Tag Archives: ethics

Product endorsement and breaking the news

Watch this video about Apple and the Washingtonpost.com.

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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Filed under documentary, Politic

The animated documentary

Manipulation of footage and rhetoric happens enough in documentary filmmaking, but what about animated documentaries? Should viewers begin watching an animated documentary knowing the truth has been manipulated even more than a non-animated documentary would have been?

More than a few documentaries include animation to help tell a story. “New Year Baby” and “American Teen” are both documentaries that use animation, however, the whole documentary is not animated.

Waltz With Bashir” and “Chicago 10” are two films I can think of that are told through animation.

Waltz With Bashir” director Ari Folman said in an interview with John Esther on CaliforniaChronical.com:

“I was not interested in a fiction film. I wanted to do it animated because it dealt with memory. The term documentary, honestly, I don’t really care. I’ve been hassled so much about the animated documentary idea. It was so much trouble raising the budget because I declared it “an animated documentary.” If I had to do it again, I would never call it a documentary. [Laughs]”

Folman also said, he encountered debate because people believed a documentary can’t be animated.

Folman recorded studio interviews and animated scenes, and sometimes overdubbed audio recordings.

According to the director of “Chicago 10,” Brett Morgen, the trouble came when trying to figure out how animation would be done for courtroom scenes when video footage didn’t exist. “We had to animate 35 minutes of dialogue!” he said in an Independent Lens interview.

I feel the editing and animating process becomes unethical when audio recordings are manipulated in such a way that the actual truth of the speaker does not represent what they actually said.

Unethical manipulation can occur in non-animated documentaries where b-roll is used, but the same ethics apply to non-animated documentaries and news packages.

How are viewers supposed to know if what they are hearing is the complete truth, and if what they are seeing is the complete truth?

Viewers don’t know and can’t tell unless filmmakers and videographers are honest with their audiences.

It is easier to be unethical when animating documentaries, so it is even more important to be cautious when editing audio and footage.

Please feel free to weigh in on any comments, experiences, or any documentary films that use animation.

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Documentary ethics and surveillance

Canadian filmmaker Rob Spence is using a prosthetic eye to film his next documentary.

A miniature video camera, concealed inside a prosthetic eye is being developed, and will be used by Spence whose eye was damaged in a childhood shooting accident.

This brings up some ethics issues for documentary filmmaking.

Spence is “hoping to secretly record people for a project commenting on the global spread of surveillance cameras,” according to the Associated Press.

The camera will be used to record images similar to those that Spence is seeing. It is believed that the camera will be able to capture natural human behavior, something a large camera might not be able to capture.

The book Making Documentary Films and Reality Videos by Barry Hampe discusses some of the issues with using hidden cameras. There are numerous technical problems that can occur, but ethics are at play.

Society frowns upon recording people without their knowledge. It’s a violation of privacy, and is “deliberate eavesdropping,” according to Hampe.

Releases are always an important part for subjects and filmmakers to agree on. A subject being filmed with a hidden camera should know they are being filmed. The question is, when should they be told they are being filmed? Will they still sign a talent release? What happens if releases aren’t signed?

Hampe who is skeptical of the use of hidden cameras writes, “A very thin line separates the behavioral scientist from the Peeping Tom.”

These are some issues and questions often considered when making documentaries. What’s the best way to capture a subject naturally?

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Filed under documentary, People