As an award-winning investigative reporter for the BBC, Paul Kenyon came to Coventry University last week to talk about his work on Panorama and the craft of making a documentary in several not-so-easy steps.
With vast experience in investigative journalism, Paul argues that having a nose for a good story is paramount. According to Paul, this means being inquisitive, but also suspicious about big institutions and individuals who may or may not be corrupt or who may or may not be involved in abusive actions. Paul gives the example of child labour in the chocolate industry, where children in West Africa are taken away from their families and forced to work on cocoa farms and unfairly contribute to an industry that is estimated at $80 billion a year. Writes Rares Stoica…
Having reliable sources that can provide an insight into the actions of a certain organisation or individual and evidence gathering – including secret filming in some instances – are other laborious yet helpful steps in producing a good documentary. When accompanied by attention-grabbing visuals, the findings can result in a gripping programme. However, as Paul suggests, simply showing the findings of the investigation is not enough for a documentary to actually engage with the audience, since people prefer to be part of the investigative process as it progresses: ‘People like to be part of the voyage of discovery when they watch a documentary’, says Paul.
Another essential step in producing a good investigative programme is choosing the interviewees. This is a particularly important aspect, since it can have a great impact on the final production. As Paul states, ‘You don’t want dull people in your programme’. Clearly then, the entertainment value is also a factor that can influence the way in which the audience interacts with the documentary.
Paul Kenyon’s talk at Coventry University was a detailed insight into the complex process of producing engaging documentaries. Despite the effort that goes into this process, Paul’s enthusiasm for investigative journalism has enabled him to uncover stories that would otherwise probably be hidden on the cocoa farms somewhere in West Africa.