2006 duPont Winners Reflect Best in TV News

Jan 16, 2006  •  Post A Comment

When Columbia University presents the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards to 10 television programs Jan. 18, the recipients’ work will serve as a showcase for the best of broadcast journalism, the top news stories of the year and the evolution of TV news coverage.

For the first time the awards honor a sports story, a report in HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” on child slavery in camel racing in the United Arab Emirates. Two awards go to business news reports-a CNBC documentary on Wal-Mart’s business practices and “Frontline’s” examination of the history of credit cards-suggesting that TV news is finally coming into its own in grappling with in-depth coverage of business stories.

In addition, the winners reflect the important stories of the year as CNN receives an award for its coverage of the December 2004 tsunami and ABC News for its reporting on the death of Pope John Paul II. Three local stations won for investigative reports, indicating that local broadcasters can and still do play an important role as public watchdogs.

The winners were chosen from among 535 entries televised between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2005. Hurricane Katrina occurred after the eligibility period.

ABC’s coverage of the pope’s death demonstrated the importance of on-air journalists being well-informed from the start of a story, said Jonnet Abeles, director of the duPont Awards. ABC used its correspondents who knew the Vatican and Catholicism well, including Bill Blakemore and Cokie Roberts, and George Stephanopoulos, who has an understanding of the Greek Orthodox Church, Ms. Abeles said. “You have to be steeped in that knowledge to know what Pope John Paul meant to the church and worldwide, and you can’t cram for that,” she said.

CNN’s tsunami coverage illustrated the value of a worldwide staff with local knowledge, as the news organization was able to switch its focus quickly and seamlessly from its domestic team to CNN International.

“[CNN has] a huge core of very well-rounded correspondents and producers who were in the region,” Ms. Abeles said. “They would immediately relate to the geography and get around and have sources, and they didn’t leap to judgments. They were very cautious in their prediction of the death toll and cautious in understanding how difficult it was to get relief to these remote regions.”

The business news winners are an indication that TV news is maturing in its ability and its willingness to cover significant business stories. CNBC’s documentary worked, Ms. Abeles said, because of the access the news organization was granted to Wal-Mart and to Lee Scott, the company’s CEO. “They told him they would be tough and not leave out issues that are controversial, but they were fair,” she said.

Another winner was Sundance, with its more than six-hour documentary series on the North Carolina investigation and murder trial of Michael Peterson. The producers were able to cover every aspect of the trial, Ms. Abeles said, “because everyone trusted their ability to stay with that story for as long as they needed.”

In addition to the 10 TV winners, three radio winners will receive duPonts.