Unit 27 – Factual Programming Techniques for Television

Glossary: Accuracy: Making sure the content of the piece is all correct and precise. 

Balance and Impartiality: If an argument is presented in a documentary or other programme it needs to be as even and fair on both sides as possible. The viewer needs to be informed about both sides of the issue so they can make their own mind up about the subject. In ‘Supersize me’ a balanced view is now shown, Morgan Spurlock simply showcases the negative effects of eating fast food, therefore Supersize me is an example of impartiality (when the argument is not presented equally).

Objectivity: Making a judgement which is based on an observable event or phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions, personal prejudices. 

Subjectivity: Making a judgement based on your own personal impressions and feelings rather than fact. 

Opinion: Opinions are views or judgements formed about something, opinions aren’t necessarily based on knowledge or fact. Showing a lot of different opinions for several generations, walks of life etc is a good way of presenting a balanced view of a subject.

Bias: A bias opinion is one which tries to sway you to agree with one side of a debate or argument.

Representation: The action of speaking on behalf of someone or a group.

Access: A contact or way of extracting and examining information/data

Privacy:   Being free from public attention and having personal matters/subjects

Contract with Viewer: The unwritten rule that if a production company claims a programme will be a factual programme it must be 100% factual.

Codes and Conventions of factual programming:

News: When watching the news you can expect to see one or two news anchors (such as Suzanne Virdee) in a studio. Reading the stories from an autocue, the stories are typically backed up with actuality footage, eye witnesses, interviews and roving reporters. Links to the studio are common in news programmes, the reporter will introduce another reporter/expert/person of interest onto the show. The shot from the live studio will cut to another location anywhere across the world. 

Mode of Address to Viewer is the way in which the reporter and the show presents the information to the audience.  It has a big impact on the audience because it can effect the way they receive the information and their response to it. We expect a more serious approach to the news from the BBC but from Channel 5 the news is a little more relaxed and conversational. Then there are news broadcasters like Russia Today who use humour, sarcasm and irony. RT is different to most news broadcasters however it still uses a lot of the codes and conventions we would expect from other stations.  News reports generally follow a similar structure, the anchor starts off by reading out all the headlines to give an overview of what the viewer can expect on the show. They would then go back to each story, with a basic introduction outlining what the story is about and then go onto telling the story in more depth – with data and information, it also may include an interview or expert/eye witness. The story then might come to a conclusion with a discussion and mention of future possibilities.

Documentaries: There are five different documentary formats,

  • Expository Documentaries expose a person or a topic. It is the most classic form of documentary, they speak directly to the viewer holding the weight of explaining and arguing the film’s rhetorical content. . Typically they have feature video footage and pictures with a voiceover explaining the story. Conventionally they will also include opinions, rhetorical questions, facts and persuasive techniques.  
  • Observational Documentaries are different to expository documentaries because the filmmaker is not presenting an argument. They follow their subject around and simply observe the events that happen in their life. They are often filmed on hand-held cameras to not intimidate their subject and make the situation less formal. Interviews are rare in observational documentaries (unless you count reality shows) and voice overs are also uncommon. The shots used are generally longer, speeding up clips can help pass the time when not a lot of action is happening and music is key to making the film more interesting. There is a negative aspect to observational documentaries though because often lack any sense of historical context.16 and pregnant is an example of an observational documentary 
  • Interactive/Participatory Documentaries are different to other documentary formats because the film maker acknowledges their present – either infront of the camera or by providing narrative guidance. This is done to aid the audience’s understanding so they can develop a critical and sophisticated approach to the subject. The audience are able to see the process of making the documentary and the pressure the filmmakers are under throughout production. It’s about the engagement between the filmmaker and the subject.  
  • Reflexive Documentaries  are based upon re-enactments of a previous event. When watching a reflexive documentary the audience is made aware of A truth not THE truth.  
  • Performative Documentaries highlight the subjective nature of documentarians as well as acknowledging the subjective reading of its audience. Emphasis is placed on the filmaker’s subjective attitude and personal investment in a subject to evoke the reaction of the audience. Supersize me is an example of this..  As is Catfish

Realism: ‘An inclination towards literal truth and pragmatism’. Realism gives the audience a reason to watch the documentary; the desire to educate and inform themselves on the topic the filmmaker is exploring in the documentary.

Dramatisation: ‘A prose or verse composition, especially on telling a serious story that is intended for representation by actors impersonating the characters and performing the dialogue/action’. Dramatisation is often used in documentaries about a time/event in history. It is an effective tool to keep audiences engaged by providing a visual representation of the past events.

Narrativisation: ‘To make a narrated account or story; to make into the form of a narrative’. 


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