Monday, March 29, 2010

29 March 1941: The First Peabody Awards Are Presented

On this day in 1941, the University of Georgia's Henry W. Grady School of Journalism distributed the first George Foster Peabody Awards at a luncheon at the Commodore Hotel in New York City. There were five awards presented for work done in 1940:

  • CBS Radio for Public Service by a Network
  • Elmer Davis of CBS Radio for Best Reporting of the News
  • KFRU Radio of Columbia, Missouri, for Public Service by a Small Station
  • WGAR Radio of Cleveland, Ohio, for Public Service by a Medium Station
  • WLW Radio of Cincinnati, Ohio, for Public Service by a Large Station
There were also 15 Honorable Mentions, including one for WSB Radio of Atlanta, Georgia for "Distinguished Public Service Contributions." The practice of including Honorable Mentions ended in 1955. In 1948, when television became more prevalent in the culture, the first two awards for television were given to ABC for their Actor's Studio short-drama program, and to NBC for their Howdy Doody children's program.

The Peabody Awards were created when the Lambdin Kay, general manager of WSB, was asked in 1939 by the National Association of Broadcasters to create an award for broadcasting that was similar to the Pulitzer Awards for publications. Key contacted John E. Drewry, Dean of the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia because he believed "the award would be more credible if it were academically sanctioned and independently administered." The award was named for George Foster Peabody, a businessman, education philanthropist, and University of Georgia Trustee who had died the previous year.

Unlike the Pulitzer Awards, Peabodys do not have set categories into which a nomination must fit, but seek more generally to recognize "excellence in quality" for any form of electronic media from anywhere in the world. This fluid definition, that does emphasize public service and education as well as entertainment, allows the Award Committee freedom to be as specific or general as they want with their awards, and has allowed the Peabodys to expand as media has evolved. The first cable award came in 1981 for the HBO-Ms. magazine documentary, She’s Nobody’s Baby: The History of American Women in the 20th Century. In 2006, web entities were named as joint winners when was named as one of those who helped create award-winning investigative journalism; in 2008, awards were given to the sites and, for their parodies of cable news,

The Committee also has the freedom to reward specific episodes or programs, as well as entire series, such as the 1972 award to ABC Television for their Afterschool Specials; to the company that creates a program, such as the 2006 award to Be Squared Productions, Inc. for Alton Brown's show on Food Network, Good Eats; to the network that airs and jointly owns the program, such as the Fox Network and Thirteen Productions for the X-Files in 1996; or to a specific episode or part of a program, such as the 1988 award for "Mr. Snow Goes to Washington" story on 60 Minutes, or the 2007 award for the Frontline episode "Cheney's Law."

While an individual might receive an award for their overall career contributions to broadcast media, such as sportscaster Jim McKay's award in 1988, another might win an award for work on a particular episode of a program, such as Rod Serling's award in 1956 for his script for Playhouse 90's production of "Requiem for a Heavyweight." Edward R. Murrow won a total of six Peabody Awards in his career, some for specific achievements, such as his 1948 award for Outstanding Reporting and Interpretation of the News, as well as a general career contribution award in 1953. Local and regional stations are often singled out for their reports and specials that serve their communities.

There are no set number of awards per year, though the total has never exceeded 36. There are approximately 1,000 entries evaluated each year, and a unanimous decision is required for an entry to receive an award. Winners are now announced at the end of March and the ceremony takes place in mid-May. This year's ceremony is May 17, 2010, at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. Diane Sawyer is the host, the first ever repeat host for the awards.

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