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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Summer 2014

By Tom White

Dear Readers:

As we go to press, we are looking at an über-confluence of happenings in the digital space that could be quite consequential to the documentary community.With the Federal Communications Commission having effectively neutralized net neutrality by voting to maintain an extra toll lane for those willing to pay more for better, faster Internet service, the heady days of a free and open Internet for all might be waning—although the American people have 120 days to weigh in its concerns with the FCC.

One of more vocal proponents of net neutrality, Netflix, has been crossing swords with Comcast—especially after having ponied up a hefty sum to the cable giant to keep delivering its robust roster of content. Speaking of Comcast, right on the heels of the US Senate hearings on its proposed mega-merger with Time Warner Cable, AT&T just announced its intention to acquire DirectTV. This month, the Supreme Court will most likely be deciding the fate of Aereo, the upstart subscription-based app that allows users to view terrestrial content on smart phones and tablets. At issue with the plaintiffs—ABC Inc., representing the network television industry and PBS—is the loss of revenue in retransmission fees. But an equally important issue, which Justice Stephen Breyer raised in the Supreme Court's consideration of the case, was the potential repercussions for cloud computing, should the networks prevail.

So, we might be facing a long, hot summer before the aforementioned Perfect Storm passes on and reveals what the Internet will be for the rest of us—how we'll create our content, get it out there and make a living doing so.

With that, in this issue we are looking at a few players in the digital space that might provide some hope, for now. Al Jazeera America made its debut last August, and has already made a splash in the cable arena, having won two Peabody Awards and seven National Headliner Awards. Darianna Cardilli talks to Shannon High-Bassalik, the channel's senior vice president for shows and documentaries, about Al Jazeera America's programmatic mission and goals and how it has handled the jockeying for position in a very crowded space.

As the print world fades into the sunset, the surviving stalwarts have been busy over the years beefing up their online video efforts. Amanda Lin Costa talks to producers at The New Yorker and The Atlantic, as well as filmmakers Katerina Cizek and Gerry Flahive, who produced The Story of the Highrise for The New York Times Op-Docs series, about the challenges of staying true to their journalistic roots while exploring a brave new territory.

Finally, freelance video journalist Jaron Gilinsky grew disillusioned with the politics and inefficiencies of his profession and channeled that malaise into a start-up: Storyhunter, a network for video news journalists and docmakers to pitch their stories to publishers and distributors looking for creative content. He shares with Jane Dubzinski the brief two-year history of Storyhunter—its achievements, as well as the obstacles it's had to overcome.

Yours in actuality,

Thomas White