The annual Peabody Awards for "distinguished achievement and meritorious public service by stations, networks, producing organizations and individuals" were announced this week, and they are ironically telling about the current state of radio and television.
Unlike the Oscars, Tonys, and Emmys, the Peabodys have neither set categories nor a set number of winners. This year the awards committee at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia gave 35 awards, and they pretty much define today's radio and television.
For example, the story of the Peabody Awards in Broadcasting & Cable online led with The Colbert Report as a winner. HuffingtonPost.com featured a video of Colbert having fun announcing the award, but there was no mention of the other 34 winners, including ABC's Bob Woodruff's heart-rending "reporting on veterans wounded in Iraq, drawing on his own experiences recovering from a traumatic head wound while covering the war there."
Using Colbert's satirical send-up of bloviating cable news channel talk shows as the lead pretty much says it all about the "distinguished achievement and meritorious public service" of television news, especially cable TV news -- it's comical.
The only award given to cable news was to CNN for CNN Presents: God's Warriors, a series that "explored how rising fundamentalist disenchantment with the modern, secular world has affected Judaism, Islam and Christianity in sometimes similar but also different ways." That award ironically buries the idea that the interminably and annoyingly repeated promotion line of CNN having "the best political team on television" has any credibility whatsoever. The Peabody Awards committee thinks what CNN reports best on is religion, not politics. Ironic.
Of the awards given to radio, none were to programs on commercial radio stations; all went to non-commercial, public radio. One of the awards went to Marc Steiner for his program Just Words on Baltimore's public radio station, WYPR-FM - a program that was canceled by the station for poor ratings, ironically.
And the awards do point out that finding "distinguished achievement and meritorious public service" on commercial radio is even rarer than finding news coverage for presidential candidate Ralph ______ (thank goodness!), and that NPR's winner was "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!", "a zippy update of one of broadcasting's long-ago staples, this live quiz show reminds listeners of the week's news even as host Peter Sagal and various panelists make witty sport of it."
So news programs don't win the "oldest and most coveted honor in electronic media," as Stephen Colbert, on a video calls the Peabodys, but programs that poke fun at the news and newsmakers do, which is as it should be. There is more truth in humor than there is in the vast majority of news sources, particularly newspapers, that take themselves way too seriously, as the media critic everyone loves to hate (including this blogger), Michael Wolff, points out in a letter to Jim Romenesko.
The message to the media the Peabody Awards committee seems to be giving is "lighten up and have some. Forget about being objective; be ironic." Let's hope the media is listening, because we all need something to smile about.