The Alfred I. duPont-Columbia-University Awards, considered the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize (given to books, magazines, and newspapers), were established in 1942 by Jessie Ball duPont in memory of her husband, the industrialist, financier, philanthropist, and advocate of freedom of information in the public interest, Alfred I. duPont (1864-1935). The awards have been administered by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism since 1968. Recipients of the award receive a silver baton inscribed with a quote by broadcast journalism pioneer, Edward R. Murrow, from a speech he gave to the Radio and Television News Directors Association in 1958: “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.”
For many years, I’ve been saying that television is magic we use as a toy. Since the early `90s, when the Internet began to significantly take shape, I hoped and prayed it would not suffer a similar fate and simply become another media landscape for sales, marketing, and the most frivolous kind of activity and communication. I still think television is largely misused and it has a good deal of work to do to regain its soul as a provider of important information and world-class entertainment. In my opinion, the Internet is progressing in a more worthwhile manner, but it has more than its share of shortcomings. On both fronts, we can only hope that recognition of the best – such as that provided by the duPont-Columbia awards – will inspire the production of more of the best in the future.