Credit: Screenshot BBC World Service Instagram

BBC World Service has published its first documentary on Instgram as a new way of engaging with audiences on the platform.

The 10-minute piece looks at the ‘brujería’ (witchcraft) spiritual movement which has gained a following through Instagram. The documentary focuses on the Afro-Latina community of ‘witches’ in Brooklyn, US. Since being uploaded on April 1, it has already attracted over 9,000 views.

BBC visual journalist Sophia Smith Galer specialises in faith and ethics for the broadcaster and produced the documentary. She explained that finding stories that reach underserved audiences often involves finding communities on social media.

“I generally find that a lot of religion reporting covers offline experiences. For me growing up, many of my formative moments, and similarly for people of faith, happen online," she explained.

"I wanted to cover that well because there aren’t that many reporters that do it, and even fewer do it on film.”

'The Instagram witches of Brooklyn' was shot back in February before coronavirus restrictions were implemented. It also comes at a time when BBC has been warned by Ofcom about the prospect of failing to engage younger audiences.

Smith Galer explained that she wanted to take a digital-first approach to the documentary to have the content reach the ‘bruja’ Instagram community.

“Content isn’t made Instagram-first - it’s normally made for another outlet. Normally when video is made at the BBC for online, the main home for it is the website and would then be re-versioned. But from the beginning, I was thinking I am going to cut this vertically.”

Other than a piece to camera, the documentary was filmed horizontally, and then resized and cropped for Instagram.

"You start the shoot with that in mind and, then as the shoot goes on, so many other things are in your head, like the questions I was asking. It’s really easy to get distracted and that is a challenge for me as someone who normally works by myself."

But there were other considerations to take into account, from making it accessible to an international audience and to ethical considerations about the covering paranormal and the occult.

The BBC and Ofcom have guidelines on this, which generally means applying due dilligence and scepticism, without condescending a religious belief.

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