In one of the nascent network’s most ambitious projects to date, last night Fusion aired “Generation in Crisis,” a one-hour documentary special that examines the plight of children in Syria, Rwanda and Central America. The product of three dozen interviews conducted in three different languages, the special -- and its cross-platform iterations -- is meant to reflect Fusion’s millennial sensibility.
“When we were building Fusion, we did a lot of research that showed our audience was interested in international stories,” said Dax Tejera, the special’s executive producer and the executive producer of "America with Jorge Ramos." “There’s a perception that Americans only care about what’s going on here, but that’s just not true with a millennial audience.”
“This is a global generation,” added Alicia Menendez, the host of "Alicia Menendez Tonight" and the correspondent behind the project. “We’re more connected than any generation before; what is happening in Syria, Rwanda and in Central America is happening to all of us.”
With the United Nations declaring 2014 as one of the worst years on record for children, Fusion producers set out to document how youth in conflict zones, many of whom have been forced to take over as heads of household, have coped. “One of the most striking things about Rwanda is that you don’t see a lot of old people there because so many people were killed in the genocide,” Tejera said. “You don’t have a conversation without genocide coming into the picture.”
Menendez said she was struck by the degree to which youth from places engulfed in violence have relied on technology to stay connected. At a repatriation center in El Salvador, she remembers children being asked what the hardest part of traveling north to the United States had been: “Being off Facebook,” they replied.
“It speaks to a generation that’s accustomed to being in touch,” Menendez said.
Tejera explained that such a heavy investment on a single project is unusual for a news network, but that he and Menendez found instant support from Fusion CEO Isaac Lee, a journalist. While other networks may feature a two-minute segment on the crisis in Syria, Tejera says, deep dives that span multiple locations and look at news events at a macro, global level are less common. “Generation in Crisis” was a long-term project; shooting began in July* and lasted through November. “One of the questions we had to ask ourselves is: ‘How do we make this different?’” Tejera said. “We don’t just want to replicate what, say, ABC is doing.”
Given the proliferation of mediums through which people consume news, one of the chief challenges of the project was adapting the special for various platforms, including the web. Tejera says that network has taken a “digital first” approach, releasing the bulk of the content in clips online even before it first aired on the network. “That’s not a sin here,” he said.
To complement the television special, Fusion launched a microsite that breaks the narrative into three parts -- one for each of the places visited -- interspersed with multimedia elements like video, infographics, maps and photography. The special has also been broken into segments and released on YouTube and Facebook.
In addition to screening the documentary on the network multiple times a day over the next week, screenings are scheduled for New York City and Los Angeles, two major media markets that currently don’t carry Fusion (the network is lobbying to be added to Comcast and Time Warner Cable's packages), as well as Miami, where Fusion is based. "Generation in Crisis" airs next on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET.
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that shooting for "Generation in Crisis" began in June; it began in July.