New York Times Documentary: Paper Restructures Non-Fiction Efforts

By Chanak Maduranga

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New York Times Documentary: Paper Restructures Non-Fiction Efforts

As contractions and cost-cutting continue to hit the nonfiction space, a major producer is changing its documentary strategy: The New York Times.

The Times is restructuring its documentary unit, which is behind its The New York Times Presents series, which has produced nearly four dozen documentaries, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. It is changing the unit with the goal of further enmeshing non-fiction video filmmaking into the company’s existing sub brands and verticals. 

Several sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the Times will be reducing its documentary output. Rumors have been swirling in the nonfiction community about the future of the Times‘ documentaries for some time. The media company released over 20 films in 2019 under their New York Times Presents banner while it released only four films in 2023.

“We just premiered a new film from The New York Times Presents last week, with two additional films presently in production, as well as a separate feature-length documentary that premiered on FX in April,” said a spokesperson for the New York Times on Friday. “The Times‘s documentary work has garnered many accolades, including multiple Emmys and an Oscar, and we’ll continue to tell important stories in documentary film and television when they can best expand our journalism.”

The New York Times Presents has been behind doc titles like Move Fast & Vape Things, Who Gets to Be an Influencer? and The Killing of Breonna Taylor. Films, which hailed from directors like Yoruba Richen (High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America), John Pappas (Dr. Death: Cutthroat Conman), and Emma Schwartz (Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV), tackled a wide variety of topics from Rudy Giuliani to COVID-19 misinformation campaigns and Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl halftime show controversy to issues with Tesla’s autopilot system to notorious Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano.

Films in The New York Times Presents series have been distributed as a part of a deal with FX that saw Times docs released on the cable network and its sister streaming site, Hulu. FX did not return a request for comment.

But The New York Times Presents especially hit a cultural nerve in 2021 with a reappraisal of the conservatorship governing the life of its namesake pop star, Framing Britney Spears. The release of the documentary, directed by Samantha Stark, touched off an Internet firestorm and inspired celebrity apologies from Justin Timberlake, Perez Hilton and Sarah Silverman. A follow-up documentary, Controlling Britney Spears, was released later that year, propelling the cultural conversation about Spears’ situation, just months before Spears’ conservatorship was terminated.

The Times is also behind the Op-Docs short doc series, with films that have earned six Oscar nominations and one win for best documentary short in 2022 for Ben Proudfoot’s The Queen of Basketball. This series is run through the Times’s Opinion Video department.

This news comes as the nonfiction community is still reeling from the closure of another beloved financier-producer, Participant Media, amid a larger contraction in documentary efforts by legacy media companies and studios.

The closure of Participant, a reliable backer of social issue documentaries from An Inconvenient Truth to American Factory to Citizenfour, stunned filmmakers including RBG‘s Julie Cohen and John Lewis: Good Trouble‘s Dawn Porter, who told THR, “Simultaneous pressure on the documentary ecosystem is feeling kind of relentless right now.”

Chanak Maduranga

passionate journalist behind 'USA News Now 24', dedicated to delivering timely and accurate updates on US affairs. Committed to journalistic integrity and informing audiences with credible news coverage.

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