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.”

Courage is Theme among Peabody Winners

Originally published on the Grady College website, May 21, 2012.

Sir Patrick Stewart talks with UGA President Michael Adams at the 71st annual Peabody Awards. Photo/Joe Dennis.

New York City received a taste of Athens, Ga., yesterday as more than 500 journalists, producers and actors gathered at Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria for the 71st annual Peabody Awards.

“This is the signature event for UGA,” said Peabody Awards show executive producer Jody Danneman, a 1988 alum of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and owner of Atlanta Image Arts. “Nothing at the University has the international reach of the Peabody’s.”

Indeed, included among popular 2012 award winners like Jeopardy!, CNN Heroes and Parks and Recreation are international programs like Hong Kong’s TVB Jade Channel and South Africa’s Intersexions.

“There is one criteria for a Peabody Award — excellence,” said Peabody Awards director Dr. Horace Newcomb. “And it has to be a unanimous decision by the judges.”

Peabody Awards director Dr. Horace Newcomb speaks with two-time winner Stephen Colbert. With 15 judges comprised of media executives, renowned journalists and media critics, garnering a unanimous decision on “excellence” is difficult. This year, more than 1,000 entries were whittled down to 38 Peabody Awards. Photo/Joe Dennis.

Two-time Peabody Award winner Sir Patrick Stewart served as master of ceremonies of Monday’s event, announcing the winners in a two-hour ceremony in which acceptance speeches were strictly limited to roughly 30 seconds.

“Each year the list of winners is noticed by everyone in the industry,” Stewart said at the Ceremony. “What strikes me about this year’s winners is the boldness and courage of the programs and their makers.”

Courage was the theme among many award winners, including Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Arab Awakening, Loud Mouth Films and Limited’s “Who Killed Chea Vichea?” and BBC’s “Somalia: Land of Anarchy.”

In accepting a Peabody for CNN’s coverage of the Middle East revolutions, news show host Anderson Cooper paid tribute to journalists around the world. “To all those risking their lives to give a voice to others, thank you,” he said.

Peabody’s reach stretches beyond the seriousness of journalism. This year’s winners included pop culture fares inch as HBO’s Game of Thrones, Showtime’s Homeland and NBC’s Parks and Recreation.

“It’s nice to win a Peabody,” said Parks and Recreation executive producer Michael Schur. “But it’s great to hear my name called out by Capt. Jean Luc Picard.”

Accepting the Peabody for The Colbert Report, recognizing segments on his legal Super Pac, “Americans for a better tomorrow, tomorrow,” Colbert thanked his staff, network and lawyers, and offered hope for the future.

“This is our second Peabody, and growing up I always dreamed of winning three of these,” Colbert said. “We’re almost there.”

To view a full list of winners, visit

Danneman Adds Sizzle to Peabody Awards

Grady alum Jody Danneman (l) goes through a run-of-show with 2012 host Sir Patrick Stewart prior to the Peabody Awards ceremony. Photo/Joe Dennis.

The 71st annual Peabody Awards recognized 38 programs for excellence in electronic media on Monday, May 21, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. More than 500 attendees, including Peabody award recipients Stephen Colbert, Amy Poehler and Alex Trebek, joined host Sir Patrick Stewart in a production that rivals other major media awards ceremonies.

“It’s actually orchestrated a little better,” said Joe Urschel, chair of the Peabody Board. “It has to run on a very tight schedule and is plotted out very precisely.”

Grady alumnus Jody Danneman (ABJ ‘88) is the master behind the plot. Through his production company, Atlanta Image Arts, Danneman has been the executive producer of the Peabody Awards since 1999.

Peabody Awards director Horace Newcomb (l) and Grady alumnus Jody Danneman. Photo/Joe Dennis.

Danneman’s relationship with the Peabody’s began in the late 1980s with late Grady professors and Peabody directors Dr. Worth McDougald and Barry Sherman. “I had classes with them and they were mentors,” Danneman said. “As a TV geek, I was always fascinated by award shows, so I was always hanging around the Peabody’s.”

After graduating in 1988, Danneman kept in touch with Sherman throughout his professional career, and his chance to do something professionally with the Peabody Awards came in 1993 and again in 1996 when he worked as a staff producer for Atlanta Video Production Center. After launching Atlanta Image Arts in 1997, Danneman took over as executive producer of the Peabody Awards in 1999, and has been producing the ceremony ever since.

“This is a tent-pole project (for Atlanta Image Arts),” Danneman said. “It is the most prestigious, the most recognized and is the production that we have the most passion about.”

Although the actual ceremony takes just two hours, Danneman’s crew works on the Peabody’s for much of the year. The crew arrives in New York City on Thursday and works 14-hour days leading up to the Ceremony, but the work begins much earlier in Atlanta. “This is in production for us 10 months out of the year,” Danneman said. “And it’s ‘all hands on deck.’ Everyone in the company is involved.”

His company begins consultation with Peabody Awards director Dr. Horace Newcomb in September for conceptual design and creative direction, and wraps up with editing the actual Peabody Awards production in June.

“From my point of view, Jody brings peace of mind,” Newcomb said. “I rely on Jody and his staff to make sure the day goes exactly the way it’s supposed to.”

Danneman offers some last-minute instructions to an Atlanta Image Arts co-worker.

“Our goal is to have an event that leaders in the industry will see that we do the same level of work that they do,” he said. “And we pull it off, and it’s largely because of Jody and his company.”

Danneman likes to staff his company with fellow Grady alumni, including associate producer Shannon Sullivan ‘10, who began working with Danneman as an intern.

“Jody is an excellent mentor,” Sullivan said. “He takes a lot of people under his wing and has definitely given me the tools I need to get to where I want to be.”

Danneman said he likes to hire Grady alums because he knows the quality of the education they received, and because he feels a duty to help those who are following in his footsteps.

Celebrity sightings are the norm at the ceremony. Pictured (l-r) are Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler, Portlandia’s Fred Armisen and Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, all Peabody winners. Photo/Joe Dennis.

“When I was looking for an internship, a Grady alum helped me out. I was very fortunate,” he said. “So I try to do the same thing.”

Danneman’s involvement with his alma mater goes far beyond the Peabody Awards and Atlanta Image Arts. Danneman also produces the College’s annual fellowship gala, serves as the chair of the Alumni Board and mentors current students. For his efforts, in 2009 Danneman was recognized with the Dean’s Medal for service to the Grady College.

“Jody is our artistic impresario,” Dean Cully Clark said. “He makes the Peabody’s sizzle and pop, and his commitment to the College is invaluable. He is the best.”