The Peabody Board of Jurors has revealed its 2019 winners in the News and Radio/Podcast categories, rounding out the Peabody 30 for programs released in 2018.
Honorees represent investigative reporting with far-reaching impact, from local news reports on faulty drug tests to international reporting using innovative forensic technology to solve the murders of women and children; podcasts grappling with the South’s complicated racial history and current redlining policies designed to keep people of color out of neighborhoods, and reports on how rape culture works systemically that also give voice and agency to women survivors of sexual abuse.
The jurors also unanimously chose to highlight ProPublica for the first-ever Peabody Catalyst Award for a story that brought immediate change to a controversial government practice of family separation at the border. The independent, nonprofit newsroom made headlines in June 2018 for publishing nearly 8 minutes of audio of 10 sobbing Central American children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. The raw wailing and breathless sobs that went unheeded—and mocked—by Border Patrol officers demanded immediate attention and got it. Within 48-hours of publication, the Trump administration retreated, halting its “zero tolerance” immigration policy practice of family separation.
“No fake news here,” said Jeffrey Jones, executive director of the Peabody Awards. “Rather, ProPublica worked with local sources to find and publicize incontrovertible evidence of government policies—and their horrific application—that the government was also overtly downplaying. That is what courageous and effective journalism looks like.”
Members of the ProPublica team will join fellow Peabody Award honorees, including Rita Moreno, Peabody Career Achievement Award presented by Mercedes-Benz, at the awards ceremony on May 18 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York. Ronan Farrow will serve as the evening’s host.
U.S.-based Winners in News and Radio/Podcast programming are:
“Back of the Class” KING Television (NBC affiliate/KING)
Reporters Susannah Frame and Taylor Mirfendereski reveal the stunning failures of Washington public schools to provide support and services for students with disabilities. The only state with a fixed cap on special education funding, Washington faces an education crisis in special education classroom inclusion and graduation rates. The result is impressive journalism that led the Washington state legislature to prioritize education for all children.
“Separated: Children at the Border” FRONTLINE (PBS)
In response to the U.S. government’s decision to separate migrant children from their parents in processing centers, FRONTLINE shows characteristic attention to broader contexts undergirding the policy and its enactment. “Separated: Children at the Border” explores the roots of the policy in El Paso, Texas, 12 months prior to it making headlines, and draws a line from Obama-era practice and infrastructure to current policy. From Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border to Washington, the report and its makers commendably show as much care and attention to the humans and traumas of the story as to its politics and rhetoric.
“Spartan Silence: Crisis at Michigan State” E:60, OTL, ESPNW, Sportscenter (ESPN)
A precise demonstration of how rape culture works systemically, and the traumatic and horrible costs it has on women’s lives. Through tough original reporting, the series digs deep into Michigan State’s institutional knowledge of Larry Nassar’s abuse of hundreds of gymnasts and athletes dating back almost two decades. For the first time on camera, the programs provide testimony by a former sexual assault counselor who recounts the rape culture machinery at work—insulated internal handling of cases, lack of transparency, and discouraging victims from seeking external resources. The reporting includes powerful testimony by many abuse survivors, culminating in a roundtable discussion with five former athletes, and more than 140 “sister survivors” walking onstage to accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2018 ESPYS.
“The Plastic Problem” PBS NewsHour (PBS)
Correspondents Jeffrey Brown, Amna Nawaz and Paul Solman take an in-depth look at how our dependence on plastic is affecting ecosystems worldwide. The series effectively describes how our appetite for durability and convenience has created a pervasive and overwhelming problem—one that has become more acute since China has adopted much stricter requirements for plastic imports. In an exploration of the recycling industry and its limits, viewers are pushed to confront the difficult truth that recycling—a virtuous habit for many Americans and the basis for one of our long-time leading exports—will not solve a growing crisis.
“$2 Tests: Bad Arrests” WAGA-TV FOX 5 Atlanta (WAGA-TV)
In a prime example of the ripple effect of excellent local investigate reporting, reporter Randy Travis delves into the reliability of drug-testing kits, known as “$2 Tests,” used by police around the country as a quick, cheap way to analyze suspicious substances in the field. Despite warnings of the tests giving false positives, dashcam videos show how police regularly relied on them to arrest individuals for everyday items such as headache powder, vitamins, or cleaning supplies. The coverage led police departments to drop the tests and compelled professional associations to educate law enforcement, prosecutors, and public defenders on the fallibility of the tests.
“Believed” Michigan Radio (NPR)
A searing account of how Larry Nassar got away with abusing hundreds of women and girls for more than two decades, this podcast is also an amazing exploration of the cultures that enabled this abuse. Reporters Kate Wells and Lindsey Smith peel away the successive layers of the case, starting with Nassar’s veneer of being a “good guy” to the many institutions that failed the survivors. Using numerous interviews and primary source materials, they carefully piece together the survivors’ collective story while zeroing in on key issues the story brings to light. The result is a laudable balance between revealing the victimization perpetrated by Nassar with a determination to give the survivors agency, strength, and a right to tell their stories.
“Buried Truths” WABE (WABE)
Journalist Hank Klibanoff and his Emory University students investigate the death of Isaiah Nixon, a black man gunned down outside his South Georgia home in 1948 for exercising his right to vote. With intensive research of FBI documents, microfilm of archival newspapers, medical records, NAACP reports, and primary evidence held in private collections, the podcast has the appeal of the “true crime” genre but constantly strives for deeper historical understanding. The largely forgotten incident gains new immediacy when read alongside Georgia’s more recent struggles over voter suppression, helping us understand how the past touches the present.
“Caliphate” The New York Times (The New York Times)
When the tanks rolled out of towns and cities liberated from ISIS control, Rukmini Callimachi moved in, searching for diaries, receipts, computer files, anything that would help her answer the key question of this gripping podcast: why did people join ISIS? Callimachi and audio producer Andy Mills present their answers in absorbing style, wedding storytelling, reports from Iraq, and interviews with a wide range of subjects—from Abu Huzayfah to a Yazidi girl tortured by ISIS troops—to produce a wonderful example of what longform audio reporting can and should sound like.
“Kept Out” Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, PRX, PBS NewsHour, and the Associated Press (Public radio stations nationwide)
Although some might assume redlining—the practice of discouraging non-white people from living in certain neighborhoods by manipulating rentals and homebuying—a thing of the past, this report found people of color are still far more likely than whites to see mortgage applications denied in 61 metro areas across the country. The review of 31 million records also unearthed redlining in ethnically and racially diverse areas. The series prompted investigations in several states, inspired the establishment of a $100 million affordable housing fund in Philadelphia, and forced banks to open branches in underserved areas.
“Monumental Lies” Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX and Type Investigations (Public radio stations nationwide)
Exploring the contested history surrounding monuments in the South and the Southwest, this nuanced report adds depth to current debates about how the public should mark troubling chapters of our national history. The investigative teams explore how “Lost Cause ideology” often substitutes for historical accuracy by sending black and white reporters, individually, into Beauvoir, a Mississippi site dedicated to Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Listeners hear what “truths” each get told. The series also addresses how monuments to racist pasts is a national, rather than regional problem, as Southwestern states memorialize moments of settlement and colonization.