Monthly Archives: April 2009

Race and ethnicity of narration

I recently stumbled across a POV blog entry by Tom Roston about the race of narrators and whether or not this is a conscious choice. 

Roson mentions March of the Penguins narrated by Morgan Freeman and Disney Nature‘s Earth narrated by James Earl Jones

Roson asks, “Isn’t it interesting that three of the most Hollywood-y nature docs of the past five years are all narrated by African Americans?” Ronson wonders if “there is something else going on.”

I’m still an amateur in the film business, but I think there are many reasons why this trend is seen.

One aspect, I believe, is due to the sound of African American voices. It’s similar to the American shows using hosts or narrators with English accents. 

Consider Nancy Giles, “Sunday Morning” commentator, who does a slew of commercial voice overs.

James Earl Jones, I’d say, has a pretty popular voice because of the way it sounds.

Next, consider “the times.” I think TV and film is becoming more diverse, but there certainly is along way to go.

Yes, part of the reason why media, especially the commercial, has become more diverse is because a wider audience can be attracted and reached. The motive might be to sell more, but the upside is that a diverse audience is included in the production process.

I don’t see a problem with using diverse narrators. It’s a great thing. 

If the voice fits, it fits.

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If you aren’t much of a hipster and you aren’t too much down with the times, you probably don’t know what mumblecore is. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what it was up until a few weeks ago when I read “Next Big Film Has a Premiere in Your Living Room” by David Carr for a media critcism course.

Mumblecore is a new independent film movement, apparently. 

According to J. Hoberman of The Village Voice, mumblecore comprises of mostly white twenty-year-olds, independent movies shot on DV, have a run time of around 80 minutes, and overall the look is rough around the edges; the criteria is never-ending.

Sounds like a documentary I’m making…

I’m just wondering where documentaries fit into all this, if they do at all.

Filmmaker Magazine’s Alicia Van Couvering writes, “If we’re going to generalize, we might say that generally these films are severely naturalistic portraits of the life and loves of artistic twentysomethings. The genre’s ultra-casual, low-fi style has been simmering for the last decade, made possible by the accessibility of DV and inspired as much by reality shows and YouTube confessionals as by earlier American independent cinema.”

According to Andre Soares of the Alternative Film GuideDavid Denby believes Funny Ha Ha by Andrew Bujalski is the first mumblecore film. Others, so I have been learning, agree. It’s also been described as having a documentary feel.

Joe Swanberg is another mumblecore director. His most recent film is Alexander the Last. He seems to be getting a lot of publicity and is hitting it big in the mumblecore scene. Every time I go to my local video rental store, Captain Video, I see his film LOL on display. I’m always tempted to rent it, but I always opt for the docs.

I haven’t seen any Swanson films, or any of these so-called mumblecore flicks. Fiction is not really my thing.

I keep searching and searching and have yet to find any documentary that could be considered mumblecore.

It seems, from the movement’s description, mumblecore films are based on reality. Mumblecore seems to be realism, but faster moving. It seems emo (forgive me if the term is offensive), but more cynical. 

Are reality shows mumblecore? The subjects can be self-interested and starving for attention and have real problems; obviously they are over dramatized. If the drama is real, is it not a documentary? What about other documentaries that use life realities as the story? There sure are a lot of documentaries that do. Consider all those documentaries that follow people’s lives for a given period of time.

I’m still not sure if documentaries fit in this genre, but it seems the only difference between mumblecore films and documentaries is fiction and fact.

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Product endorsement and breaking the news update

I just want to point out Frontline’s journalistic standards, as they pertain to my previous post, “Product endorsement and breaking the news.”

Frontline is an award winning news documentary program, which broadcasts nationally.

Part of the news-breaking-battle is the sponsorship and advertisers and the story being reported.

Here is an excerpt from Frontline’s Web site:

“…Once a project is funded, producers should try and avoid contact with funders except for promotional purposes. Sometimes, however, projects come to WGBH after independent producers have already had discussions with funders. In those cases the producer is obligated to disclose to the Executive Producer the nature of those conversations and to keep the Executive Producer informed of any future ones.” 

(“Funding a Program” 11.)

The program has many more guidelines, which pertain to the ethics of journalism.


I’m working to find more journalism ethics and guidelines from major media outlets. Let me know if you know of any. Please feel free to comment.

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Press conference with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal

University of Massachusetts Amherst journalism students had a press conference with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal on Monday April 13. Here are some highlights of the conference.

Neal on the newspaper industry and the Boston Globe:

Neal on tax avoidance:

Neal on the stimulus package and UMass:

Neal on religious freedom:


Filed under Politic

Is it time for TV news to step it up? Part II

The best time to start a business is in a poor economy, I once heard artist Josh Simpson say in a question and answer session.

That’s another reason why now is the time for television stations and production companies to take news coverage to a new level.

As I wrote in the previous post, TV outlets and companies should use this media shift lull to break the news.

Part of the reason newspapers are closing is due to the economy. But the other factor is consumer want. More consumers get their news online compared to those who get their news from physical newspapers. But, more people are still getting their news via TV.

Yes, you agree, it’s common knowledge. But, you say, the same thing can happen to TV. Yes it can, and more consumers will resort to technical gizmos and gadgets with an Internet connection.

If TVs physically fade out, people will still want to watch these programs just as people still want to read feature length articles online. (The demise of the TV is real and is due to copyright infringes and recording technologies like TiVo. This is a whole other issue video makers and watchers will have to worry about.)

A large problem with newspapers going out of business, is the fact there won’t be enough hard-hitting journalists in the world. I’m not saying TV or video journalists aren’t hard-hitting, but let’s get real, the glitz and glam is taking up too much space. As I previously wrote, the void needs to be filled. People need the facts, and they need the news, whether they know it or not.

Simpson’s theory to start a business now is based on his belief that if someone knows how to make a business work in tough times, it will certainly work in easier times.

Apply this to the TV industry. In order for this approach to work, companies should be investing the money they have in quality journalism, documentary series, mini-documentaries, feature reports, investigations, and interview programming.

When consumers no longer have a physical paper, they will be looking towards television for their news. TV outlets need to provide this kind of programming.

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Is it time for TV news to step it up?

No laughing matter, and an obvious fact – the newspaper business is headed in an uncertain direction, and I’m wondering if television news could have a greater impact in the future.

Papers are shutting down left and right. The Boston Globe is in jeopardy, as The New York Time’s Co. has threatened to shut it down. The search for solutions is dire.

According to one blogger, United States newspaper circulation in 2008 was 48 million. Also in 2008, about 113 million households owned a TV. Approximately 112,568,762 get their news online.

Newspapers are moving to an online format, if they can afford it.

But Americans still get most of their news from TV stations.

I’m proposing this lull in journalism, meaning the transition, should be taken advantage of by TV stations and video production companies to break the news.

Anchored news programs should focus even more on breaking news and mini-documentary programming, so quality will improve (I have high hopes) and viewers will keep coming back. TV news (everywhere) should be presented in a more serious manner where and when necessary, and should target a more diverse population.

The same news should also be presented, not overdubbed, in languages other than English – such as Spanish.

If people are not going to, or able to, look up news on the Internet, and newspapers vanish, television programming needs to fill the void with news.

Read a post about the “after-life for news papers” by Mark Glaser.

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Product endorsement and breaking the news

Watch this video about Apple and the

My multimedia professor, Steve Fox, presented this video on an exam. He asked us to answer various questions about the ethics of this “endorsement,” or, collaboration. The debate itself will never end, but I render this collaboration should be accepted and acknowledged by both parties…

There are ethical implications for the journalists who participated in the Apple-Washington Post video. Ethics won’t be a problem until a story has to be done about Apple or any other video or computer company. The reporters in this piece, and as they represent the Washington Post, show a clear bias favoring Apple computers and Final Cut Pro and a certain brand of prosumer video equipment. If a story has to be done about Mircosoft, how will the company be represented? What if there is a “negative story” that has to be reported about Apple? Will either side be represented objectively and without bias? Other media outlets are facing this same problem. Microsoft is a sponsor of some PBS programming, yet I’m sure not every videographer uses a Microsoft set up.

I’m sure this video was made using Final Cut Pro (please correct me if I am wrong) and the reporters featured endorse Final Cut and Apple products. The business implication is that Apple is using this video to market the Washington Post, the Post’s reporters, Final Cut Pro, and Apple computers. In turn, the video shows the Washington Post and its reporters fully supporting Final Cut Pro and Apple. I wouldn’t doubt if there was a business deal. How are users and viewers supposed to know if the Post and its reporters will report honestly? This situation might be even more difficult than an advertising campaign, if one doesn’t already exist. Could the Washington Post lose advertising support and/or technical support?

Consider the reporters themselves. Ben De La Cruz is a “videojournalist” according to the Washington Post’s Web site. He has won an Emmy, worked on freelance projects, and worked for music companies. I don’t know any professional documentary filmmaker who doesn’t fully “endorse” a video editing system, a computer, a camera, etc. Hiring a professional from this sort of background comes with these strings attached. Becoming a “documentary journalist” has these strings attached.

It is hard to say if this sort of “cross-promotional content” is acceptable. People’s gut feel is to render this unacceptable. It is unacceptable. But consider, these deals are still going on whether or not “promotional content” is presented in the public forum. Is it preferred that news outlets and companies come out about their biases, or that their biases are “swept under the rug?” This question is becoming more present in the new media landscape because companies make technology that is typically endorsed by industry professionals, and now journalism professionals are involved. This debate is never-ending and might never be resolved.

In the case of pure documentary production, I’m not even sure this issue matters or comes up that often. Many documentarians can choose their work and choose their sponsors. Its is up to the filmmaker to make ethical decisions. 

Please feel free to share your thoughts and/or expertise.

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