Inside WRAL

Meet the documentary team

Posted July 31, 2009

Did you know that the typical length of a story you see on WRAL-TV is about 1 minute and 30 seconds? It usually takes a reporter and photographer one work day to complete a story.

In comparison, the typical length of a WRAL documentary is 22 minutes (without the commercials). It usually takes a team of two men 5 to 7 weeks to complete each "Focal Point" documentary.

Producer Clay Johnson and photographer Jay Jennings make up the documentary team, which was created in 2004 by Capitol Broadcasting Company CEO Jim Goodmon. Before that, WRAL's news department produced them.

"We cover very broad and complex topics, sometimes doing in-depth interviews with more than a dozen people and shooting 10-15 hours of footage," said Clay. "I don’t think people understand the challenge of paring all of that down to 22 minutes yet still providing a balanced, fair, accurate presentation of the topic."

Clay and Jay try to produce about seven, 30-minute documentaries a year. It takes a team effort to pick the topics they cover.

"When we created the documentary unit, I sat down with Jim Goodmon, the general manager, the programming director and the news director and we had a brainstorming session to come up with every topic we could think of and created a 'master list,'" said Clay. "Topics are always being added to and deleted from the list."

WRAL's "Focal Point" documentaries are usually issue-oriented, but Clay and Jay work on other long-term projects as well.

"Sometimes we go outside of that Focal Point umbrella when we do a topic that is not issue-oriented or more 'feature' oriented, such as The Perfect Tree about the state's Christmas tree industry or the upcoming 'Floyd,' a retrospective of Hurricane Floyd on its 10th anniversary," said Clay.

When asked what project he is most proud of, Clay had a hard time naming just one.

"That is a really difficult question to answer," he said. "There’s something I like about everything we produce (and things I don’t like, too). As far as pride though, it would probably be Standards of Living and Paper Thin Promise because they won an Alfred I. duPont Award from the Columbia University School of Journalism, which is supposed to be the highest honor you can earn in our profession. Time and Time Again and Twist of Fate are also two of my favorites."

Clay and Jay work in tandem to produce the documentaries and get them to air.

"I research the topic and come up with a concept of how the topic will be presented," said Clay. "I determine who we will interview and what supporting visuals will be needed and schedule the interviews. I also conduct the interviews, though I try to arrange for our hosts to do one or two key interviews for each documentary. I later log all of the interviews and write the documentary script. Jay does all of the photography and editing. He also works with me to help develop a look and feel for each documentary. He often chooses the music and works to find effects that will help enhance each program. Jay also tracks down any needed file footage from the news archive and outside sources."

Learn more about some of WRAL's documentaries:

Standards of Living: Many migrant farm workers in our state face overcrowded, unsanitary and unhealthy living conditions. "Standards of Living" examines those conditions and a battle brewing over new legislation to improve them.

Paper-Thin Promise: WRAL looks at why protective orders often fail to protect victims of domestic violence and what can be done to make them more effective.

Time and Time Again: "Time and Time Again" looks at the challenges inmates face trying to transition back into society and why about half of them are re-arrested.

Twist of Fate: "Twist of Fate" looks at advances in tornado forecasting and how future fatalities may be prevented.


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Inside WRAL takes you behind the scenes of the news business and the stories we cover.