My 3 Sons: The Chocolate Thief

Did you pay for that?
Did you pay for that?

Originally published on Athens Patch on July 21, 2013.

Grocery shopping with little children can be challenging.

Shopping with each child individually isn’t bad, but when together they form a little army destined to take down daddy. There’s the constant begging for whatever food product that features Spongebob on its packaging (why couldn’t they do that with vegetables?), the nagging over how long the shopping trip is taking (it would be much shorter if they stopped nagging!), the desire to turn every item into a toy (“look dad, I can juggle apples!”), and the reminders that “mom wouldn’t buy that” when I put ice cream or barbecue potato chips in the cart. And of course, there’s the constant fighting between them, whether it’s over pushing the cart, deciding what flavor of juice to buy or who gets to unload the cart at the register. I can’t help but thinkevery other shopper and store employee is judging me as a parent.

On a recent shopping trip I was in the bakery aisle browsing some cake mixes. When I finally settled on a traditional yellow mix with chocolate frosting and went to put the items in the cart, baby Matthew’s mouth and hands were covered in chocolate, and chocolate chips were scattered all over the cart and on the floor. Apparently I parked too close to the shelves, because Matt innocently grabbed a bag of chocolate chips, somehow opened it up (not sure how he did that, because to this day he cannot even put on his shoe), and starting cramming morsels into his mouth.

I was mortified. “No Matthew!” I said, taking the bag away from him.

“I like chalk-lit,” he replied, showing me his chocolate-covered hands.

Surely the police would be called, baby Matthew would have a criminal record, I would be reported to DFACS and we would be banned from our favorite grocery store. Instead, it was quite the contrary. I told a store employee about the mess and through the melted chocolate around his mouth Matthew flashed one of his million-dollar grins (or in this case $2.79 — the price of the bag of morsels), and she laughed and said she’d take care of it. At the checkout with the torn bag, I explained the situation to the cashier, cued Matthew who gave his token smile. She took the bag, tossed it and told us not to worry.

I was obviously thankful, but Matthew was even more verbose in his gratitude, blurbing “tank you” to the cashier.

Delighted I escaped certain imprisonment, I quickly pushed that cart out of the store and  loaded the car. I went to pick up Matthew from the cart and noticed him something scrunched up in his hand.

“Candy daddy!” he said holding up a pack of Skittles he grabbed from the checkout counter.

Maybe we won’t be going back to that grocery store.

New Peabody Director Jones: Popular programming can foster political discussion

New Peabody Director Dr. Jeffrey Jones.

Originally published on on July 16, 2013.

ATHENS — While traditional forms of journalism continue to be shuttered by economic pressures and partisan slants, Dr. Jeffrey Jones sees a way of bringing political discussion to the kitchen table – entertainment media.

“Citizens are less interested in traditional storytelling about politics such as news,” he said. “They now often engage in popular forms that are more pleasurable, interesting and exciting.”

Jones cited satirical programming such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and popular dramas such as Homeland andThe Wire that have fostered discussions of politics and society, in more depth than traditional news ever could. In addition to promoting political discussion, those shows have another element in common – they all have won Peabody Awards.

On July 1, Jones became the Lambdin Kay Chair and the fifth director of the Peabody Awards, internationally recognized as one of the most prestigious awards in electronic media. An oft-published media scholar for the past two decades, Jones said the American trend of fusing entertainment and politics took off in the 1990s.

“Traditionally as a society we’ve looked at news and documentary to be our central source for political information,” he said. “But what happened in the 1990s was a new array of actors came onto the scene – Michael Moore, Dennis Miller, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Ali G., Chris Rock – who were all doing political material. It became a moment where I thought we should look at the ways in which entertainment programming became a more popular venue for engaging and understanding politics.”

The new cultural phenomena became the heart of Jones’ scholarly work, which includes five published books and dozens of published academic studies. After a decade of teaching media courses and, most recently, serving as director of the Institute of Humanities at Old Dominion University, what drew Jones to the Peabody Awards is the positive recognition the award gives to these new forms of political communication.

“As media scholars, our job is to offer a critical view of how media affects society,” he said. “Often that is seen and done negatively, with the conclusion that media fails to support democracy. The Peabodys offer the same kind of critical assessment, but in a positive way. These are the best media practices in journalism, documentary and entertainment, and we are better citizens by attending to these stories.”

As director, Jones said one of his goals is to utilize and publicize the Peabody Collection, an archive of more than 50,000 titles consisting of all the entries to the Peabody Awards since its inception in 1941. Housed in the University of Georgia’s Special Collections Library, it is the third largest repository of radio and television programming in the United States, outranked only by the Library of Congress and the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

“We need to find ways to exploit this collection,” Jones said, citing the importance of preserving the older materials, making popular entries digitally available and using the works in scholarly symposia and workshops. “We sit on a treasure trove and it’s my job to raise the money to preserve it and to share it more widely.”

Another top goal of Jones is to further promote the Peabody Awards and what it represents. “The Peabody Awards have always highlighted quality storytelling in entertainment, news and documentary – the best in media practices and the best in American narratives,” he said. “My job as Peabody director is to help the Peabody become more nationally recognized as doing that.”

In addition to those two goals, Jones said he would like to maintain, and perhaps expand the role of students in the Peabody Awards, from assisting in the office, serving on pre-screening judging committees and helping at the annual New York ceremony.

“Students are vital to how this program is run,” he said. “This is a unique experience that students cannot get anywhere else in the country, and thus, a wonderful contribution to the education Georgia students get at Grady.”

‘Island of Excellence’ praised at Peabody Ceremony

Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts accepts the Peabody Award for her coverage of her personal struggle with a bone marrow transplant.

Originally published on on May 20, 2013.

NEW YORK — Achieving excellence and overcoming mediocrity was the theme of the 2013 Peabody Awards, held May 20 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

“Your work is the measure and the model of what should be achieved,” said Dr. Horace Newcomb, Lambdin Kay Chair of the Peabody Awards, addressing the 39 award recipients. “Your work rises as islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity.”

Newcomb, overseeing his final Peabody Awards before he retires, used his speech to urge the electronic media industry to use the medium to produce quality work. Expressing concern over the quality of news and entertainment – attributed in part to the growing number of entertainment and news outlets – Newcomb offered particularly harsh words in his farewell speech.

“You now work in a spreading sea of mediocrity,” he said. “All this has made so much of entertainment soft.”

In particular, Newcomb noted the wide array of reality shows on TV. “Find me some weird people, make something happen and call it reality,” he said. “Four or five days of people screaming at each other and we’ll call them celebrities.”

Newcomb also criticized news organizations that focus on soft news. “We have a 40-second hole at the end, let’s do a puppy story,” he said to laughs among the more than 850 journalists, entertainers and media enthusiasts in attendance. “I can tell you, we know the puppy story — every version of the puppy story.”

“We don’t need the puppy story,” Newcomb said. “We need information and analysis. We need comedy that moves us deeply and opens us to new possibilities, delights us with our own humanity in all its glory and amuses us with our failures. We need documentaries that push the scene with new eyes, not fakery that pretends to be reality.”

Newcomb’s words set the tone for the ceremony, where recipients addressed the importance of sound journalism and quality entertainment.

To view photos of the 2013 Peabody Awards Ceremony, click here.

Newcomb ends illustrious career

Originally published at on May 19, 2013.

NEW YORK — After more than four decades as a renowned media critic, author, researcher and distinguished professor, Dr. Horace Newcomb entered retirement after hosting his final Peabody Awards Ceremony today at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

Dr. Horace Newcomb on stage at the Peabody Awards.

Instilled with a passion for media since he was a child, retiring as the Lamdin Kay Chair for the world’s oldest award for electronic media is a fitting end to a distinguished career for Newcomb.

“I grew up with radio and television,” he said. “There were parts of it that changed my experiences and opened new doors for me, and I think it can for other people too.”

Newcomb views media as much more than an entertainment or an information vehicle. “Media is at the center of our society and culture,” he said. “This is the one area where people from different backgrounds begin to share things. This is the place where we tell our stories of who we are and what is important to us.”

This historical and sociological view of media is what led Newcomb to become a prominent media researcher, becoming a human encyclopedia of television. As curator for the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago from 1994-96, he edited the four-volume, 2,600-page Encyclopedia of Television, which contains entries on major people, programs and topics related to television in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The Encyclopedia of Television is the definitive library reference work of first record for the study of television.

“Horace is known in our field as the ‘Father of Television studies,’” said Dr. Ann Hollifield, head of the department of telecommunications at Grady. “He is recognized around the world for his scholarship on media, and particularly, television.”

In addition to the Encyclopedia of Television, Newcomb has authored several other books and scholarly articles on media, particularly focusing on television criticism and history. He has also given lectures in several countries focusing on cultural exchange and international media industries. Newcomb served as longtime television critic for The Baltimore Sun and has been published in multiple mainstream and trade publications.

Even productions developed to entertain audiences can help shape culture Newcomb said, citing the media’s role in the Civil Rights Movement and most recently, the LGBT movement.

“We’re seeing a lot more acceptance of (gay) people today, and I think in large part, television helped that process,” Newcomb said, adding that references of controversial issues in shows force viewers to confront the issue. “Not everyone is going to agree with the way a particular issue is presented, but they have to at least consider it.”

“That’s what I mean when I call television a cultural forum – it’s a place where people have to confront ideas whether they agree or disagree. They have to somewhat engage.”


Although Newcomb is well known as Peabody director and media researcher, teaching has been a part of his career for 45 years. After starting his academic career as an English professor at Iowa’s Cornell College in 1968, Newcomb has taught at six different institutions in English, American studies, sociology and finally mass communication. At a Grady College retirement party for Newcomb and fellow telecommunications professor Stephen Smith, Newcomb joked that Smith is “a good teacher,” while he wasa good teacher – many years ago.

“Horace is the type of mentor every student hopes to find,” said Evan Kropp, a current doctoral assistant for the Peabody Awards. “His door is always open and he is enthusiastically willing to share both his vast knowledge and methods for studying television and the media. The honest, direct and timely feedback he provides is indicative of his desire to see his students learn and perform to their best.”

Former student Kristen Heflin, who earned her Ph.D from Grady in 2010 with Newcomb as a member of her committee, said Newcomb is the model of a good teacher.

“His research laid the foundation for a new field of study, but he encourages his students to carve their own path,” she said. “He challenges me to think harder than I ever thought possible, while reminding me how important it is to actually do something. Horace Newcomb is exactly the kind of teacher I hope to be.”

Another former student, Matt Corn, said Newcomb is an authentic teacher who has that rare ability to connect academics with professionals.

“He garners respect for academics, critics and industry executives alike,” Corn said. “He demonstrates the values of sincerity over cynicism and authenticity over imitation. I count myself fortunate to have a mentor like Horace Newcomb.”

Hollifield said Grady students – especially those who have had the opportunity to work with Newcomb – benefitted tremendously from his knowledge.

“During his years here, he has been an outstanding mentor to both graduate and undergraduate students in our department,” she said. “He will be missed.”

Peabody Award Director

If media is at the center of society, then it’s critical to properly acknowledge the field. While scholars and historians collect its history and gauge its influence, since 1941 the Peabody Awards have been recognizing its excellence.

“The Peabody is at the center of the center,” Newcomb said. “If electronic media still constitutes the collective place where our society and culture can gather and see the stories that tell us about ourselves, somebody should be asking, ‘what are the best of these?’”

Newcomb took over as Peabody chair in 2001 after more than 20 years of teaching at the University of Texas. While at Texas, Newcomb served on the Peabody Board from 1989 to 1995. Although firmly rooted in Austin, Newcomb said his respect and admiration for the Peabody Awards lead him to Athens.

“The Peabody Award is such a special part of the media and public life,” he said. “The Peabody Awards offer an opportunity to speak back to the media industry – to tell them what we think is ‘excellent.’”

Newcomb has been the perfect person to lead the Peabody Board (a group of media scholars, professionals and critics) during judging proceedings, said Joe Urschel, former executive director of the Newseum and chair of the Peabody Board.

“He has an incredible leadership style,” Urschel said. “We have a roomful of people with very strong opinions, and oftentimes are verbally aggressive and we’re going nowhere. Horace will clear his throat, offer the right terse statement, and get us on the right path.”

Although too modest to admit his successes, Newcomb ushered in a critical era of change at the Peabody Awards, both in the program’s physical and virtual presence. Located on the first floor of the journalism building in a small office space, Newcomb began lobbying for new space upon his arrival.

“The space there simply did not reflect the honor and dignity of the award,” Newcomb said, adding that the previous space also presented a challenge as thousands of Peabody entries – then mostly on half-inch videotape – along with monitors, computers and file cabinets would be transported to and from the Georgia Center annually for judging. “In most years something would fall of the truck and get broken.”

With the support of then-Dean John Soloski, the Peabody Awards were moved in 2004 to a renovated, modernized suite, taking up much of the fourth floor of the journalism building. The present location offers the prestigious program a prestigious space.

While working to raise the prominence of Peabody on the UGA campus, Newcomb also extended the reach of the Peabody Awards internationally. Jody Danneman, executive producer of the Awards show, said Newcomb’s efforts have increased the reputation of the awards around the world, evidenced by awards being won by organizations in countries like China, Japan and the Philippines.

“He has steadily guided the Peabody Awards to great prominence, in Athens on campus and throughout the entire world,” Danneman said.

Also under his tenure, the Peabody Awards began recognizing new forms of electronic media, specifically items produced for the web. As a media scholar, Newcomb said he has been fascinated to watch the evolution of this new media.

“Some of the best journalistic work in electronic media is not on one of the old networks, it’s not on CNN, it’s not on Fox – it’s on the web,” Newcomb said, citing 2013 Peabody winner web-specific multimedia piece Snow Fall, produced by John Branch for The New York Times website.

“Horace set the bar for all future directors of Peabody Awards,” said Dr. E. Culpepper Clark, dean of the Grady College. “Arriving here with one of the most distinguished research programs in television studies anywhere, he married scholarship with awards and recognition in a way that had never been done before. We’re all the better for it.”

Convocation: Pearson urges graduates to stick to journalistic principles

Legendary Atlanta broadcaster and current Grady graduate Monica Kaufman Pearson gave the keynote address.

Originally published on on May 9, 2013.

ATHENS — More than 500 Grady students were celebrated today at the college’s annual Spring Convocation Ceremony.

Keynote speaker and legendary Atlanta TV news broadcaster Monica Kaufman Pearson urged students to remain firm to the journalistic principles they’ve been taught as they begin their professional careers.

“While so much has changed in our field, our purpose has not,” she said, citing the importance of using critical thinking as they do their work.

Pearson, who broke barriers when she became the first minority and female broadcast news anchor in Atlanta when she debuted on WSB-TV in 1975, has been pursuing her master’s degree at Grady since retiring in July 2012. In her address, she stressed the importance of education and also serving others.

“If you want the world to be a better place, you’ve got to get involved,” she said.

Graduate Paige Pulaski echoed Pearson’s advice in her speech as senior orator — an honor given to the graduate with the highest grade point average. Pulaski, who has a 3.9 GPA, said the class of 2013 will accomplish big things.

“We’re stepping into a world of possibilities,” she said. “We are the ones who will provide new solutions to old problems.”

Dean Cully Clark, hosting his final convocation before retiring, announced that this current graduating class of 511 is the largest group of Grady graduates in history. Citing a list of multiple accomplishments, Clark noted how Grady students have been featured as University of Georgia “Amazing Students” more this year than any other college.

“It’s not surprising, because quite simply our students are amazing,” he said.

Grady Alumni Board Chair Jody Danneman (ABJ ’88) welcomed the graduates into the Grady Society, and also called special attention to three retirements among Grady faculty: broadcast senior lecturer Steve Smith, Peabody Awards director Horace Newcomb and Clark.

“This college is doing incredibly well, and that is because of the work of the faculty,” Danneman said, adding that under Clark’s tenure, the college has raised significant funds, launched WUGA-TV and reconnected the college with its history.

Clark was greeted with a standing ovation from the thousands in the crowd as he closed out the ceremony. “We have done our job,” he said. “It’s their turn.”