New Era Down’s – a radio documentary
By Aleksandra Doychinova
- Journey Reflection & Research Process
Over the last few months this multimedia project has made me see documentary journalism in a completely different way. With the experience I had from the previous years in Broadcast, now I dived even deeper into this genre, researching, exploring and preparing by reading loads of material online and listening to various documentaries in order to get a good idea of what I wanted to show in my documentary and the way I was going to structure it. It has been a really daunting experience as I faced a lot of challenges and therefore had to make a lot of changes so that I make sure the final piece is the best it can be.
At the beginning of this journey I had decided upon another idea. I wanted to make a TV documentary on assistance dogs for children with autism and that is what I pitched. I was confident with my idea and the pitch went very well. The feedback helped me see the little flaws in my idea, which then turned out to be huge obstacles that I was unable to overcome. I did not want to give up on it so for over a month I was constantly contacting people and trying to make it work, but they were either uncomfortable with the filming aspect of it or too far away for me to afford to go and film there.
That is when talked to my supervisor and changed my idea to a radio documentary instead of a TV one as it was going to be a lot easier for me to get good interviews and produce a better final product. I also changed the whole focus of the documentary. I was going to do a piece on Down’s syndrome, uncovering the reasons behind a mother’s decision to keep the baby or not once she has found out her child has Down’s. With New Era Down’s I wanted to focus on the mothers and on what drove them to make the choices they made.
- How did I get the idea? Interviewees – roles and rationale?
I started to form my idea after speaking to a woman, who got back to me a while ago, saying that her daughter has Down’s syndrome. I then did a lot of research on Down’s syndrome and the issues around it, following the most recent news on the topic. I then had a clear idea in my head of exactly what I wanted to focus on. According to David Randall (2011), ‘a nose for a story’ is one of the most admired skills in the journalistic culture, which could be ‘the artful technique of presenting the mundane as the unusual’ and this is exactly what I was aiming for with my new idea.
Once I had a green light to work on New Era Down’s everything started to fall into place. I arranged my first interview with Lesley Low and she turned out to be an amazing interviewee – really easy to talk to and had some very strong opinions on the topic. Lesley knew she was carrying a child with Down’s, yet she decided to keep it, having in mind most women choose to have an abortion.
After speaking to Lesley I knew I needed another mother’s story. I got my second interview – Amy Brown, after writing a post in a website (netmums). She was a great second interviewee because her story was quite different. She only found out her daughter had Down’s on the day she was born, so she went through a whole different thought process compared to Lesley and this contrast was important for the balance of my documentary.
- Ethical considerations
As a journalism student putting together a documentary for BBC Radio 4 I made sure all of the Editorial Guidelines are followed.
3.1 Accuracy: I have only used first hand sources and all of the information that has been used in this documentary is accurate and has been gathered in order to reflect the truth.
4 Impartiality: I have tried to be as impartial and inclusive as possible while producing this documentary, creating a balanced piece. Both of my interviewees were in different situations and went through a different thought process, so I am presenting both sides.
7.4.1 Privacy and Consent: Both of my interviewees have given an informed consent for all the content to be edited and published online.
Copyright – OFCOM: All of the music in this documentary will be considered and downloaded from copyright free websites which give me permission to use the content. No sound will be used without permission.
- Originality and target audience
I consider the best target audience for my documentary would be BBC Radio 4 and the programme Women’s Hour in particular as it offers a female perspective on the world, discussing health, education, cultural and political topics aimed at women and mothers. And because of its large following it would reach many who would actually relate to the topic.
My goal was to make the documentary engaging and interesting the whole way through, telling the story bit by bit. I think the beginning of the documentary, where I included sound bites from both of my interviewees, is really strong as it pulls you in right away. The music also contributes a lot to the tone of the documentary in a way that it only completes but does not distract the listener from what is being said.
This documentary tells the stories of only two women because I wanted more in-depth interviews, telling real life stories, making us feel like we can all relate to them. I read a very interesting material about radio documentaries by Stephen Smith (2001), discussing that some producers pride themselves for not using expert opinions in their pieces because conventional news reports, unlike documentaries, ‘tend to reply heavily on academics and government officials’ as their sources. I wanted to concentrate on the mothers and the emotion they pass on. And I believe that is what makes it original. I think I achieved all that I was hoping for with this documentary and after months of twists and turns and a lot of hard work I am really pleased with the result.
BBC. Editorial Guidelines. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidelines
Dodd, M., Hanna, M., 2015. McNaes Essential Law for Journalists. 16th edition. United Kingdom: Oxford.
Randall, D., 2011. The Universal Journalist. 4th edition. London: Pluto Press.
Smith, S.,2001 . What the hell is a radio documentary. The Documentary and Journalism [online], 55 (3). Available: https://search.proquest.com/openview/ee4c7c1ed580bacd0d5d7f9bd29378a6/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=48335