During my work on Dayton Express, a web documentary that addresses nationalist partition in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I ran into some of the fundamental challenges that new media poses to traditional documentary practice. How do I make sure my audience understands the core of the matter — in this case, that resurgent nationalisms haunt the politics of the present? Will they be able to follow? And will there be enough room for some form of socio-political transformation in the process?
Some of the obstacles to this were rather obvious. First and foremost, the audience has the ability to simply click away, creating unpredictable juxtapositions that are far beyond an author’s control. Each new link and piece of media added in the course of production complicates or even undermines the principles of narrative logic. Knowledge in this project is presented in the form that Nelson, in 1965, described as 'hypertext' where a nearly infinite array of channels are available which users can navigate according to their own interests.
Similarly, in database documentaries, the producer has the option of creating links that enable users to jump from one piece of information to another, and to choose their own narrative paths through this maze of associated media. This makes it easy for users to bypass any particular sequences pre–determined by the author, and has important implications for the way that interactive applications can communicate knowledge. Furthermore, it raises many concerns regarding sequencing, representation, and authorship.
A logical question from these concerns, and the one that we hear repeatedly, is how do we communicate a story in a medium with such idiosyncrasies? I would like to suggest that such questions may be misplaced in this debate, and that this practice has more to do with designing a space for dialogue(s) than attempting to develop a coherent narrative.
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