Winners of annual recognition of excellence included both local and national coverage of Gulf Coast disaster.
Local TV does not merit its “if-it-bleeds, it-leads” reputation, the general manager Raycom Media’s WLOX Biloxi, Miss., told TVNewsCheck after the station received its Peabody Award for its Katrina coverage.
“We had people who lost everything and put their lives on the line to bring the story home,” Leon Long said. “We were there for the public. We never went off the air.
“It shows if you’re committed to what you’re doing, you can make a difference in your community,” Long said. “We were part of the story, as part of the community. [Winning a Peabody] shows that broadcasters, when the chips are down, are going to be there for the community.”
At its annual Peabody Awards luncheon in New York City today, the University of Georgia also honored Belo’s WWL New Orleans and two networks, CNN and NBC, for coverage of the hurricane that devastated New Orleans and other nearby Gulf Coast communities last summer.
CNN’s Jim Walton said the hurricane has been “testing all of us” as journalists.
Nightly News anchor Brian Williams told a group of reporters that the heavy coverage Katrina received was merited because of the many lives it affected and that it “is not a story that ends.”
Four other TV stations were presented with Peabodys: KNBC Los Angeles, for a four-part investigative series on a leaking subterranean gas resevoir; KCNC Denver, for an investigative piece on questionable recruiting tactics by the Army; KCET Los Angeles, for educational programming aimed at pre-schoolers; and KMEX Los Angeles, for its series on America’s growing Latino community.
The ceremony was emceeed by a prior Peabody winner, Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, which skewers politicians and the media. But on this day he tweaked only himself, saying he usually appears between “a mime and a stripper.” He also urged journalists to “continue to tell uncomfortable truths.”
Awards for coverage of tragic events muted the enthusiasm of some of the winners. HBO’s Children of Beslan documented the terrorist massacre in Beslan, Russia, of 344 civilians, mostly schoolchildren. In accepting the award for it, Leslie Woodhead and Ewa Ewart said that “we wish there was no reason to make this documentary,” and that making it was “an incredibly emotional experience.”
On a lighter note, Battlestar Galactica brought the Sci Fi Channel its first Peabody. “It gives us an extra level of credibility,” said Bonnie Hammer, head of the USA Network and Sci Fi. “It helps create awareness beyond what people think the sci fi genre is,” she said.
The complete list of winners is available at http://www.peabody.uga.edu/news/pressrelease.asp?ID=135.