11 Sites about Documentary You Should be Reading

The landscape for documentaries and writing about them has changed immensely during the last 20 years. Back then, only occasional news stories or infrequent emerging blogs wrote about them. A respected resource, DocumentaryFilms.net took off when it became a collective blog. The writers behind The Documentary Blog drew a following. Christopher Campbell ran an independent documentary blog before moving to the now-defunct Documentary Channel.

Of course, times change. News sites now regularly cover cinematic documentaries and some festival favorites. Sites about documentary fade or stop as their writers pursue other projects. The Documentary Blog’s last update appeared in January 2014. Documentaryfilms.net last saw participation in 2011.

But great writing dedicated to documentary is out there. In no particular order, here are 11 sites and blogs that cover documentary on a regular basis.

1. What (not) to Doc

What Not to Doc is from Basil Tsiokos, a festival programmer, festival director, and documentary producer. This frequently updated blog offers information about new releases and overviews of documentaries in major festivals around the world. Releases covered include multiple media and venues, such as cinemas, festivals, streaming, and broadcast.

2. Nonfics

Nonfics is dedicated to documentary reviews, interviews, and in-depth commentary. It regularly features lists of the best documentaries to check out on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Nonfics is part of the Film School Rejects group. Christopher Campbell is editor and one of the key writers.

3. The NFB

The National Film Board of Canada provides a national voice in Canadian media and social issues. The NFB is particularly strong with documentaries (one semi-joke suggested documentary as Canada’s national genre), and its blog offers a section dedicated to the form. Posts often suggest documentaries about topics, such as fishing, adolescence, and Canadian rock music.

4. All These Wonderful Things

Written by A.J. Schnack, All These Wonderful Things reveals an insider’s look at documentary production, distribution, and the overall scene. Though not updated since 2011, it still contains a wealth of material and insights to explore. (And maybe citing it here will inspire some new posts…)

5. Center for Media and Social Impact

The Center for Media and Social Impact is an important group founded by Pat Aufderheide at American University. While the center supports film series and a conference, it also delves into policy and issues facing public media. The blog often addresses fair use issues, but it also gets into social change and other topics.

6. International Documentary Association

The International Documentary Association is a U.S.-based professional documentary organization that provides education, awareness, and funding. It hosts influential awards and screening series. The organization’s blog consists a weekly roundup, screening suggestions, and more. Also check out the magazine for more in-depth materials.

7. Realscreen

Realscreen is an industry news site dedicated to nonfiction media and its media institutions. In addition to talking about productions, Realscreen follows changes in media ownership (such as Discovery buying Scripps properties) and prominent people taking on new positions. Its focus on television, including reality television, distinguishes it from other documentary sites.

8. Stranger than Fiction

Though a weekly New York screening series, Stranger Than Fiction also offers a Monday Memo. The Monday Memo deftly brings together documentary news and information into a readable weekly roundup. Occasional guest posts highlight New York City events, such as question-and-answer session following an Abacus: Small Enough to Jail screening.

9. Desktop Documentaries

Desktop Documentaries boasts a wealth of information about documentary production. The multi-author blog in particular offers information about storytelling, crowdfunding, and equipment. Some posts feature writing, while others feature short videos. Post writers even engage readers in the comments.

10. Point of View Magazine

Point of View Magazine is a quarterly magazine that focuses on Canadian documentary culture. Articles and blog posts include reviews, interviews, overviews, commentary, and technology. One piece delves into Canadian documentary history, with Canadian documentary makers winning Oscars, while others highlight documentary films in the NFB’s archive.

11. POV’s Documentary Blog

POV is a 30-year-old PBS series that airs documentaries with unique, personal perspectives. Its documentary blog covers its broadcasts, but the blog also covers almost everything related to documentary, including production issues, interviews, festival overviews, and so much more. Tom Roston is the most regular writer, while multiple guests bring in other voices.

Full disclosure: I must admit some bias with this last one as my better, if infrequent, writings have appeared on POV’s blog since 2011.

11 Ways to Boost Your Blog

Note: This post is based on a presentation I gave to a women’s empowerment group on my campus recently. I thought the information might be useful to others, so I am posting it here.

Blogs offer a great way to boost your professional image, practice your writing skills, and raise your voice. This post offers 11 quick tips to help take your personal blog to the next level.

The Big Picture

We often think of blogs as soapboxes, places to vent and share our feelings and insights. To elevate your blog, think of it instead as a conversation. Several groups participate in this conversation: you, your readers, other blogs, news media, organizations, and even others beyond these groups. Asking yourself, “What am I going to contribute to this conversation?”, is an easier starting point than, “What am I going to write today?”

1. Choose your passion.

Write about something that interests you! Or, write about something that you want to learn more about. Readers respond more to this kind of energy than blog posts that come from elsewhere. And by going deep into one passion, you will continue to find inspiration to keep writing.

2. Engage in social listening.

Social listening means following conversations about your subject happening elsewhere online. Some ways to listen online:

  • Read the news about your passion
  • Read other blogs
  • Watch videos and vlogs
  • Seek relevant experts or brands
  • Check out Instagram or Snapchat stories
  • Follow relevant Facebook pages
  • Follow relevant hashtag campaigns

Look for patterns, themes, questions, or gaps in the discussions that you might address in your own blog posts.

3. Participate in online communities.

Online, 90 percent of people lurk. Become part of the other 10 percent, and say something that contributes to the conversation. For example,

  • Compliment a post
  • Answer a question
  • Reply to another comment
  • Ask a question

Go beyond the emoji response and actually write something. That said, avoid promoting your own blog in the comments in the other conversations. It’s like getting a commercial break in the middle your Netflix movie marathon.

4. Learn more about your audience.

Audiences like it when you take an interest in them. It also benefits you to learn more about them and their interests. Here are some ways of doing that:

  • Read the comments on your blog
  • Check profiles of your commenters
  • Check out their social media profiles
  • Do a short survey of their interests

5. Change up your blog post formats.

Blog posts can take so many different structures:

  • Interview another blogger
  • Product or service review
  • Offer instructions for doing something
  • Make a list (“Top 11 Ways to…”)
  • Respond to a reader’s question
  • Respond to another blog post
  • Compare options
  • Participate in a meme

This variety helps keep interest for audiences and you.

6. Tell your readers how the post benefits them in the first paragraph.

Online readers scan blogs more than read them. If the first paragraph fails to grab their attention, they will move on to something else. Tell them what is at stake as soon as possible; don’t make them wait for the big reveal.

7. Write a catchy, but not deceiving, headline.

The best headlines provide the subject and the incentive for reading the post, and they do so in a short sentence of 6-8 words. Remember that headlines on your blog posts appear on different social networking sites when they are shared, so avoid using inside jokes or cute phrases that won’t make sense of out context. Also avoid clickbait, or the headlines that read, “YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!” They turn off audiences, and some sites — even Facebook — prohibit certain phrasings that resemble clickbait.

8. Add 5-7 keywords to each post.

Keywords place your post in search engine results and connect your blog with other posts and articles that share the same keywords. In other words, they offer a way to connect with the conversation.

To determine some keywords, consider your post’s

  • Topic
  • Audience
  • Goal
  • Themes

Be careful not to go overboard with adding keywords.

9. Interact with your audience.

Audiences enjoy when bloggers connect with them and their comments. They also respect when you respond to criticisms gracefully and fairly. Interact with your audience by responding to their comments on

  • Your blog
  • Other blogs
  • Review sites like Amazon and Yelp
  • Other social networking sites

You also can build blog posts around their questions and comments. Be sure to tag the appropriate people when you do!

10. Set reasonable goals and stick to them.

Set a goal of writing a blog post on a certain schedule, such as one post per week or one post per two weeks. Set a goal that is workable within your current obligations and gets you writing on a regular basis. That regular writing practice will make writing blog posts easier and easier.

Another benefit is that regular posting appeals to audiences. It keeps them coming back to your blog and gives them something to look forward to.

11. Limit or balance “I” statements.

Blogs often are written in the first person, or with sentences that begin with “I.” Sometimes, every sentence begins with “I,” especially rants.

Remember that blog posts are as much about conversations and audiences as they are about their writers. Look for a balance between using “I” statements and other statements. Save the “I” for the points closest to your passion.