Project: Web Documentary at NRK P3 Dok

P3 Dokumentar is originally a radio program focusing on “young Norwegian reality” (interview with Espeland Svendsen 2015). Even though it is a radio program, P3 Dokumentar has its best outreach through its online podcast. The podcast is among the most visited elements in NRK’s website, with 20.000 to 120.000 unique users. Since its launch in 2012, P3 Dokumentar has published more than 80 web documentaries, and it has been nominated to Prix Europa and Prix Italy (2013) as well as won best online reportage in NONA2014.

One of the reasons why the P3 Dokumentar case was of high interest for us as researchers was a planned expansion of activities for the P3 Dokumentar unit, which would begin to produce multimedia content to be broadcasted simultaneously on TV and online (interview with Grøtte 2015). This change would lead to new production practices at the unit, which is currently based in two locations (Trondheim and Oslo). The relatively small unit of one editor, three journalists and a technical staff member responsible for online content would need to continue to produce the podcast as well as move onto TV production (interview with Espeland Svendsen 2015). Their current podcast format is 30 minute stories; this format was to be developed into better web content and expansion to TV. The move was also part of a strategy to merge several production units at NRK. According to Bjørn Tore Grøtte, editor in chief of P3 Dokumentar, the plan was to have journalists take part in the development of the web version of the podcast in collaboration with a lab of developers and designers at Tyholt (the NRK base in Trondheim), and with the support of NRK Beta, a web development and research unit based in Oslo (interview with Grøtte 2015).

No new groups of employees (for instance, media producers educated in documentary, transmedia or cross-media production) have been recruited to make the transition, and content creators are mostly recruited from journalism education programs (many of whom have studied in Volda). One of the biggest challenges the journalists at P3 Dokumentar identify is the need to think that a story will be published in four different platforms (interview with P3 Dokumentar journalist Webjørn Espeland Svendsen 2015). According to Espeland Svendsen, when it comes to the conceptualization of the new multimedia platform production process, neither journalists nor the leadership use concepts such as transmedia, cross-media, convergence, interactivity, web documentary, or similar, even though they are familiar with these concepts. And when it comes to re-training in new competencies, NRK journalists are offered the Institute for Journalism (Institutt for Journalistikk, IJ) and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) continuing education courses. The problem is that these courses do not take up the challenges of producing for multiple platforms, but focus rather on small technical competencies such as how to use the mobile as a tool for production (mobile journalism, MOJO). The journalists at P3 Dokumentar have little contact with other multimedia or web documentary editorial units elsewhere in Norway or internationally and have also limited information about what is happening in this arena in other countries.

Defining Web Documentary

There are many different concepts of what a web documentary is or can be, and these terms are used actively in various funding, production and distribution models around the world (such as Arte, National Film Board of Canada, BBC). In attempting to define “Web Documentary” or “I-Docs”, Gifreu (2015) has studied how interactive, transmedia or cross-media productions require new kinds of interdisciplinary collaboration between filmmakers, designers and journalists, and how this also involves a reassessment of narrative forms in the different traditions. For example, an interactive documentary may have as sole requirement that the user must get involved physically with content (Gaudenzi 2012), yet a transmedia documentary will deliberately require engagement with several portals into the story world and will distribute parts of the whole between the various platforms instead of repeating the same story to multiple channels. Cross-media productions will involve two or more platforms “talking” together, i.e. the connections and communication between platforms are visible (Erdal 2011).

A different impulse to define the web documentary and other various emergent media formats comes from government funding bodies. For example, Screen Australia released guidelines to produce transmedia projects (and thus clarified terminology and consolidated formats and financing in the country). The “Bible” from Screen Australia (2011) covers in detail the production of a variety of fictional and factual narrative forms and their development to services in multiple platforms, and it can be said to function as both a blueprint and as a reflection of the longterm development of the media industry in this country. In Norway, and as far as we know, no similar “top-down” approach to the consolidation of the concept web, interactive, cross-media, or transmedia documentary for broadcasters and independent multiple-platform producers has taken place.

Karlsen (2014) has discussed the situation for independent transmedia documentary production in Norway, which began to get attention from documentary producers after the Norwegian Film Institute gave 950.000 kr to Project Moken, a transmedia documentary. From his interviews with industry professionals, Karlsen found that most independent documentary producers knew little about the concept of transmedia, and that they were not sure what a transmedia documentary was. In addition, few producers had the technical expertise in web technologies such projects demanded. Most informants thought about the linear format as the best way to tell the moving stories they wanted to convey to the audience, and saw Web Documentaries as unrewarding and unengaging, or overly technical and resource intensive.

In the available literature in Norway about the topic of web documentary, researchers have mostly focused on broadcasters and criticized their minimal use of the possibilities that the web can offer, with existing research strongly focusing on news and feature journalism (Moe 2008 Sjøvaag et al. 2015 Enli & Sound 2007 Krumsvik 2010 Ytreberg 2004). For instance, Moe (2008) has explored how public broadcasters as ZDE, NRK and BBC can use network opportunities for participation to extend completion of its mandate, and his analysis of P3 Dok use of the computer game Mujaffa (adapted from Danish public broadcaster DR version Paki) shows that more innovative use of the web is often an isolated effort that is not articulated in teams with other programs on NRK.

Within the Norwegian production landscape, large public broadcasters such as NRK will have broad impact on the definition of documentaries for multiple platforms. Given documentary’s function as a channel for critical voices, investigative journalism, and as a tool to engage the public on important issues, the consolidation of the concept and approaches to aspects such as participation, narrative forms, and production framework are processes that we think should be done in cooperation and discussion between scientists, the media industry and other institutional and independent actors. The process is also applicable for commercial operators, since in recent years, several newspaper editors and media houses in Norway have expanded their investment in documentary production (for example, VGTV recruited in 2014 several new video journalists to produce documentaries on the Internet and has made large investments in the purchase of Norwegian and foreign documentaries, see Geard 2014, Furuly 2014).

Goals of the project

  • To understand how editors and journalists manage the shift from radio production to podcast to TV and multimedia.
  • To understand how new practices are reflected in the finished P3 Dok products.

 

The Norwegian Media Authority’s RAM project has funded this research. This research has also received support from internal grants by Volda University College.

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