A central mission of FRONTLINE is to hold institutions and officials accountable, often by making their actions more visible to the public. As a news organization, we try to hold ourselves to the same standard. We launched the FRONTLINE Transparency Project to make the reporting in our films more accessible and to shine a light on the source material for our journalism.
Over several films, we’ve created new ways for our audiences to search, experience and share the in-depth interviews that go into making a documentary film. Today, hundreds of interviews conducted by our filmmakers are online in video and text, published in a format designed to make it easy to navigate by subjects and themes.
Our aim is to preserve the original interview as much as possible while adhering to our editorial standards. We edit out repetitions, production talk and some unverifiable claims. We omit sections where an interview subject has gone off the record. We remove factual errors or, when a fact is in dispute, annotate the transcript to reflect that dispute. We also conduct a legal review to ensure that the interview content does not violate libel or privacy laws.
We’ve also developed interactive versions of films that make it possible to see key quotes in context. Viewers can jump from interview excerpts that appear in a film to the full interview, or bookmark a quote to explore later. These visual footnotes allow audiences to check our work or dig more deeply into a subject.
So far, the Transparency Project has enhanced these FRONTLINE investigations:
For The Choice (2020) we published 47 new interviews, some transcript and some video, conducted over the prior year.
For Amazon Empire (2020) we published excerpts of 11 video interviews.
For America’s Great Divide (2020) we published 39 interviews, some transcript and some video, including two dozen previously unpublished interviews conducted over the prior year.
For Supreme Revenge (2019) we published 39 interviews in an interactive archive.
For The Facebook Dilemma (2018) our 29 interviews included a greater number of in-depth videos, and we added a bookmarking feature for navigating individual interviews.
For Trump’s Showdown: The Interactive Film (2018) we implemented a new design, making it easier to navigate between the film and the source material in more than 60 original interviews.
For Trump’s Takeover: The Interactive Film (2018) we introduced a viewing experience that linked highlighted quotes to text interviews, enabling viewers to see quotations in context by clicking an icon on the streaming video.
For Putin’s Revenge (2017) FRONTLINE created “The Putin Files,” an interactive archive of all 56 interviews conducted for the two-part documentary series. The collective interviews have been viewed more than 2 million times.
FRONTLINE’s commitment to publishing interviews is nothing new; we’ve been putting transcripts online since 1996, in the early days of the internet. Transparency and accountability are important parts of our journalistic guidelines.
Today, we believe that transparency can play an even more important role in making journalism more credible. A survey conducted recently as part of the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy found that 71% of Americans said a commitment to transparency was a “very important” factor in fostering media trust.
You can read more about the Transparency Project in this article from Nieman Reports.
For more information, contact Philip Bennett, FRONTLINE’s Special Projects Editor.