HBO, frequently a good source for excellent documentaries, won for The Recruiter, about a zealous American Army recruiter in Louisiana who is successfully wooing record numbers of high school students into volunteering for service in Iraq and Afghanistan. And PBS’ POV won for The Judge and the General, about a conservative Chilean judge who is pursuing and prosecuting human rights violations in Chile during the infamous Pinochet era.
CBS won both of the only network TV awards: Katie Couric’s The Sarah Palin Interviews and CBS Reports for Children of the Recession, a fact-filled, heartbreaking, multi-part portrait of the collapsed economy’s impact on American kids: greater homelessness, hunger, abuse, emotional problems, and declines in educational achievement.
This year’s big surprise was the fact that six local TV stations won awards – the most in more than 20 years. Stations in Texas, Colorado, Vermont, Florida, Tennessee, and Louisiana were rewarded for detailed, often multi-part reports or freestanding specials on such topics as locally-based military discrimination and corruption, inadequate emergency response, improperly prescribed painkillers, the extensive use of illegal migrant farm workers, judicial corruption, and fraud/mismanagement in Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.
As you no doubt know from watching your own local news, the “if it bleeds, it leads” ethos that has guided local news since the early `70s has become the standard and turned most local news programs into crime reports peppered with sports, weather, scandals, and human interest tidbits. All of this year’s winning local stations saw their stories result in official investigation, judicial prosecution, or legislative/policy reform. Such is the power of top-flight broadcast journalism, which will hopefully encourage all local stations to put greater emphasis on important stories – even though the news departments of most stations have been decimated by the public’s changes in media consumption, as well as The Great Recession.
The duPont-Columbia awards also recognize excellence in radio journalism. American Radio Works won for What Killed Sergeant Gray?, about the remorse and depression suffered by some returned Iraq war vets who had deliberately abused Iraqi detainees while in their custody (Sgt. Gray committed suicide). National Public Radio (NPR) won for The York Project: Race and the 2008 Vote, a series of insightful conversations with residents of York, Pennsylvania, before and after the last presidential election.
This year was the first that the duPont-Columbia awards turned their attention to the Internet, praising journalists who had previously worked in TV and/or print and are now finding new platforms on the Web, as well as the new and growing population of serious-minded citizen journalists who, through blogs and other platforms, are bringing important stories to the attention of the public, as well as the mainstream media. The site MediaStorm won for Intended Consequences, a multimedia presentation about the estimated 20,000 children born to women in Rwanda after they were raped (and often infected with HIV) during the 1994 genocide.