It seems to me that the emergence of audiences for theatrical documentaries and the interest in online citizen media could be linked.
The Nieman Foundation of Journalism at Harvard University puts out a journal called Nieman Reports. In the Spring 2005 issue, William Marsden says that investigative reporting has gradually receded from journalism. Phillip Knightly of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said that the total output of factual programs on developing countries dropped by 50% in the past ten years.
If traditional media have cut back their investigative journalist positions (because digging into these stories takes time, and this doesn’t mesh easily with daily deadlines, and there’s less budget committed to journalists who aren’t producing copy / airtime each day), perhaps it’s created a void where readers and viewers no longer feel convinced that their media is representative of news and what is really going on.
The number of people who watch TV news is steadily declining, and in the US, the median age of nightly news TV viewers is now 59 and up (State of the News Media 2006). Perhaps our (viewers and readers) need for in-depth journalism, investigation, and global context has grown to a point that we are now willing to pay for it.
I could be wrong, after all one of the successful theatrical documentaries was March of the Penguins, so that doesn’t support my little theory.
This thought spun off from an entry today on the Center for Citizen Media blog. If we are collectively yearning for the hidden stories behind the spokespeople, it’ll be interesting to see if the launch of NewAssignment.net will reflect that. It looks like Jay Rosen’s new collaborative journalism concept may be visible online by September.
It may be an interesting outlet to pitch stories that just don’t seem to get picked up by media elsewhere.