Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Documentary Dialogues: Establishing a Conceptual Framework for Analyzing Documentary Fandom-Filmmaker Social Media Interaction

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Thomas Mascaro (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Kristen Rudisill (Other)

Third Advisor

Louisa Ha (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lara Martin Lengel (Committee Member)


This dissertation looks at documentary and nonfiction fans: Who are they? Why do they watch? What types of conversations are held online? It provides a first step in building the foundation of nonfiction fandom scholarship, but also provides a step into the building of documentary scholarship.

This project grows out of an interest in both nonfiction and documentary media studies as well as an interest in how people interact with their fandom and media series of choice. Preliminary research showed little attention to nonfiction fandoms and yielded virtually no research on the topic. Documentary and nonfiction fans are either forgotten or deemed as unimportant to those studying media fandoms. But this project argues it is crucial to remember and to study this group of fans. They are carrying out a dialogue from a nonfiction film, about a topic that the filmmaker deemed important enough to produce a film. If fans of fictional media are important for merchandising and advertisement, should fans of nonfictional media be important too? Should their desire to learn the truth and not just be entertained be remembered and studied?

In the case of entertainment fare, programmers want to know about and stay connected with fans because of the commercial potential. Audience numbers equal ratings and affect ad rates. But what about nonfiction? Three different formats of documentaries, Serial (podcast), Audrie & Daisy (feature documentary, streaming), and FRONTLINE'S The Choice 2016 (televised documentary), offer three case studies consisting of interviews of filmmakers and content analysis of tweets from each of the documentaries. In addition, a survey of Serial fans was conducted to provide a deeper insight into one of the three case studies. These three case studies help identify how conversations from nonfiction fans vary across release platform and/or how multiple episodes might impact the interactivity of a fandom.

This study carves out a new research agenda into fan studies related to nonfiction media; expand research in producer/creator-consumer/audience interactions; develop a more complete portrait of nonfiction audience studies, including through social media; and contribute specific case studies that will serve as models and springboards for future research.