A Question of Opinion

One of the backers of Stage of Development asked me “How opinionated will the final videos be, if at all?”

I added this question (and answer) as the first entry on the FAQ because it’s such a good question. It really gets to the absolute heart of why I do what I do.

The short answer is that my goal is to present an objective look at each story we present in Stage of Development, but that absolute objectivity is impossible. My point of view as a human will invade my work as a journalist in how I interview each subject, how I direct each shoot, how I edit each video and how we assemble the entire final product. My goal, as a journalist, however, is to not allow my own personal biases or opinions to intrude on what I believe is each subject’s story, as much as is possible.

It is not my intention to tell you, as the viewer, what you should think or feel about these humans. It is my intention to show you as true a look as I can at who they really are, what really drives them, and what makes each of them unique. Then allow you each to decide for yourselves how you feel about that person.

That’s not always possible, but it is how I approach the work that I do.

A longer answer follows here.

I consider myself a journalist. Some may disagree, I don’t know. But that’s how I see myself. And I firmly believe that a core directive of good journalism is to be objective. That is, to not color a story with your own (as a journalist) biases or beliefs.

Every journalist who has ever worked with me knows I have “rules”, and one of those rules is that the journalist has no place in the story. The story is about the subject of the story, not the journalist’s opinion of that person or thing. I have broken this rule, and I will continue to break it. Because I believe rules are not rigid commandments, but rather guidelines. Sometimes, for good reasons, a rule must be broken. But there has to be a good reason. That’s why there’s a rule. Not to restrict you, but to encourage you to understand why you are doing what you are doing. Why you are breaking it, if you are breaking it. If you don’t know why you are breaking the rule, then you should probably not be breaking it. That is to say, if you don’t know why you are making the choices you are making, then you should reconsider your approach.

That said, I don’t believe journalism can be fully objective. I don’t think it’s possible for a person to completely remove themselves from the thing that they are doing. As journalists, we seek out stories that effect us in some way. We have to. Journalism is hard work, and takes time, patience and passion. Reporting on a thing that doesn’t speak to you in some way leads to boring journalism, and I hate that more than stories about journalists.

So understand that when I say “be objective” I don’t mean to refuse to follow your own heart or conscience. What I means is to, as much as possible, allow the truth of a story emerge, even if it’s not what you would have expected or even wanted to hear.

Is there such a thing as an objective truth? I don’t know. We’re getting into philosophy here, and that way madness lies. But I will say that I don’t believe that for any person or thing there’s only ever one story than can be told.

Different journalists will find different things interesting, different angles worth exploring, and different facets of a subject worth drawing into the light. Two journalists writing the same story about the same thing will, hopefully, create different works. That is as it should be, and a perfect illustration of why, although objectivity is a goal worth striving toward, it is impossible in reality.

Stage of Development is a product of my journalistic ambition, and my creative direction. It will then, by necessity, be colored by my thoughts, opinions and ideas. If you typically enjoy the way I see the world and the products I create, then you will probably also enjoy Stage of Development. If not, then probably not. But is my goal that it be as objective as possible, so that you may focus on the story, and not the person telling it.

The person asking the question on the project also wanted to know how similar Stage of Development would be, in actuality, to my previous documentary series, Human Angle. They cited some concerns about the content of a few Human Angle pieces, and I have to agree that we sometimes missed the mark on that series.

The answer to the subtextual question there is that I’ve learned a lot as a creator and journalist since Human Angle. And although I developed that series and oversaw all of its production, there were decisions about how it was produced that I wouldn’t necessarily repeat.

Stage of Development will, in general, be similar to Human Angle, but it will also be its own project. I am literally the only crew member returning, and that in and of itself opens the door for a lot of new creative thinking.

I also have to acknowledge that Stage of Development is different in one other respect: I am entirely in control of it. It is my company producing it. It is your money funding it. There is no media company standing behind me making decisions. No home office making changes merely to put its thumbprint on it. And no political struggles for control of it.

Stage of Development is an independent project, from soup to nuts, and will therefore be as true a reflection as possible of my artistic and journalistic intentions. This will be either a good or a bad thing. I hope a good thing. You will get to decide.

As far as Human Angle was concerned, that series was on a very tight schedule due in part to advertiser considerations and corporate hurblegerbles. By the end of it, we were not where I’d hoped we’d be in terms of the care and time we were able to put into each episode. I’m still proud of the films, but I would do them differently if I had it to do over again.

Good news! I have it to do over again, with Stage of Development. And the entire production plan for this series has been designed from the ground up to accommodate lessons learned from doing Human Angle. Every aspect of this production will be, in my opinion, a step up.