Ah, the public interest and the public airwaves. It seems like such a quaint concept in this era of so much media (muck media?) coming at us in seemingly endless ways.
But a welcome reminder that some people still give serious thought to public-interest issues arrived on Monday in a easily digestible but kinda disturbing five-page report, "Television in an Era of Fundamental Change," from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia in Athens, aka, the outfit that gives out broadcasting's prestigious Peabody Awards. (More about them below.)
Report culled from the inaugural Peabody/Loyless seminar at the U. of Georgia is notable for its matter-of-fact discussion of the "post-broadcast" era. Among its central findings is that the proliferation of media and information options has resulted in "the creation of a giant media echo chamber" in which viewers "increasingly see and hear only those perspectives and points of view that reverberate from their preconceived beliefs and attitudes." (No wonder I'm highlighting this study -- I've been ranting about phenomenon for a long time!)
Instead of becoming more enlightened, we're just smug, armed with a little information and a lot of attitude.
"Democratic discussion, deliberation and debate are undercut by a process of self-validation and simplistic dismissal of alternatives," report asserts. ("The Daily Show" and "Colbert Report," they're talkin' 'bout you.)
These and other intriguing conclusions about the TMZ.com-ization of news and media were drawn from the seminar's rap sessions featuring prominent TV crix (Melanie McFarland of Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Eric Deggans of St. Petersburg Times, David Bianculli of New York Daily News and NPR) and academics from Northwestern U., U. of Wisconsin, Old Dominion U. and Grady College.
Report wraps with some proposals that sound at first blush like the kind of high-minded ideas that gather dust on the shelves of the FCC, but in all reality shouldn't be so hard to implement. In an era when we can send grainy cell-phone vid of Lindsay and Britney's latest panty-free foibles around the world in an hour, we can find the resources to move on these two suggestions in particular. (And there's nothing in the rulebook that these things have to be dry and boring, either.)
• "Industry leaders, policy makers, and citizens’ groups must work toward the creation of various types of “media commons.” These channels, networks or other media spaces must be available to provide opportunities for encounters and exchanges among different and differing groups rather than retreat into gated communities for the like-minded."
• "Citizens’ groups and industry leaders should collaborate with policy makers to define and recognize varying forms and levels of “public good.” Terms must be defined both more precisely and more broadly to address the larger collective national culture as well as local communities."
When the Grady College folks aren't trying to save television from itself, they're busy at this time of year collecting submissions for the annual Peabody derby in six program categories: Entertainment, documentary, news, children's program, public service and education. Deadline for submissions for 2007 programs is Jan. 15, no different than it has been in recent years. But Peabody Awards director Horace Newcomb is understandably concerned that the Writers Guild of America strike will distract TV scribes and their affiliated networks and studios from the usual focus on awards season at this time of year.
"We always get well over 1,000 submissions -- sometimes well over 1,100," says Newcomb. By now they usually have a bit more mail piling up, but the deluge usually hits right after the first of the year, he says.
There's no hard and fast guidelines for submitting in the various categories -- as a one-time honor, the Peabodys don't have to suffer shows claiming to be a comedy one year and drama the next.
And there is no set number of awards that has to be bestowed every year. Either the board members feel it -- by unanimous vote -- or they don't.
In the end "every entry competes with every other entry," Newcomb sez.
Once the submissions deadline passes, Grady College assembles 30 committees of students and faculty to survey the submissions and make other suggestions of worthy programs and recipients. By February-March the recommendations of the local committees are passed on to the 16-member Peabody board, which meets in smaller groups before convening at the college for a few marathon screening sessions during the last week of March. Winners are unveiled the first week of April, with the formal presentation ceremony following in Gotham in mid-June.
The list of Peabody winners since 1941 is impressive, and of course, a primer on the history of radio and TV at its finest, whether on small local outfits or national nets. (After all, without the Peabody spotlight who among us would remember the 1942 public service winner from KOAC-AM in Corvalis, Oregon: "Our Hidden Enemy, Venereal Disease.")
What's more, going back to the earliest days, Peabody administrators had a hunch that this medium might turn out to have great cultural and historic importance. That's why they made a point of establishing an archive at Grady College for not just the winners, but nearly all the submissions that have made their way to Athens during the past 65 years -- some 55,000 titles and counting.
The Peabody org doesn't own the rights to the vast majority of the material, but they are made available for the viewing or listening pleasure for students and visitors to the school.
Sounds like a big slice of broadcasting heaven to me...