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An Inside Look at Trust Docs with Thomson Reuters Foundation Executive Producer Liz Mermin

Trust Docs

In an exciting partnership with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a division of the news outlet Reuters, Link TV presents “Trust Docs.” The new series features a curated collection of short documentaries covering underreported issues around the world, without the bias and shock factor of other media outlets. 

The title “Trust Docs” refers to the documentaries that have emerged from one of the Thomson Reuters Foundation's founding principles. In the midst of World War II, Reuters made a pact to produce unbiased journalism with integrity even in the face of uncertain and challenging times. That mission still carries on today to all divisions of the news organization, including the Foundation. With trust being one of the Thomson Reuters Foundation's core values, audiences can trust that content will always be genuine and subjects can trust they'll be portrayed in an authentic light, rather than sensationalizing their stories to sell headlines or click bait.

Trust Docs
Thomson Reuters Foundation

The Thomson Reuters Foundation employs approximately 45 journalists and 150 freelancers all over the world to cover the core content areas that align with the foundation’s mission, such as humanitarian issues, women’s rights, human trafficking, climate change and property rights. The foundation has correspondents in London, Barcelona, New York, Delhi, Bangkok, Bogata, Mumbai, and Rio de Janeiro, plus freelancers based in many other developing nations. Many of these stories have been turned into short films, viewable free of charge. In addition to this, the foundation also hosts an annual Trust Conference in London (and one this month in Washington D.C.), where speakers brainstorm with audiences on ways to address human worldwide human rights issues.

Trust Docs
Thomson Reuters Foundation

In addition to offering pro-bono legal assistance to nonprofit organizations and social enterprises, the foundation also guides global news outlets in helping them develop their own independent news coverage. This is particularly important where the mainstream media fails to cover all opinions. In countries such as Ethiopia and Myanmar, pressure from the government prevents journalists from providing completely unbiased reporting, which leaves many perspectives unexamined. The foundation also runs programs on every continent to aid and train journalists and other media professionals.

Liz Mermin
Liz Mermin, Executive Director at Thomson Reuters Foundation

I got a chance to ask Liz Mermin, the Executive Producer of Trust Docs, some questions about their process as filmmakers and an inside look at the Foundation:

What does the "trust" stand for in terms of the foundation?

Liz Mermin: That’s a reference to the Reuters “trust principles” — but for my team it represents a dedication to the truth of the people and situations we are representing. That’s why we don’t use VO or presenters: we want people to speak for themselves, and we want to represent the reality of their experience as directly as possible. That can include music and artistic approaches that are in line with the sense we get of what the subjects are going through, techniques to build empathy and understanding — this is where we break slightly from typical Reuters journalism — but our music is subtle, we don’t manipulate images or use fancy tricks and techniques. I call this (because of my anthropology background) evoking the feeling of “being there.”

What does a general day look like at Thomson Reuters Foundation?

LM: We work as a newsroom, so the day starts with the editorial team morning meeting to review stories of the day and status of ongoing projects. The multimedia team (there are seven of us) keeps an ear out for anything that might benefit from video, [such as] upcoming events/anniversaries [and] any quick turnaround piece we can do. Then, the producers retreat to the desks and start editing. Some are on long-term projects that take a few weeks to edit, others are doing quick-turnaround pieces with iPhone footage from reporters, or cutting footage from freelancers. I will be fielding pitches, advising freelancers, deciding with our reporters whether any of their stories merit videos, and watching cuts. Our coordinator is handling pics from all over the world to go with our stories. Around us, reporters are reporting, while other teams are planning for conferences and events (Trust Conference), or planning media training initiatives (Media Development), or coordinating pro-bono legal projects and legal reports (Trust Law).

How do you determine which stories get made into films? How does your filming process generally work?

LM: For the longer films, I get pitches from freelancers, and the producers on our team also pitch to me and to the editor in chief, Belinda Goldsmith. Belinda wants to make sure the stories are newsworthy, fit into our “verticals” (women’s rights, climate, trafficking, property rights, humanitarian, food), and are original. I want to make sure they have a strong narrative, good characters, and are visual/filmable. The typical Reuters story isn’t the best basis for a film, but some of the profiles of people or projects do leap out as worthy of a video follow up – and it’s great when our reporters’ stories can provide the basis for a film.

Trust Docs
Thomson Reuters Foundation

Do you have a “favorite” film?

LM: Couldn’t possibly say! I’m very proud of the films by our young producers, whose skills have developed amazingly over the past 2+ years to the point that they can be placed on the top global platforms for short-form documentary. One of the films I was most moved making was a film about a stateless man in Wales, who has been in limbo for a decade: he’d come from Zimbabwe and his asylum claim was rejected by the U.K. government but he couldn’t be returned anywhere because he’d never been given a passport and didn’t have a birth certificate. He’d taught himself English, spoke beautifully, had fallen in love with a Ugandan student and had a daughter, but when she had to return to Uganda he was stuck in limbo and hadn’t seen them for 5 years. He can’t work, he can’t go to school, he can’t travel, [and] he can’t do anything we take for granted. We filmed him in silhouette because we couldn’t reveal his identity and filmed ordinary life in Cardiff to cover it; all the things we take for granted. His words were so moving it was a simple piece with incredible power. We’ve done many other lovely films but that one has the strongest personal resonance for me.

There is a lot going on at the Thomson Reuters Foundation — how do you and your team dedicate time to different areas of the foundation?

LM: We are a bit schizophrenic. We have to photograph events, make awards and conference videos, do photo selection for websites and promotional material, and make Foundation promos… I try to make sure that the corporate work is spread around and everyone has a balance of editorial (which is what we all love) and the rest of it (which are great skills for producers to have). 

How do you think the TRF will evolve? Do you have any goals for the future?

LM: The Foundation is growing rapidly, and still working out how video fits into that vision. I’d like to see more co-productions and partnerships like the one we have with KCETLink so we can up the production values, reach, and impact of our work.

Which stories have you found to have the biggest impact with your viewers and readers?

LM: It’s always the personal stories, and the stories people haven’t heard before — or a new twist on a story that’s all over the headlines.

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