Frontline, NPR among public media winners of 2015 duPont-Columbia Awards

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Public broadcasters won six of 14 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, the prestigious annual journalism honors announced Wednesday.

Frontline, public television’s icon investigative series, claimed two, as did NPR. Minnesota Public Radio was honored, and WNET in New York won for a six-part history series hosted by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Although media technology is changing, “the jury was impressed that the essentials remain: tell a good story in the service of truth, tell something interesting and important, tell something that makes us wiser and better informed,” said Richard Wald, duPont jury chair, in the announcement. “Valuable journalism is alive and well.”

The 14 winners appeared on air, online or in theaters between June 30, 2013, and July 1, 2014.

Frontline received one duPont for “United States of Secrets,” detailing how the federal government collected private information from citizens and covered up the project. The judges hailed it as “a captivating and chilling investigation . . . for everyone who uses a computer or picks up a telephone.” Honored were Michael Kirk, producer, writer, director; Mike Wiser, producer, writer; Jim Gilmore, producer, reporter; Barton Gellman, editorial consultant; Martin Smith, writer/producer; and Linda Hirsch and Ben Gold, co-producers.

The series’ other award went to “Syria’s Second Front,” one of the first looks inside how the radical Islamic State group functions. Correspondent and Syrian native Muhammed Ali reported from inside a war zone and traveled with rebel groups for his coverage.

“This is groundbreaking reporting at its most courageous,” the jury said. David Fanning, executive producer; Raney Aronson-Rath, deputy executive producer; James Jones, producer; Ali, reporter; and producer Jamie Doran, also e.p. for Clover Films.

“Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt,” NPR’s digital project following the creation of a simple article of clothing across four continents, was praised by the jury for “compelling and versatile writing . . . a tour de force.” Alex Blumberg, executive producer; with Zoe Chace, Jacob Goldstein, Jess Jiang, Caitlin Kenney, David Kestenbaum, Marianne McCune, Robert Smith, Brian Boyer, Kainaz Amaria, Joshua Davis, David Gilkey, Alyson Hurt, Claire O’Neill and Wes Lindamood.

NPR also won for “Guilty and Charged,” a six-part series that aired on All Things Considered and Morning Edition revealing a two-tiered justice system that more harshly punishes poor suspects through fines and court costs. Joseph Shapiro spent a year researching and reporting the project.

“To tell this important story,” the jury said, “Shapiro found rare sources of data, courtroom tape and conducted original research that made the reporting come alive.” Shapiro, correspondent; Robert Little, editor; Nicole Beemsterboer, producer; Robert Benincasa, computer-assisted reporting producer; Barbara Van Woerkom, research librarian; Alicia Cypress, digital producer; and Emma Anderson, reporter.

The duPont for Minnesota Public Radio recognized “Betrayed by Silence,” which the jury called a “heartbreaking, exhaustive investigation” of sexual abuse and subsequent cover-up by the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. MPR’s reporting “has led to numerous actions to protect the public,” the jury noted, including a criminal investigation of the archdiocese, resignations, forced retirements and the release of names of abusive priests.

Madeleine Baran, lead reporter; Sasha Aslanian, Mike Cronin, Tom Scheck, and Laura Yuen, reporters/producers; Jennifer Simonson, Amanda Snyder, Jeff Thompson, photographers; Eric Ringham, copy editor; Meg Martin, web editor; Will Lager, web producer; Mike Edgerly, Jon Gordon, Regina McCombs, and Bill Wareham, editors; and Chris Worthington, project editor.

The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates Jr., currently airing on PBS member stations, was lauded by the jury for telling 500 years of often brutal history that is “visually and narratively innovative and breaks the mold of the historical PBS documentary.” Judges also recognized its “superb animation, top-notch camera and editing, and brilliant, if often disturbing, illustrations.” Gates, executive producer, writer, presenter; Peter W. Kunhardt, executive producer; Dyllan McGee, executive producer; Julie Anderson, executive producer; Stephen Segaller, executive in charge, WNET; Rachel Dretzin, senior producer; Leslie Asako Gladsjo, senior story producer, director/producer; Phil Bertelsen, director/producer; Sabin Streeter, director/producer; and Jamila Wignot, director/producer.

NPR’s Michel Martin and Cynthia McFadden of NBC News will co-host the duPont Awards ceremony Jan. 20 at Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library.

Here’s a video from Wednesday’s announcement.

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