Posted by: delphine criscenzo | October 15, 2012

“Do documentaries exploit their subjects?”

In their chapter on reality TV and Documentaries, O’Shaughnessy and Stadler explain that there are two issues that they identify with Documentary films. One of them is the issue of exploiting the “subjects” featured in the film and “victimizing” them. The point they bring is valuable and in my opinion, there are other instances when journalists end up betraying their source in one way or another.

My intention here is not list times when exploitation or betrayal has happen but to introduce a new idea, a new approach to documentary film making and journalism in general: a community-based and participatory research model. Some of my academic background is in Anthropology and it might be news to you, but the reputation of Anthropologists and Archeologists in certain communities is pretty negative. For generations, communities have felt exploited by researchers who studied them, used them as “subjects”, and used their data to publish academic work, got recognition and sometimes financial gain for it while abandoning communities to their own fate. When you think about it, the work of some journalists reflect the practices of these Anthropologists!

A new generation of Anthropologists, often members of communities exploited in the past, has developed a new research model that includes the community in the research process, turning “subjects” into participants. This community-based participatory research model invites researchers to consult with the community and use their knowledge to accomplish something that the community needs or want. The community is therefore involves in the whole process, training happens along the way and the final product needs to be something that both the research and the participants can agree on. This model seems to be applicable to the creation of journalistic matter in my opinion.

Do journalists exploit stories and informants?


  1. Reblogged this on Asatru / Heathen South Africa and commented:
    Exploitation by documentary film-makers… Really? Never actually gave it any thought

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