The coronavirus pandemic will make an annual gathering for the reveal of the duPont-Columbia Awards all but impossible. And yet, there will be an opportunity to see them.
PBS’ digital venues will stream a ceremony anchored by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and The Washington Post’s Michele Norris. The stream “will allow people to both watch the awards as they are broadcast, but also at any time,” says Steve Coll, Dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism School, which administers the awards, in an interview.
The awards have honored top journalism in audio and video reporting for nearly 80 years. Founded by Jessie Ball duPont in honor of Alfred I. duPont, her late husband, the awards have since 1942 put a spotlight on efforts in broadcast and audio, and on documentary programming. A dozen or so entries are usually awarded prizes each year.
People who watch will find out not only who won, but how news outlets are harnessing different venues with new methods of storytelling. Among the finalists are efforts from Netflix, the “Ear Hustle” podcast from Radiotopia and an online documentary from NBC News Digital. Some of the usual suspects are present — PBS’ “Frontline” has three different entries — but some of them are also showing up in new ways, such as a New York Times podcast series or a Vice entry that ran on ViacomCBS’ Showtime cable outlet.
“The duPonts have always been a way to understand not only where excellence in the year past has been located, but also changes and innovations in new formats,” says Coll (above, pictured). “These are new ways of telling stories.”
Finalists this year run the gamut, ranging from entries from Denver’s KDVR (for an investigation into the death of a Black man in police custody) and Seattle’s KING (for a documentary on a cancer patient’s decision to end his life legally) to work from WNYC Studios, The Washington Post and PBS’ “Independent Lens.” The HBO documentary “After Truth: Disinformation and The Cost of Fake News” stands among the finalists.
While the awards are typically given at Columbia University’s Low Library, administrators were keen to make sure the work could be highlighted for a sizable audience that is now dispersed around the world. “The pandemic has kind of accelerated our interest in figuring out how to do this,” says Coll. “We had to prepare the awards ceremony through kind of a production approach that was different form our usual live production,” he adds.
The hour-long awards ceremony will begin Tuesday evening at 8 p.m.