrow was its undisputed king. Murrow had pioneered the TV news documentary, and he was the host of the popular and critically praised series See It Now.
Read more here: https://www.cjr.org/first_person/documentary-film-journalism.php