NAU offering new graduate program in documentary studies

Still shot from a rodeo documentary.

A true story well told still holds a high place, even in a world packed with digital options for distraction and entertainment. Now storytellers who want to rise above the noise have a new opportunity to hone their skills at Northern Arizona University.

The master’s degree in communication with an emphasis in documentary studies being offered for the first time this fall addresses an “increased hunger” for documentary stories, said Kurt Lancaster, associate professor in the NAU School of Communication. “This program helps fill a niche for doing documentary-style journalism.”

The program, approved only in January, is accepting applications until April 14 for the fall semester.

Lancaster said the advent of modern digital storytelling—through online publications, video journalism, documentary cinema and other venues—has contributed to a higher audience demand for “stories that don’t usually get seen in mainstream media.”

By offering the only master’s-level documentary program in the Southwest, NAU has given a renewed sense of focus storytelling at the cutting edge of technology, Lancaster said. “We’re on top of cinematic style,” he said, noting that high-end equipment and software, and the guidance of skilled faculty, offer distinct advantages to students.

But Lancaster also said multiple pathways are open to storytellers of all talents and interests.

“This is not strictly a film program at all,” Lancaster said. “Maybe a student is interested in writing, or producing audio or multimedia. We offer all of that, which makes our program unique.”

Lancaster said the program, which will expose students to a wide range of theoretical and historical perspectives, could be ideal for midcareer journalists who want to explore digital storytelling, and will provide the groundwork for anyone interested in starting their own production business.