Podcasting gained more respect and credibility when the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communications at the University of Georgia presented five shows with Peabody Awards earlier in May. The Peabody Awards recognize superior storytelling in electronic media.
The Peabody Awards [link] started in 1941 when radio was the only major electronic media. Then, in the early 1950s, television categories were added, followed by cable and satellite categories. In recent years, categories for on-demand and online streaming media including podcasts were added to the competition.
The judges look for excellence in storytelling technique but winning entries must be about people and situations that matter. These are in the “sweet spot” for public media. Four of the five 2017 Peabody winners in the Radio/Podcast category are directly tied to public radio. The fifth was certainly inspired by public radio. You can see the winners in all of the categories here.
A PEABODY AWARD GOES TO…
• NPR and ProPublica for Lost Mothers: Maternal Mortality in the United States
NPR’s Renee Montagne and ProPublica’s Nina Martin told the story of a New Jersey nurse named Lauren Bloomstein, who died a day after giving birth due to pre-eclampsia that wasn’t diagnosed until it was too late. Pre-eclampsia is a type of high blood pressure that only occurs in pregnancy or postpartum.
The series examines stories such as Bloomstein’s in a series of podcasts dealing with a health care crisis that is rarely talked about: Women dying as a consequence of pregnancy and childbirth. This occurs more frequently in the U.S. than any other major country. The podcasts told emotional stories from both survivors and loved ones that document the rapid onset of symptoms and lack of quick response by some medical providers.
The judges recognized this entry for its vital public service reporting that pushes the standard for vigilance, prevention, and equity in women’s health care. Learn more and listen to audio samples here.
• Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media for 74 Seconds
On July 6, 2016, the police pulled over Philando Castile for a broken taillight. Seventy-four seconds later he was dead. A police officer fired seven shots at Castile while his girlfriend her 4-year-old daughter watched the mayhem. They weren’t the only people watching. Castile’s girlfiend streamed the aftermath live via Facebook.
The story received national coverage. Instead of moving on, MPR kept following developments over subsequent months. The result was a remarkable podcast series – 74 Seconds – that put a human face on the tragedy that provided context for the legal and political struggles that followed. The series had 22 episodes, most reported in real time.
The judges praised MPR’s reporting and production team for excellent on-the-spot reporting and constructing a larger context to understand the events. Learn more and listen to audio samples here.
• This American Life & Serial for S-Town
This brilliant tale grabs listeners from 00:01 of S-Town. The compelling voice of John B. McLemore, an antique clock restorer, sets the narrative about an unreported murder in Bibb County, Alabama.
S-Town is an addictive law and order thriller from the producers who brought podcasting into the American mainstream. In many ways S-Town is the gold standard of this form of storytelling.
The judges called S-Town the first true audio novel, a nonfiction biography constructed in the style and form of a 7-chapter novel. S-Town set audience records the moment it was released. S-Town attracted 16 million downloads in the first week, and 40 million in first month. Learn more and listen to audio samples here.
• Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting & Louisville Public Media for The Pope’s Long Con
When folks at the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered an incredible story about a local politician who called himself “the Pope.” State Representative Dan Johnson glorified his own past for leverage with constituents and associates. But his self promotion was built on a trail of lies and fabrications that included criminal behavior and allegations of sexual assault.
The story then takes more fascinating twists and turns but we won’t spoil the ending.
The judges praised The Pope’s Long Con for demonstrating the importance of checks and balances and proper vetting, and for tenacious local journalism. Learn more and listen to audio samples here.
• Gimlet Media for Uncivil: The Raid
Gimlet Media is a for profit company that a similar sensibility, and several key people, to public radio.
Uncivil: The Raid tells the story about 250 formerly enslaved black Americans during the struggle for black freedom during the Civil War in South Carolina. They escaped near certain execution when trapped behind Confederate troop lines.
The judges said Uncivil: The Raid for its contribution to understanding of a seldom-told true story about emerging black freedom.
Congratulations to the winners.
PODCAST PUBLISHERS CHART: HAS HOW STUFF WORKS QUIT WORKING?
Podtrac [link] has released its April estimates of the monthly audience for podcast publishers. We are comparing the April numbers to January 2018 to see a trend line since the first of the year.
The top ten publishers for April include four who have ties to public radio and six that are for-profit, commercial ventures. The top four publishers are from public media. These publishers have an overwhelming majority of the estimated US Unique Monthly Audience. There was little change between January and April.
There was much more variation with the commercial podcast publishers. The estimated audience for The Daily pushed the New York Times up 10%. HowStuffWorks dropped 27%. Perhaps their next show will be How Podcasts Work.