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Peabody Awards Announces Best Stories of 2019

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Peabody Awards
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The Peabody Awards recently announced 30 winners for excellence in storytelling in 2019, many of which addressed contemporary issues facing America and the world. Dr. Jeffrey P. Jones, director of the University of Georgia-based award, highlights Peabody’s recognition of programs that explore issues related to policing—particularly racist policing—though the awards were adjudicated months before protests related to the killing of George Floyd began. “Out of all 30 programs, 7 of them were somewhat prescient in that regard,” he states.

 

 

The Peabody Awards were founded by UGA’s Grady College of Journalism in 1941, and celebrate excellent instances of storytelling in the form of documentaries, entertainment television, and journalism. According to Dr. Jones, a hallmark of the awards is to reflect the concerns of the American public and the global community at large: “Quite often we have TV shows and documentary films and radio podcasts that are reflective of the moment.”

 

Dr. Jones emphasizes the ten documentary winners as being particularly representative of contemporary political and cultural issues. In a PBS special program featuring the ten winning documentarians, the films are divided into four categories related to their subject matter, titled African American Dignity and Justice, Authoritarianism and Threats to Democracy, Families in Global Conflict Zones, and Scientific Frontiers. Within these categories, winners tend to challenge prevailing narratives, shifting, for example, the lens from journalists and men experiencing war to women and children. Other documentaries offer a rebuke to the movement threatening and devaluing science today:

 

“We exist in a period where there’s real challenges to belief in science coming out of the White House, and so it’s a real opportunity for films like this to point to the importance of science, the belief in science, and the achievements of science,” says Dr. Jones.

 

The diversity and timeliness of the selection, Dr. Jones says, is due to both the diversity of the 19 person jury and the deliberative, unanimous process by which winners are chosen: “It’s a good example that its not just who’s on the board, but how one goes about decision making. And the deliberative context of unanimous decision making, of convincing your peers that something is worthy of an award, that diversity really rings true. And what you see is that what we’re often recognizing are fresh voices, innovative voices, emerging voices— but also diverse voices.”

 

While the award ceremony itself was cancelled due to the pandemic many winners sent out virtual acceptance speeches that articulated the concerns roiling America and the world. 

“All of those speeches had a resonance with the particular moment in which we were announcing awards. Because one might ask, ‘It seems a little weird that you’re celebrating awards while we’re in a pandemic and while there’s protests over racist policing.’ The awards themselves often reflected the importance of storytelling to our understanding this moment.”

 

Partnering with PBS, The Peabody Awards recently produced a program hosting panel discussions with each of the ten documentarians who won this year. It can be viewed at the Peabody Awards Website.