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What is a Peabody Award?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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Since 1941, those who excel in radio and television broadcasting in America have been honored with the George Foster Peabody award. As the oldest awards ceremony directed toward electronic media, the Peabody awards have a rich history of successful recipients. The awards are handed out each year in June, and winning a Peabody award is considered a great honor.

The Peabody award’s history can be traced back to 1938, when the United States National Association of Broadcasters began plans to hand out awards for excellence. Collaborating with the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, the awards system modeled itself after the international Pulitzer awards. George Foster Peabody, for whom the award is named, was a major donor to both the university and the award. His daughter, Marjorie Waite, served on advisory board for the awards and designed the bronze medal that tops the physical award.

The first awards ceremony was held in 1941, for works completed the previous years. Winners included CBS Radio for Public Service by a Network, Elmer Davis of CBS Radio, for Reporting of the News, and KSTP Radio in St. Paul, Minnesota for the program America Calling. In 1948, the Peabody Awards recognized the growing trend in media and began adding awards for television.

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Nomination for a Peabody Award can be done by any person or organization on the behalf of a program, person, or media production. The Peabody Board reviews all suggestions and may even choose to act on its own accord, considering programs and people that have not already been nominated. Most electronic media forms released for public consumption are allowable, with the main exception being major motion pictures in wide release. There is no limit to the amount of Peabody awards that can be given out in a single year, but the number has never exceeded 36.

With a history of honoring non-mainstream work, the Peabody awards are often considered the biggest honor available to media creators and participants. General categories of honor include children’s programming, documentary film, broadcast journalism, and television programming. In keeping with original tradition, awards are given to the broadcasting station rather than to the individual program being recognized, although major participants in the program may accept the award.

The Peabody Award is a distinctive honor, and one that avoids commercialization for the most part. Unlike the Oscars or the Emmys, the Peabody Awards are not flashy or filled with A-list celebrities. They are firm in encouraging quality programming, regardless of source or box office returns. Many in media consider the Peabody Board as a driving force in the insistence on old-fashioned journalism, crediting those who present stories that are important rather than big-money makers.

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