Designing Interactions

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David Fanning

A self-taught filmmaker from South Africa, David came to the United States in 1973 and began producing and directing local and national documentaries for KOCE, a public television station in California. In 1977 he joined WGBH Boston, America's most prolific public broadcasting organization, to start the international documentary series World. He has been executive producer of Frontline since its first season in 1983. In 2007, after 24 seasons and more than 485 films, Frontline remains America's only regularly scheduled investigative documentary series on television. The series has won all of the major awards for broadcast journalism, including the Gold Baton (the highest duPont-Columbia Award) in 1990, 1996, and 2002, for its "total contribution to the world of exceptional television." David is happiest thinking through how best to edit complex narratives, sketching diagrams of how information fits together. He revels in deeply involved reporting of difficult subjects, in trying to explain topics by taking his audiences on journeys and adventures, and in going out into the world with all his senses alert.

David Fanning has made investigative documentaries for public television since 1983. He is keenly aware that he works in a medium that is prone to manipulation, as the journey of discovery always produces enormous amounts of material. This causes a dilemma for the editor, who is both trying to create a dramatic narrative and honor bound not to manipulate the truth in favor of the drama. It is tempting to allow political or personal bias to influence the output, or to be swept along by the story. The spread of the Internet allowed David to support his broadcasts by putting the evidence online, with documents, audio, and video (as soon as the bandwidth increased). This made the journalism transparent, with a new contract between viewer and maker to reveal a more complete version of the truth.