Conversations About Impact in Documentary: Beyond Fear and Loathing

CineAction, 97:2016

11 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2020

See all articles by Patricia Aufderheide

Patricia Aufderheide

American University - School of Communication

Date Written: Dec 8, 2015


The data-rich media environment has had a big effect on social-issue documentary, especially because of its dependence on subsidy, whether from public or private patrons. Funders are far more demanding of better evidence of effectiveness, or, in the current parlance, impact, than in the analog era, when impact could be claimed without being shown. But both funders and makers chafe under the challenge of analyzing data. Too often, half-developed tools are thrown at undefined problems; anti-data scorn substitutes for analysis; and opinions float free of empirical research. Academics and practitioners need to work together to develop both tools and quantitative competence. As well, the roiling impact conversation may be an indicator of the changing nature of the field of documentary production.

Keywords: documentary, film, big data, impact, evaluation

Suggested Citation

Aufderheide, Patricia, Conversations About Impact in Documentary: Beyond Fear and Loathing (Dec 8, 2015). CineAction, 97:2016, Available at SSRN:

Patricia Aufderheide (Contact Author)

American University - School of Communication ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States
202-885-2069 (Phone)


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