6: Personal Contributions — work on projects, efforts to diversify coverage and shared insights

As I conclude the final week of my internship, I would like to reflect on my personal contributions to FRONTLINE over the course of this summer.

A clear way I have contributed is through my work on particular projects, such as films and podcasts. For example, I fact-checked and researched for the film “COVID’s Hidden Toll.” Through my research, I uncovered insights that changed several parts of the film, from aspects such as narration lines to the quotations used from sources. I was often tasked to research specific claims to assess validity, but I was also tasked with researching specific people and organizations. My research therefore provided the rest of the editorial staff, producers, etc. with a more complete picture of the subjects they were including and working with. This ensured that we could consider all aspects of a person before including them in a film — both what we thought made them a valuable source, such as their expertise or experience, as well as other aspects that may be controversial or perceived negatively, such as any scandals or misconduct an organization has been involved in in the past. The other films I fact-checked, researched for and edited in some way include: “The Virus: What Went Wrong?,” “Opioids, Inc.,” “Once Upon a Time in Iraq,” “United States of Conspiracy,” “Love, Life & the Virus” and “Undocumented in the Pandemic.” 

Another example of a project where I had a clear impact was when I was tasked with helping to find sound bites for the film trailer for “The Choice 2020.” The process of finding sound bites involved reading through all of the transcripts of interviews conducted for the film thus far, which was roughly forty at the time I worked on this task mid-summer. These transcripts took anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour to read. I was tasked with going through them and pulling quotes that would make good sound bites. This meant that they had to be no more than a sentence or two long, had to stand alone, be clear and succinct. I was looking to find bites that revealed information about the subject’s character or spoke to impactful events in the source’s life. The extended trailer was recently finalized, and many of the soundbites I chose ended up being used for the final trailer. 

Most recently, I have been researching and fact-checking for an upcoming podcast, which requires that I go through the entire script and check each “checkable” fact. This is tedious work, as nearly every line, if not word, requires some sort of fact-checking. Whenever I find contradictory information or do not feel evidence is sufficient to support a particular point, I flag it, and it is then reviewed by others on the team. I have already seen how my research has resulted in certain phrasing changes and is contributing to shaping the podcast.  

Another way I contributed to FRONTLINE was by helping them in their push to diversify coverage. Throughout the summer, I worked on a project where I watched past films and logged key demographic data of the sources used, such as race, gender and disability. I also assessed whether an expert’s appearance was based on race/gender. This data will be critical as it will be used to measure the progress FRONTLINE has made on diversifying sourcing since 2015, when the most recent leadership took over, as well as how much progress they still must make. 

One final way I personally contributed to FRONTLINE over this summer is through the insights I shared with my direct supervisor as well as others at FRONTLINE. Over the last few weeks, my supervisor scheduled for me and the other interns to speak with some people we had yet to meet due to the nature of remote work. During these virtual meetings, these people talked about their roles and backgrounds and gave advice. However, also during these meetings, I was often asked about my observations and takeaways from the summer. For example, during a meeting with a data analyst this week, we talked about the demographics of who streams FRONTLINE films, listens to podcasts and reads articles. I suggested also collecting data regarding the demographics of who attends the virtual events FRONTLINE does often ahead of or after films air with reporters, producers, subjects, etc. We specifically spoke about reaching Spanish speakers. I spoke with both my direct supervisor and the data analyst about the barriers created because FRONTLINE films are often only offered with English subtitles, with select films that also offer Spanish subtitles. I have been told that offering films with Spanish and other subtitles will be an ongoing conversation. Also, I brought up concerns about geo blocking. I often handled Viewermail, the email that viewers can send questions, comments, story pitches, etc to. I noticed that many viewers emailed wondering why they could not view films in their country. For some of FRONTLINE’s reports, they partner with other networks around the world, which often prevents streaming the program worldwide because partners retain the right to stream it in their areas. Some of these countries include Algeria, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, etc. This is troubling to be because many of FRONTLINE’s films cover events in these countries. I often voiced these concerns to my supervisor and the PBS distribution team.