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Published on January 9th, 2014 | by EJC


Vice Media’s ‘Correspondent Confidential’ Brings Journalists’ Hard-To-Tell Stories To Popular Audiences

This article was written by Johana Bhuiyan and originally published at Capital New York on 19 November, 2013. Republished with permission.

It’s notoriously difficult to win large audiences for important documentaries about current global events.

Does it seem even more unlikely that an animated nonfiction series telling the stories of these filmmakers could not only succeed in its own right, but bring new audiences to documentary filmmakers?

That’s just what happened with The Price of Sex, Mimi Chakarova’s award-winning feature documentary about the livees of young Eastern European women who are at one point or another trapped in the underworld of Turkey’s sex-trafficking industry.

Carrie Ching, multimedia journalist and producer, focused on Chararova’s experience making the film for “Correspondent Confidential,” her new series telling the stories of documentarians and journalists telling their stories. Distributed to Vice media’s global audience, which is 63 percent male, Chakarova finds that now her film is being sought out by an audience she never thought she’d reach.

Jenea, a subject in Ms. Chakarova’s film. Photo source: Capital.

“What’s been amazing is that we released “The Price of Sex” almost three years ago and because of Carrie’s work, new avenues and discussions have been awakened,” Chakarova said. “For the very first time, I am receiving countless media requests for interviews from Turkey. I’ve waited a long time for this moment.”

Ching’s narrative describes how Chakarova herself posed as a prostitute to expose what went on in Turkish brothels that mimic run-of-the-mill high-end nightclubs. Chakarova donned a wig, illustrated as bright red in Ching’s video, high heels, a short dress and tubs of makeup to fit in with the other prostitutes at the brothel. She was accompanied by brothel regulars who knew she was a journalist only posing as a prostitute, but who nevertheless took advantage of her vulnerable position: if she did not play along with the whims of these men they would blow her cover to the brothel owners and pimps. It was a dangerous venture, so dangerous other journalists refused to risk putting their family in harm’s way to help her. It was so dangerous, Chakarova says in a voiceover, she found herself having to ask herself whether she was willing to die for this story.

“I think it’s a lot more powerful to tell a story this way, even though often these stories are going to be a very personal angle on an issue,” Ching said of her new series. “It’s an access point for the audience that they’re brought in by; I think it makes them more accessible.”

I Correspondent confidential copyChing’s idea took root at the Center for Investigative Reporting, where she served as senior multimedia producer for six years. While working with print reporter Ryan Gabrielson, Ching came across the story of Jennifer, a young girl with severe mental retardation and bipolar disorder who was allegedly raped under the care of the staff in the Sonoma Developmental Center located in the thick of wine country in California. However, given the fragility of the situation, video access issues and restrictions on using the likeness or voice of anonymous sources, Ching struggled with how to tell this story as a visual narrative. Having led web video projects for five years at CIR by then, Ching was accustomed to looking for new ways to explain complex subjects, like determining the value of carbon dioxide, using illustrations and animations. She had been incorporating animations into her multimedia projects for quite a while. Why not use it for the hard-to-get footage that would tell Jennifer’s story? After a bit of experimentation and with the help of artist Marina Luz, the Emmy-winning animated investigative video, “In Jennifer’s Room,” was made.

This began Ching’s fascination with using animation to tell narratives. In March of this year, she left CIR with an idea for telling the personal stories of the investigative journalists who report and make films on tough topics like these.

“I think the audience really benefits from seeing the process,” Ching said. “It’s really about transparency, peeling back that facade of objectivity; I don’t think the audience really buys it anymore,” Ching said. “That’s one way for us to gain their trust again.”

In May, after floating the idea of a series around to other sites, she paid a visit to Eddy Moretti, chief creative officer of Vice. Her test video, “High on the Job,”  told the story of CIR reporter Michael Montgomery’s accidental consumption of a pot brownie while reporting.

“[Vice] is in a position right now to do more serious journalism but do it in a different way,” Ching said. “This hit the sweet spot in that sense. It’s perfectly crafted for online distribution, it’s on serious subjects, it’s journalism but it’s also new and different and it’s something that people will consume online. It fit really well.”

Tonight, in partnership with The Committee to Protect Journalists, Vice will be hosting a screening of the second episode of ‘Correspondent Confidential,’ followed by a panel discussion with Carrie Ching, Vice founder Suroosh Alvi, executive director of Committe to Protect Journalists Joel Simon and investigative journalist at ProPublica, T. Christian Miller. The episode will go live tomorrow and can be found here.

About the Author:

Johana Bhuiyan reports on digital media and tech for Capital.

Photo: Lamiavitadimerda ®

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