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The Value of Journalism in Conservation Filmmaking

Conservation filmmakers Ontario Canada

The Value of Journalism in Conservation Filmmaking

Here’s the short version of how I became a conservation filmmaker/videographer: My original career goal was to become a wildlife technician. Unfortunately my college application ended up on the program’s wait list. Restless, I swerved to attend journalism school and soon embarked on a first career in media which evolved from reporting to eventually management. In 2010 I left my career in journalism to pursue (again) my dream of working full-time for conservation.

While the transition from journalism to filmmaking might seem like a leap, the truth is that a background in journalism is a powerful asset for those seeking to capture the essence of conservation on video.

That background has certainly helped me accelerate my growth in conservation filmmaking. After being in the industry for 10+ years, I can certainly see the difference out there in the broader community between those being able to hold a camera and click record vs those with a journalism or storytelling background and being able to hold a camera, click record, and tell and show a compelling story.

A Lens for Storytelling

I feel like I’m hardwired for storytelling, thanks to the background in journalism. When I’m in the field filming and I’m the one interviewing a biologist for audio clips, I know the value of followup questions and phrasing questions to pull the best voice clips out of subjects. But it’s not just voice clips. Being a skilled questioner means also bringing out the character of someone and making them be portrayed as being genuine.

At its core, both journalism and conservation filmmaking share a fundamental objective: to tell compelling stories that resonate with audiences. Journalists are trained to identify the heart of a story, to sift through complex information, and to distill it into a narrative that captivates and informs. This storytelling prowess is invaluable in conservation filmmaking, where the goal is not just to showcase the beauty of nature but also to raise awareness about pressing environmental issues.

Research and Fact-Checking

Whether it’s wildlife species, or invasive species, I check and doublecheck what’s captured, the background of the scene before I click record, or where I’m filming someone.

Journalism instills a deep respect for accuracy and fact-checking. In a world inundated with misinformation, the ability to verify sources and present information truthfully is paramount. Conservation filmmakers, like journalists, must navigate a landscape rife with conflicting narratives and ensure that their films are grounded in scientific rigor. A journalist’s research skills, coupled with an understanding of ethical reporting practices, serve as a solid foundation for creating documentaries that are both compelling and credible.

Storytelling really is everything today. Having a background in journalism has been such a huge bonus doing what I do today.

Adaptability and Resourcefulness

Journalists are no strangers to the unpredictable nature of their profession. They thrive in fast-paced environments, adept at thinking on their feet and adapting to unexpected challenges. Similarly, conservation filmmakers often find themselves in remote locations, facing inclement weather, elusive wildlife, and logistical hurdles. A journalist’s ability to remain composed under pressure and find creative solutions to logistical problems is invaluable in the world of conservation filmmaking.

Building Trust and Relationships

Central to journalism is the cultivation of trust with sources and communities. Journalists understand the importance of building relationships based on integrity, respect, and empathy. In conservation filmmaking, establishing trust with local communities and conservationists is essential for gaining access to sensitive ecosystems and telling authentic stories. A journalist’s ability to connect with people from diverse backgrounds and navigate cultural nuances fosters meaningful collaborations and enhances the impact of conservation films.

The Power of Visual Storytelling

While journalism primarily relies on words to convey information, the visual medium of filmmaking adds an extra dimension to storytelling. Journalists transitioning to conservation filmmaking bring with them a keen eye for composition, framing, and visual narrative. They understand the power of imagery to evoke emotion, spark curiosity, and inspire action. By marrying their journalistic instincts with the cinematic language of film, they create immersive experiences that transport audiences to the heart of conservation challenges and triumphs.

Gregg McLachlan
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