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Michael Whalen

Michael Whalen

Trust in Documentary Filmmaking

Filmmaker and professor of communication discusses the importance of creating trustworthy documentary films.

With the explosion of at-your-fingertips news, information, and content on the Internet, one medium the public relies upon for in-depth coverage of newsworthy topics is documentary films. Filmmaker Michael Whalen sat down recently to talk about the obligations of documentary filmmakers to produce trustworthy work. A winner of numerous awards, Whalen is the Knight-Ridder/San Jose Mercury News Endowed Professor of Communication at Santa Clara University. He has written, produced, and directed numerous episodes of Fox Television’s “COPS” and A&E’s “Biography,” as well as documentaries about sexual assault on campus, the struggles of women artists, and politics and culture of world soccer.

His interview covered topics including how documentary filmmaking and the notion of “objectivity” has evolved, as well as the need for editors to be cognizant of today’s instantaneous social-media-driven consumers. “As a filmmaker, you have to be so much more careful before you turn a lens on something,” he says. “People have lost the ability to critically reflect on what is real and what is not, what is fake and what is reality. It’s more important now than ever as filmmakers to really stop and do that reflection for yourself, because, for the most part, I don’t think the audience will.” Watch the edited interview below.

The interview took place as Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics is hosting The Trust Project, a consortium of more than 75 international news outlets dedicated to providing readers of news with standards and tools to discover for themselves whether a news story or site is trustworthy. Learn more at The Trust Project.