Digital cameras continue to improve, getting closer to the quality of film cameras and with a dramatic decrease in cost. Many cell phones come equipped with a small digital camera, and webcams allow quick recording directly into a computer. While digital cameras are only beginning to be used by major film studios, the fact that most video editing is done through computers as well as the cheap costs of digital cameras makes digital production appealing to many amateur and professional documentary filmmakers. Such devices allow for inexpensive and easily accessible filming and editing of documentary films, and the Internet offers a cheap means of distribution. YouTube and social networking spaces have become immensely popular venues for filmmakers, and may play a significant role in challenging the control media institutions have asserted over production in the past. Documentary film has proven to be an enduring and dynamic form, one that continues to occupy an important position in media communications. The form itself has multiple modes, with a flexibility that encourages ongoing adaptation and reshaping to fit the particular objectives of the filmmaker. As a journalistic medium, documentaries blend passion, commitment, and a striving to capture reality.
Documentaries are nonfiction programs that convey experience, provide information, and offer analysis. Many memorable and respected programs in American television journalism were documentaries. In part, this is because documentaries offer journalists the luxury of more airtime to explore a single topic in greater depth than the shorter- format evening news or newsmagazine programs. In addition, documentarians are often freer to express their own conclusions on controversial issues than beat reporters, who are more constrained by the demands of objectivity and balance. Although the line between documentary and docudrama is often blurry, documentaries are less likely to dramatize or reenact events.
In contrast to talk shows, documentaries aim to go beyond “talking heads” offering opinions to convey the lived experience of people, places, and events. Documentary makers usually construct their programs from some combination of recordings in the field, compilations of archival materials, interviews, graphics, and animations. Many types of broadcast documentary have emerged over the years, including investigative, social, political, historical, cultural, biographical, diary, and those focused on nature.