Creating an Investigative Journalism Franchise for the Daily Show Generation

By Mark Joyella Comment

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Fusion has announced a new cross-platform investigative franchise called The Naked Truth. The effort, like Fusion itself, is aimed at younger, multicultural viewers who grew up watching The Daily Show, not 60 Minutes–and don’t always “watch TV” on TV.

The series debuts Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on Fusion’s cable channel, with The Naked Truth: Death by Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate responsible for hundreds of deaths in New Hampshire, where drug abuse has become an issue in the presidential campaign.

In announcing the new series, Fusion’s executive producer of investigations Keith Summa said “we have assembled one of the most dynamic teams of young journalists to take our brand of immersive investigative journalism to a new level. They reflect their generation’s desire to challenge powerful institutions in pursuit of the truth.”

How will The Naked Truth be different? Summa took a few moments out of a busy pre-launch week to explain:

TVNewser: Tell me how The Naked Truth came to be…and how you’d describe it to someone who might still think of investigative TV journalism in the 20/20 or 60 Minutes mold?

Keith Summa: It was clear early on that ​our young, multicultural audience ​were ​connect​ing with the stories that weren’t being told elsewhere – stories about injustice – investigative stories. So with The Naked Truth we’re going to do more of it. Our viewers and readers grew up on Jon Stewart, they have a healthy skepticism of traditional television news forms. They have great bullshit detectors. So we prize transparency in our reporting and authenticity in our presentation just as much as accuracy. That’s key.

TVNewser: Where’s the heart of the franchise–on TV? Online?

Summa: Journalists don’t have the luxury of telling stories in one platform anymore. All of our stories have to be told across all of them. That’s where our audience is and so we need to meet them in all the places they’re consuming news. We’re on – TV, Snapchat, Facebook, Apple TV, the phone, VR – our job is to make sure that the story, or part of the story we tell, is presented in a way that feels native to each platform. We will have some stories that are born on digital that we look to find compelling ways to bring them to television and vice-a-versa. The story on Fentanyl that is airing on Sunday will live on TV and digital in different ways. And next week we have a really interesting interactive video investigation that was designed for the phone.

TVNewser: Legacy franchises like PBS’ iconic Frontline have made great investment recently in digital, and have created storytelling projects that expand their documentaries far beyond the shows that air on TV (e.g. the NFL/concussion project that won a Peabody a year ago). I understand you know some of the folks there. What has their experience taught you that helped in the design of The Naked Truth?

Summa: I am a big fan of Frontline. Raney has been ahead of the curve in trying to experiment and engage with new audiences. But I think our challenges are different. They have an established franchise they’re expanding. We started from scratch. So at Fusion, we’ve been looking to break conventions since day one, finding those neglected stories our audience really cares about, and playing with different ways to tell them — humor, 360 Video, interactives, etc. Now, with The Naked Truth we hope to do a lot more of it.

TVNewser: There’s so much good reporting being produced today. How do you break through and find an audience?

Summa: Our mandate is to find stories and tell stories in a way that appeals to a young, diverse audience. And to tell them on the platforms they’re on. There isn’t a lot of investigative reporting for that audience. And the fact that our team is young and diverse too – we think that gives us an advantage.

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