“Every story has its own essence and its own way of being told.”

Raney Aronson-Rath is the deputy executive producer for PBS’ flagship public affairs documentary series FRONTLINE. She oversees every step in the editorial process that brings FRONTLINE documentaries to life.

We had the opportunity to meet with her when she came to Columbia’s Journalism School to attend a panel on the State of Video. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

Columbia Visuals: What do you look for in younger filmmakers?

Raney Aronson: People who have a natural eye, who know how to gather scenes visually and who have really strong journalism foundations. These things have to live together. We are also looking for people who have terrific technical skills. We’re really hoping that we can include in our world filmmakers who bring skills to the table that we don’t have. We want to be challenged. We’re looking to have people who ask us all the time why we did things a certain way. And that’s the key. That conversation between people who are really digitally native and very tech savy, with people who are more seasoned journalists and are running news organizations.

CV: What are the keys to successful storytelling?

RA: My theory on storytelling is that there isn’t just one way to tell an amazing story. Every story has its own essence and its own way of being told. Study the work that you love and look closely at filmmakers’ work that you resonate with. Take your feelings, taste and see what works as a story. Also, look for someone who knows how to fix your work, who can edit it. Someone who can be a partner in bringing the best work out of you. That’s really what I did early in my career. If you’re open-minded about that process, what you learn is remarkable.

CV: What’s your take on one-man-band journalists?

RA: The economics of journalism are forcing a lot of this, and I think it’s great when journalists have multiple skills. But there’s only a few people who can do everything really, really well. My advice is, always figure out what you’re really good at, what really resonates with you and what makes you inspired. If you love to pick up a camera and film, then that is probably what you’re best at.

CV: How can we capture and hold the audience’s attention?

RA: We ask ourselves that question all the time. One of my biggest pieces of advice is to listen to your own internal voice. If you’re bored in your own edit room, if it’s not working, if things are falling apart and you can’t construct it, something is wrong with your story. So trust your gut. And trust it when it says that’s too long, cut it down. Be brutal with yourself, be really strict, disciplined and listen to yourself. It really works because we all know what a good story is.

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