Retro report: drawing lessons from TV history
We’re pleased to see that Slow Journalism is going strong.
Since we launched Delayed Gratification in January 2011, Paul Salopek has started his seven-year journalistic journey around the world and former New York Times editor Jill Abramson has announced she wants to pay writers $100,000 for long-form features that take months to put together.
Back in 2013, Retro Report joined the Slow Journalism fold. Distributed by The New York Times, the organisation makes 10-12 minute mini-documentaries that revisit big news stories – mostly from the 1980s and 1990s – and investigate what has happened since.
In May 2013, Retro Report wondered how much truth there was in the widespread claims made in the 1980s that the US social services system would soon be overwhelmed by a generation of crack babies (answer: not much). Last Sunday, they released their 53rd mini-documentary, which takes the media hype surrounding Dr Jack Kevorkian, aka Dr Death, as a starting point to discuss the ethical debate on assisted suicide today.
We really like what Retro Report is doing, so we gave their executive producer, Kyra Darnton, a call.
“The mission of the project is to re-examine and re-report the significant news events of the past and how they continue to affect us today,” says Darnton. “The news cycle has sped up and we’re never seeing the end of the story. In this age of tweets and Facebook likes, there’s a real value in actually saying slow down, look at the consequences, learn the lessons of the past.”
In October 2013, a year after Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge flooded parts of New York City, Retro Report released their video on reconstruction after hurricane Katrina. “We watched how the rebuilding after Sandy mimicked in many ways the rebuilding after Katrina – nobody looked back and learned the lessons of the past. [Our work] is about tracking patterns and consequences and really learning from what’s come before.”
Most of Retro Report’s stories go back several decades. “The ’80s and ’90s seem really rich in terms of lessons, things that went wrong and misperceptions,” Darnton explains. “It takes a long time for the lessons to play out.”
In tackling old news stories, Retro Report focuses on analysing TV coverage of the event at the time. “Television really influences our understanding of events, certainly in the US,” she says. “It’s an element of culture that doesn’t often get analysed and has a huge impact.” Part of the project, she adds, is precisely about “showing how our understanding of a story came from seeing a few minutes on TV”.
The world needs in-depth, investigative Slow Journalism, which is why we’re excited about what Retro Report brings to the table. If you are too, you can check out their full video library here.
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