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War Coverage and Government "Watchdog" Reports Dominate 2004 duPont-Columbia University Awards

Columbia University has announced this year's winners of the duPont-Columbia University Awards for broadcast journalism. Coverage of the war in Iraq, government "watchdog" reporting, and documentaries on national issues of race, poverty and child welfare are among the winners.

In all, thirteen silver batons for excellence in television and radio journalism will be awarded to local stations, networks, radio, cable and independently produced programs that aired in the United States between July 1, 2002, and June 30, 2003. The awards ceremony will be held January 21 at Columbia University. Ted Koppel, anchor and managing editor of ABC News' Nightline, will host. Presenting the silver batons will be Maria Hinojosa, urban affairs correspondent for CNN; Michele Norris, host of NPR's All Things Considered; Martin Smith, independent producer for PBS' FRONTLINE; and Bob Simon, correspondent for CBS News' 60 Minutes II. A one-hour documentary about the winners, hosted by Tom Brokaw, Without Fear or Favor: The Best in Broadcast Journalism, will be broadcast nationwide on PBS stations beginning on January 26.

"TV and radio journalists covering the war in Iraq reached an historic turning point in war coverage with the practice of embedding journalists with military units and the immediacy of satellite technology," said David A. Klatell, duPont-Columbia Award jury chair and academic dean at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. "But only a few news organizations used these journalistic opportunities to give the American people the context the war story deserved. That takes time and responsible editing."

In naming the winners, the nine-member jury recognized CBS News, ABC News and National Public Radio for their nuanced and comprehensive war coverage. The PBS series FRONTLINE was cited for three programs, including its inspired coverage of the spiritual impact of September 11; Boise station KBCI-TV and Nashville station WTVF-TV were cited for investigations that uncovered corruption in local government and ultimately led to indictments. Other award winners tackled issues of national concern such as race in America, standardized testing in schools and the break-up of the Columbia space shuttle.

"Columbia has been proud to share in the tradition of excellence of these journalism prizes for 35 years," said Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger. "This year's duPont-Columbia University Award winners signify how vital is the link between a free press and democracy."

Selected from nearly 600 submissions, the award winners are:

  • ABC News and Ted Koppel for Nightline: Tip of the Spear
  • CBS NEWS, David Martin and Mary Walsh for Coverage of National Security
  • FRONTLINE: A Dangerous Business on PBS
  • FRONTLINE: Failure to Protect: The Taking of Logan Marr; The Caseworker Files; and A National Dialogue on PBS
  • FRONTLINE: Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero on PBS
  • HBO and Maysles Films Inc., LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton
  • KBCI-TV, Boise, Shake-Up at City Hal l
  • KHOU-TV, Houston, Evidence of Errors
  • KMGH-TV, Denver, Honor and Betrayal: Scandal at the Academy
  • National Public Radio (NPR) for Coverage of the War in Iraq
  • P.O.V., Whitney Dow and Marco Williams, Two Towns of Jasper on PBS
  • WESH-TV, Orlando, and Dan Billow for Coverage of the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster
  • WTVF-TV, Nashville, Friends in High Places

Documentary to air on PBS January 26

Without Fear or Favor: The Best in Broadcast Journalism, hosted by Tom Brokaw, will be broadcast nationwide on PBS stations beginning January 26, at 10:30 p.m. E.T. (Check local listings.) Award-winning filmmaker David Grubin, is producer and writer of the one-hour documentary. Philip S. Balboni, president of New England Cable News and a former duPont juror, is executive producer. Stephen Segaller is executive in charge for Thirteen/WNET. In the New York area, Without Fear or Favor will air on Thirteen/WNET, on Monday, January 26 at 10:30 p.m. and again on Saturday, January 31, at 2:00 p.m.

Excerpts from jurors' comments follow:

ABC News and Ted Koppel for Nightline: Tip of the Spear A prime-time special report during his three-week experience as an embedded journalist in Iraq

Nightline's Ted Koppel stands out among the reporters who covered the war, setting his reporting against his experiences covering Vietnam, Gulf War I, Somalia and Kosovo. Koppel never shied away from the reality of bodies and prisoners, even disagreeing on air with ABC's Charles Gibson about the reasons for showing the grimmest results of the military operation. Tip of the Spea r is the essence of great journalism, for its perspective and editing as much as for Koppel's live reporting from the front.

Ted Koppel, correspondent, anchor and managing editor; Alex Bruckner, camera; Francesca Neidhart, audio; Paul Kaltenbach, engineer; Leroy Sievers, Rudy Bednar, Tom Bettag, executive producers.

CBS NEWS, David Martin and Mary Walsh for Coverage of National Security

David Martin's reports on the Pentagon, the military build-up to the Iraq war and on the war itself demonstrate his exceptional grasp of national security issues. Martin is an independent-minded reporter with a detailed command of military operations and weaponry. Teamed with his long-time producer, Mary Walsh, Martin consistently breaks new information with clear reporting on the Pentagon's goals. He exemplifies the role of a journalist: to measure what we are being told against what we find out.

David Martin, correspondent; Mary Walsh, producer; Jim McGlinchy, senior producer; Jim Murphy, executive producer.

FRONTLINE: A Dangerous Business on PBS

An hour-long investigation of accidents at foundries owned by McWane, Inc.

This FRONTLINE, New York Times and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation collaborative investigation traces some of the 4,000 employee injuries at McWane plants since 1995, including several fatal accidents. The program builds the case against McWane through interviews with current and former employees, government officials and exhaustive document searches of company records and government reports. Concluding that McWane is one of the most dangerous companies in America in terms of safety and environmental hazards, the program also questions the effectiveness of current government regulations and enforcement. This is investigative journalism of both the public and private sectors at its best.

Lowell Bergman, David Barstow, correspondents; Neil Docherty, David Rummel, producers; Michael Sullivan, executive producer, special projects; David Fanning, executive producer for FRONTLINE; for The New York Times, Lawrie Mifflin and Ann Derry, executive producers; William Abrams, president, NYT-TV; Michael Oreskes, executive in charge.

FRONTLINE: Failure to Protect: The Taking of Logan Marr; The Caseworker Files; and A National Dialogue on PBS

A three-hour series examining problems in the U.S. child welfare system

Building on the riveting story of one child, Logan Marr, and one state agency, Maine's Department of Human Services, FRONTLINE devotes three exceptional hours to a comprehensive examination of the child welfare system in the United States. The Taking of Logan Marr, the first program, retraces the murder of the five-year old girl who was placed in foster care although she had never been abused by her mother. With unprecedented access to several social workers in Maine's Department of Human Services, the second program, The Caseworker Files, lays out the dilemmas social workers face as they try to balance a child's life against a parent's ability to cope. Finally, A National Dialogue is a discussion of child welfare policies produced in collaboration with the Fred Friendly Seminars. Together these programs provide deep insight into the issues of government's responsibility for monitoring and protecting America's children.

Failure to Protect: The Taking of Logan Marr, Rachel Dretzin, Barak Goodman, producers; The Caseworker Files, Rachel Dretzin, Barak Goodman, Muriel Soenens, producers; A National Dialogue, John Hockenberry, moderator; for Fred Friendly Seminars, with the Institute for Child and Family Policy, Richard Kilbery, executive producer; for FRONTLINE, Michael Sullivan, executive producer, special projects; David Fanning, executive producer.

FRONTLINE: Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero on PBS

A two-hour documentary probing the impact of September 11th on spirituality

This is the only program about September 11th that focuses on the event's impact on the spiritual lives of both believers and nonbelievers. It asks difficult questions about good and evil, about God and faith and fate. It is a brave, quiet and graphically beautiful show that causes you to reach within yourself. Journalists often treat religion as an institutional story, and this exploration of spiritual life is truly rare-especially on television.

Helen Whitney, producer and director; Helen Whitney and Ron Rosenbaum, writers; Laura Palmer, field producer; Ted Winterburn, editor; Michael Sullivan, executive producer, special projects; David Fanning, executive producer.

HBO and Maysles Films Inc., LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton

A 90-minute documentary probing the relationship between poverty and education

LaLee's Kin powerfully explores the intersection of poverty and education in the backwater of the Mississippi Delta. It focuses on LaLee Wallace, an illiterate former cotton picker and matriarch of a large, impoverished family, and Reggie Barnes, a visionary local school superintendent struggling to keep his schools from being taken over by the state. An intimate cinema-verite film without any narration, LaLee's Kin is a superb piece of reporting that deals with major issues: education, the value of standardized testing, and the heroic measures needed to help children escape from all-consuming poverty.

Susan Froemke and Deborah Dickson with Albert Maysles, directors; Susan Froemke, producer; Deborah Dickson, editor; Albert Maysles, director of photography; John Hoffman, supervising producer; Sheila Nevins, executive producer.

KBCI-TV, Boise, Shake-Up at City Hall

A series of investigative reports on the mayor's office in Boise, Idaho

Two reporters at this small market station uncovered a trail of financial corruption by the mayor of Boise and his chief of staff that led to the resignation and indictment of both officials. The reporters methodically document credit card expenses for items such as junkets to conferences, a side trip to a Broadway show, an ornamental fireplace and other items that could not be located at City Hall. The capstone of the series is the surveillance videotape showing city employees, including the chief of police and the mayor, hauling the purloined goods back to City Hall. Despite pressure to ease up on the investigation, the station maintained its focus on the misuse of public funds. These reports are superb examples of the role of the press as watchdog on local government.

Jon Hanian, Michael Keckler, reporters; Clyn Richards, chief photographer; Hank Nystrom, Chris Ceresa, photographers; Jeff Ray, executive producer.

KHOU-TV, Houston, Evidence of Errors

A series investigating deficiencies in the Houston Police Department's crime lab

KHOU-TV's investigative team scrutinizes the crime lab's practices, especially the testing of DNA samples in rape cases. They review court files and examine the lab's scientific test data and conclusions, comparing them to standard laboratory procedures. Using excellent graphics to illustrate the faulty test results, these reports led to an independent audit of the crime lab, the release of one prisoner, and the retesting of evidence in hundreds of prosecutions, including death row cases. This is broadcast journalism that makes a difference in people's lives, and it has spurred nationwide attention to crime lab practices.

Anna Werner, investigative reporter; David Raziq, investigative producer; Chris Henao, photojournalist; Michael T. Devlin, news director.

KMGH-TV, Denver, 7News Investigates, Honor and Betrayal: Scandal at the Academy

Investigative reports into sexual abuse at the United States Air Force Academy

These reports on a scandal of national magnitude build carefully and sensitively, documenting the persistent pattern of sexual abuse of female cadets at the United States Air Force Academy. Particularly impressive is the revelation that the Academy's procedures, put in place a decade ago in response to earlier incidents of sexual harassment, remain inadequate. Honor and Betrayal proves the value of revisiting a story over time and demonstrates the courage of a station to question the conduct of future military officers as the nation readied them for war.

John Ferrugia, reporter; Kurt Silver, producer; Jason Foster, photographer/editor; Jeff Harris, executive producer; Byron Grandy, news director.

National Public Radio for Coverage of the War in Iraq

Between January and June 2003, NPR aired more than 2,600 reports on Iraq-250 hours of coverage by some of the best reporters in broadcast journalism, including John Burnett, Anne Garrels, Steve Inskeep, Christopher Joyce, Mike Shuster, Ivan Watson and Eric Westervelt. Whether embedded or on their own, NPR's team in Iraq and their colleagues in the United States covered all aspects of the war. Many reports are deeply moving, especially Anne Garrels' report about an Iraqi teenager who thrusts a container of human remains at reporters and John Burnett's investigation of the bombing of civilian targets. This is ambitious, dramatic, personal and intelligent coverage that uses the medium in extraordinarily creative ways.

The staff of NPR News and Operations; Barbara Rehm, managing editor; Bruce Drake, vice president for news.

P.O.V, Whitney Dow and Marco Williams, Two Towns of Jasper on PBS

A 90-minute documentary on race in America

This independently produced program is a masterful portrait of race in America with the texture of a feature film. Its focus is the 1998 murder in Jasper, Texas, of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was chained to a pick-up truck and dragged to his death by three white men. Two film crews, one black and one white, documented the responses of the black and white communities of Jasper after the murder and during the trials of the three local white men charged with Byrd's murder. The journalists use the Byrd murder as the organizing thread to examine racism in America, and the result is exceptionally even-handed, insightful and honest.

Whitney Dow, Marco Williams, producers; Cara Mertes, executive producer for P.O.V.; Sally Jo Fifer, executive producer for ITVS.

WESH-TV, Orlando, and Dan Billow for Coverage of the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster

WESH-TV and Dan Billow, the station's long-time space reporter, provided television audiences in Orlando with stunning, informed live coverage of the breakup of the Columbia space shuttle. Faced with one of the most difficult challenges in television news, live coverage of a disaster, Billow and his colleagues delivered reports that are judiciously restrained, yet filled with insightful analysis and solid information. With the expertise that only a solid beat reporter can develop, Billow immediately identified the foam insulation that hit the shuttle's wing on take-off as the likely cause of the breakup.

The staff of WESH-TV and Dan Billow, space reporter; Travis J. Sherwin, senior special projects producer; Ed Trauschke, news director.

WTVF-TV, Nashville, Friends in High Places

A series of reports investigating contracts awarded by the Tennessee governor's office

WTVF-TV's unit NewsChannel 5 Investigates devoted seven months to this investigation of $200 million in state contracts that were awarded to Tennessee Governor Donald Sundquist's closest friends and campaign contributors. The station also revealed how the governor violated his own ethics policy by accepting gifts. The reporting is carefully detailed, taking the viewer through a complicated web of personal relationships, government agencies and private businesses. The station aired more than 20 reports and stood up to the loss of substantial advertising dollars pulled by the state's highway safety program. These reports resulted in state and federal investigations as well as tighter controls on state contracts.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates, Phil Williams, investigative reporter; Bryan Staples, photojournalist; Mike Cutler, news director.


Jury Composition

Serving on the nine-member jury with Chairman and Academic Dean David A. Klatell are: Barbara S. Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association and former CBS News Washington bureau chief; Judy Crichton, author and founding executive producer of the American Experience series on PBS; John Dinges, assistant professor of journalism at Columbia and former editorial director of NPR; Martin Haag, visiting professor of journalism at Southern Methodist University and former senior vice president for broadcast news for the Belo Corporation; Lawrence K. Grossman, former president of NBC News and PBS; Cinny Kennard, manager of NPR's West Coast Production Center and former CBS News correspondent; Eric Mink, columnist and op-ed page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; and George Strait, assistant vice chancellor for public affairs, University of California at Berkeley, and former chief medical correspondent for ABC News.


The Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards honoring overall excellence in broadcast journalism were established in 1942 by Jessie Ball duPont in memory of her late husband, Alfred I. duPont. With his cousins, Mr. duPont transformed their gunpowder company into the chemical company E.I. duPont de Nemours. He later created a separate successful financial institution of his own in Florida and was owner of a chain of small-town, liberal newspapers in Delaware. The duPont Awards, administered since 1968 by Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, are considered the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prizes, which the Journalism School also administers.

Baton Significance

Award winners receive batons designed by the late American architect Louis I. Kahn. The batons are inscribed with the famous observation about the power of television by the late Edward R. Murrow: "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box." (Address to the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Chicago, October 15, 1958.)

Published: Dec 08, 2003
Last modified: Jan 15, 2004

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