'Frontline' production earns Bart Richards Award

University Park, Pa. -- A four-part series produced by the PBS public affairs program "Frontline" titled "News War" has earned the 2007 Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism.

The Bart Richards Award, presented annually by the College of Communications at Penn State, recognizes outstanding contributions to print and broadcast journalism through responsible analysis or critical evaluation. The award is intended to recognize constructively critical articles, books and electronic media reports; academic and other research; and reports by media ombudsmen and journalism watchdog groups. 

This year's award honors work produced during the 2007 calendar year. It will be presented Thursday, May 22, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

"News War" examines the challenges facing the mainstream news media, and the media's reaction, through more than 80 interviews with key figures in the media as well as with behind-the-scenes access at important news organizations.

In the opening part of the series, correspondent Lowell Bergman examines the relationship between government and the press and outlines the recent history of American journalism. In addition, the series examines the use of anonymous sources and the consequences of the Valerie Plame leak investigation. A second part of the series focuses on journalists facing jail for refusing to reveal their sources.

The third and fourth parts of the series address business pressures on daily newspapers and television news divisions as well as changing demographics among news consumers, the emergence of the Internet as a news source and a look at international forces that impact journalism and politics in the United States.

A three-person panel of external judges unanimously selected "News War" for the Bart Richards Award, citing everything from specific segments of the series to its overall impact.

"The piece gave good insight to the thinking and mentality of the White House about staying on topic, and how if you go off topic you get your hand slapped," said Bill Roswell, director of digital news and media for KYW News radio in Philadelphia. He's also the national chairman of the Radio TV News Directors Association (RTNDA). "It was just very well put together. As a newsperson myself, I found it fascinating, but it also reached out to a broader audience."

Fellow judges Carole Feldman, assistant bureau chief of the Associated Press in Washington, D.C., and Jerry Ceppos, dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada-Reno, were similarly impressed.

"There's so much public distrust for the media these days that the piece really gave outsiders a good inside look at some of the issues and challenges for the media and how they're being forced to adapt," Feldman said. "I was very impressed with it."

"It was really a riveting inside look for the public at some of the problems and issues of journalism," Ceppos said. "It really made journalism transparent."

Bergman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times who has worked for "Frontline" since 1998 and previously worked for CBS News and "60 Minutes" for nearly a decade and a half, served as the on-air correspondent and a co-producer for "News War." He is also the Reva and David Logan distinguished professor of investigative reporting at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught a seminar dedicated to investigative reporting for more than 15 years.

Members of the series' production team included producers Raney Aronson-Rath, Arun Rath and Stephen Talbot, as well as senior producer Ken Dornstein and executive producer David Fanning.

Raney Aronson-Rath is now senior producer of "Frontline" and has worked on six full-length "Frontline" documentaries and three "Frontline/World" stories based in India and Hong Kong. Her "Frontline/World" story on AIDS among India’s sex workers won an Overseas Press Club Award. Prior to her work with "Frontine" Aronson-Rath worked on a number of award-winning series at ABC News, including "Hopkins 24/7," which won the duPont-Columbia Silver Baton, among other awards.

Arun Rath's last film for "Frontline" was "Rules of Engagement," which examined U.S. soldiers' guidelines for fighting in Iraq in the aftermath of a 2005 roadside bombing when 24 Iraqi civilians were killed. Before joining "Frontline" he served as a senior producer for "On the Media," produced by WNYC Radio in New York City, and as a senior editor of  "Studio 360," a weekly arts show produced by WNYC and Public Radio International.

Talbot has reported, written and produced more than 30 documentaries, including two Peabody Award winners, in a career of more than 25 years in public television. Along with his part of "News War," Talbot's other "Frontline" documentaries include "The Best Campaign Money Can Buy," "Spying on Saddam," "Justice for Sale" with Bill Moyers and critical biographies of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh. With David Davis, Talbot wrote and directed "The Sixties: The Years That Shaped a Generation," a two-hour history special that aired nationally on PBS in 2005, and was based on his earlier film, "1968."

Dornstein has been with "Frontline" since 2000, during which time he has senior produced "Growing Up Online," "A Hidden Life," "News War" and the Emmy Award-winning "Sex Slaves." Dornstein has also been a key member of the "Frontline/World" series since its inception in 2002, and has produced more than a dozen stories for the series. He is currently the senior editor of "Frontline" and the senior producer of  "Frontline/World."

Fanning has been executive producer of "Frontline" since its first season in 1983. In the midst of its 25th season and after more than 500 films, the series has won all of the major awards for broadcast journalism, including 41 Emmys, 24 duPont-Columbia University Awards, 13 Peabody Awards and 11 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards.

Previous winners of the Bart Richards Award include: Byron Calame, public editor of The New York Times, 2006; Sydney Schanberg, a columnist for The Village Voice, 2005; State of the News Media by Project for Excellence in Journalism (Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel), 2004; Lori Robertson for articles in American Journalism Review, 2003; Allan Wolper for "Ethics Corner" in Editor & Publisher, 2002; Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel for “The Elements of Journalism,” 2001; and The Media Unit of “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” 2000.

The Thursday, May 22, award presentation will begin at 6 p.m. with a reception at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  For information about the reception and award presentation, please call (814) 865-8801. 

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Last Updated March 19, 2009