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Journalism Resources for Documentary Creators

The worlds of investigative journalism and documentary filmmaking are closely linked. Learn from field experts on how to pursue your story, cover all your bases and stay safe along the way.

Photo from the Climate Reality Project / Unsplash

Documentary Journalism Primers

Mapping the Documentary-Journalism Landscape

IDA and National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with the Jonathan B. Murray Center for Documentary Journalism at the University of Missouri, created a resource guide for documentary filmmakers working on journalistic projects. This guide is designed to help filmmakers find information and make decisions that journalists make every day. Whether it be questions of what rights the First Amendment guarantees, what rights to privacy people can expect or what ethical decisions must be made when telling the stories of someone else’s life, this guide lays out a way to find that information.


Digital Security for Filmmakers

A platform and free clinic with resources created by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and Field of Vision. The website is for people working in documentary film who need to overhaul their team’s digital security practice, or pick up advanced skills. It includes a self-guided risk assessment, best practices for mobile, desktop, travel, communication, and footage security.

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More Research and Production Resources

  • Preparation, Protection, Patience: Documentary Filmmaking in Hostile Environments Read More
  • Resources for Media Makers and Citizen Journalists Covering Hostile Environments Read More
  • How Journalistic Documentaries Check Their Facts Read more
  • Requesting Public Records: What Documentary Filmmakers Should Know Read More
  • The Risks of Lawsuits-and How to Minimize Them Read More Read More
  • "Dangerous Documentaries: Reducing Risk when Telling Truth to Power" report from Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI)
  •  Gaining Access to Large Institutions Read More
  • Documentary magazine's Legal FAQ and Observe & Report columns provide, respectively, advice on legal matters in documentary making and a framework for protections you have and precautions you need to take as documentary journalists.
    • Common Legal Issues for Documentary Filmmakers READ MORE
    • When You Get SLAPP'd: Protections for Docmakers READ MORE
    • Legal Protections for Journalists & Precautions against Defamation READ MORE
    • Shielding Sources and Outtakes from Subpoenas: A 'Reporter's Privilege' Primer for Documentary Filmmakers READ MORE
    • How to Survive the Deposition Hot Seat READ MORE

Additional Legal Resources

  • Field of Vision and Lawyers for Reporters provide free legal clinic for freelancers working in documentary in the United States with information about the following subjects:
    • Newsgathering rights and potential legal exposure from newsgathering (but we cannot advocate on your behalf regarding Freedom of Information (FOI) requests).
    • Legal risks of publishing content, such as defamation, invasion of privacy, and copyright infringement
    • Licenses, releases, and other content- and distribution-related contracts, but excluding film financing and other complex agreements
    • Risk assessment for filmmaking and security issues
  • The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), a partner of IDA, offers pro bono legal services and publishes guides for journalists, news organizations and documentary filmmakers. You can also contact RCFP's Legal Defense and FOIA Hotline here.
  • Center for Media at Risk at the Annenberg School for Communication at University of Pennsylvania provides a hub for practical and scholarly discussions of the global media environment and how its practitioners work under threatening political conditions.