PBS Puts Top Tales Before Public

Jan 13, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The 500-channel universe makes for a crowded landscape, and it isn’t always easy to catch the best investigative reporting on television.

That’s what the duPont Awards celebrate, and the organization’s documentary “Telling the Truth,” produced by Rain Media, features the stories chosen as the year’s best.

“This is our effort to reach the public about great journalism,” said Jonnet Abeles, director of the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards. The duPont Awards committee began documenting the awards ceremony five years ago, covering it as an awards show and including the clips shown. Three years ago, Rain Media founder and director Martin Smith submitted a proposal to the duPont committee to make the documentary less about the ceremony and more about the journalism.

“We decided the audience wants to cut to the chase and see who the winners are, so that’s the direction we took it, to actually feature the journalists and their stories,” Mr. Smith said.

“We also made it about the journalists in their element, where they’re working,” said co-director Margarita Dragon. “That gives it a bit of a behind-the-scenes feel.”

This year’s “Telling the Truth” is Rain Media’s third, and the second in a row to be hosted by CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. The one-hour program will be fed to PBS stations on Jan. 28 and air at various times on a market-by-market basis.

Viewers of this year’s “Telling the Truth” will be heartened, said Ann Cooper, broadcast director of the Columbia University graduate school of journalism and chair of the duPont Awards jury, especially in light of what she calls “a time of angst for all media in America.”

Rather than interview all of the winners, said Mr. Smith, they look for themes that emerge from that year’s winners and do small, focused pieces on those programs. This year, he said, the common threads are Iraq, justice and corruption. “We open up with the war on terror (“Mother of All Heists,” “War Zone Diary” and “Jihad: The Men and Ideas Behind Al Qaeda”), then justice (“The Trials of Darryl Hunt”), education (“The Education of Ms. Groves”) and then we pick up on two local investigations, WBBM-TV Chicago’s “Fly at Your Own Risk” and, from Monroe, La., KNOE-TV’s “Names, Ranks and Serial Plunder: The National Guard and Katrina.”

Ms. Amanpour’s stand-up narration will act as a transitional device between each story. “Of all the hosts we’ve had so far, Christiane was very successful,” said Mr. Smith. “We got a lot of good feedback about her last year, and very much wanted her again, although logistically it was hard to make it happen.”

The biggest challenge, said Mr. Smith and Ms. Dragon, is making the documentary come together as a whole. “Any film, if it’s any good, has to be crafted,” said Mr. Smith. “It’s always a challenge to do justice to the scope and complexity of the reporting and give the viewer some sense of that in short form.”

Mr. Smith and Ms. Dragon hope that “Telling the Truth” will leave viewers will with an understanding that there are journalists out there who are extraordinarily committed. “Speaking truth to power and speaking for people who don’t have a voice is an important function,” said Mr. Smith.

“Especially at the local level,” added Ms. Dragon, “there are quite a few people on limited budgets doing extraordinary work.”

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