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Re: Taking control of the documentary situation, an immodest proposal

Speaking as a journalist, one consistent tendency across all media is editing 
out the qualifiers. The idea is to make the story sound more definitive, but it 
also strips away the vital essence of science -- proposing explanations and 
testing them by collecting and examining data. The Nova documentary on 
Microraptor "The Four Winged Dinosaur" got it right: take an intriguing 
discovery, examine the possibilities, test them, and come to some tentative 
conclusions, admitting that uncertainties remain. If the producer does it 
right, the show becomes a detective story. 

Likewise, when documentaries show reconstructions of dinosaurs as living 
animals interacting with the local ecology and other dinosaurs, it would be 
good to say what's known, what's likely, and what's speculative. In a sense, 
you can bring viewers back for more when you hint that you'll reveal something 
more "in the next thrilling episode." 

At 9:35 PM -0800 12/16/09, David Krentz wrote:
>  For me, having watched (and own) so many of these things what sets a good 
> doc apart from a bad one is cautionary language.  If the talking head says 
> "maybe, perhaps, could have, we don't know for sure" and those are kept in 
> the edit than any flashy animation that follows just looks like a best guess 
> rendering and not fact.  Either that or admit that what you are about to see 
> is conjecture, something that WWD could have done even though they wanted to 
> create the illusion of a real nature doc...which is actually pure fantasy no 
> matter what you do!  Of late my favourite doc was the Nova Four 
> "Four-Winged-Dinosaur" show!
>I can't attest to what happens to the comments of the talking heads and where 
>all of that goes wrong because as of yet our show has none.  Thom, Mike and 
>others have eloquently commented on their experience being front and center in 
>this debate.  Being on the side of the Evil-Doers I feel like I should 
>contribute more to this conversation.  Some of you have emailed me off list 
>about my opinions as well.  I don't want to bite the hand that feeds me... and 
>I also have very little credibility anyway because of that whole talking 
>Iguanodon business.  

Jeff Hecht, science & technology writer
jeff@jeffhecht.com or jhecht@nasw.org
525 Auburn St., Auburndale, MA 02466 USA
tel. 617-965-3834  http://www.jeffhecht.com