Out of 510 radio and television news entries, 13 have been chosen to receive 2008 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards for broadcast journalism. The award winners, whose programs aired in the U.S. between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2007, will receive their silver batons Jan. 16 at Columbia University.
For the first time since the Iraq war began in 2003, this year’s duPont Awards significantly recognize journalism emerging from that conflict. “I think the jury would say in their conversations that the reporting on
the aftermath of Sept. 11, in terms of covering terrorism, the Iraq war, Afghanistan and the major global conflicts, has deepened,” said Jonnet S. Abeles, director of the Alfred I. duPont Awards & John Chancellor Award at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. “The stories are more subtle and have a lot of impact.”
Ms. Abeles points to Daniel Zwerdling’s six-part National Public Radio series “Mental Anguish and the Military” to illustrate her point. “The report on how the psychological injuries of the war aren’t being treated in the same way as the physical ones has led to a broad awareness of the problems in adjusting to dealing with mental wounds,” she said.
“Daniel Zwerdling was interested in post-traumatic stress syndrome from the beginning,” said Ann Cooper, broadcast director of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and chair of the duPont Awards jury. “That turned into an amazing story. We’re seeing that as the war effort in Iraq has grown more complicated and very controversial, the press is picking up on more issues related to it.”
Another example of this year’s more subtle war reporting is the “60 Minutes” segment “The Mother of All Heists,” Ms. Abeles said. “It was a difficult investigation to follow the money that went to Iraq to purchase adequate military supplies for the Iraqi army,” she said. “Nobody knows specifically what money went where, but it didn’t go where it was intended. That’s nuanced, deep reporting.”
One reason the Iraq war coverage has become more subtle, Ms. Abeles said, is that there is less focus on reporters being “embedded.” “The flood of returning veterans has made it a more visible story,” she said. “And I think that skepticism about the war, that
wasn’t in the build-up to the war, enables people—including journalists—to see things differently.”
Another example of that is “War Zone Diary,” a chronicle from NBC’s Middle East correspondent Richard Engel that looks at the quotidian realities of the Iraq war from the ground.
Ms. Cooper noted the coverage goes beyond the war in Iraq. “There are quite a few reports on the various repercussions of 9/11,” she said. “People are digging deeper into the many stories that come out of the war in Iraq and the larger war on terrorism. “
Among these are “Jihad: The Men and Ideas Behind Al-Qaeda,” a two-hour historical examination by Paladin Invision London and WETA-TV in Washington, D.C., of the evolution of extremist Islamist doctrine and the roots of conflict with the West; and “Which One of These Is Not Like the Others?,” a radio piece from Chicago Public Radio, Alix Spiegel and PRI for “This American Life” that focuses on the post-9/11 discrimination endured by a Muslim family in New Jersey.
The rule of law is another theme in the 2008 awards. In HBO’s “The Trials of Darryl Hunt,” two journalists re-examine the conviction of an African-American man for the rape and murder of a white woman. Another story, “Rules of the Game” from KHOU-TV in Houston, examines a Texas law that allows prosecutors to withhold evidence from the defense before trial. KNOE-TV in Monroe, La., produced “Names, Ranks and Serial Plunder: The National Guard and Katrina,” a four-part investigation of members of the Louisiana National Guard who looted while on duty after Hurricane Katrina. WFAA-TV in Dallas produced “Television Justice,” three reports that explore the intersection of media and justice within the context of how the Murphy, Texas, police department commingled law enforcement with television production for NBC’s “Dateline” series “To Catch a Predator.”
Education also was examined by more than one duPont Award winner. In St. Louis, KMOV-TV produced “Left Behind: The Failure of East St. Louis Schools,” a series investigating the failure of the East St. Louis school district to educate children with special needs. NBC News for “Dateline” produced “The Education of Ms. Groves,” which follows a year in the life of an idealistic novice teacher who joins Teach for America in an inner-city school in Atlanta.
Other winning entries are “Through Deaf Eyes,” a two-hour documentary from Florentine Films/Hott Productions and WETA-TV in Washington, D.C., that covers 200 years of the history of deaf culture in the United States; and “Fly at Your Own Risk,” a six-part investigative series from WBBM-TV in Chicago in which reporter Dave Svini reveals lax security procedures such as virtually unrestricted airport access for cleaning companies with high employee turnover.
“Telling the Truth,” a documentary highlighting the duPont Award winners, was produced for the second year by Rain Media and directed by Martin Smith and Margarita Dragon. The documentary, again hosted by CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, will be fed to PBS stations on Jan. 28 and air at various times on a market-by-market basis.
“This is our effort to reach the public about great journalism,” said Ms. Abeles.
“I’m bowled over at the amount of terrific journalism that’s out there on TV and radio,” Ms. Cooper said. “It’s easy to be dismissive and critical of the media, particularly when cable TV leaps on a big celebrity story. But then you sift through these entries and realize there’s still very, very fine journalism being done all the time, in many places.”