The Best Stories of 2018
Margaret Blanchard - 4/25/2019
The Peabody Awards Board of Jurors have selected Rita Moreno as the recipient of the Peabody Career Achievement Award, presented by Mercedes-Benz. The honor is reserved for individuals whose work and commitment to electronic media has left an indelible mark on the field.
The Peabody Board of Jurors unanimously chose to highlight ProPublica for the first-ever Peabody Catalyst Award for a story that brought immediate change to a controversial government practice of family separation at the border. The independent, nonprofit newsroom made headlines in June 2018 for publishing nearly 8 minutes of audio of 10 sobbing Central American children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. The raw wailing and breathless sobs that went unheeded—and mocked—by Border Patrol officers demanded immediate attention and got it. Within 48-hours of publication, the Trump administration retreated, halting its “zero tolerance” immigration policy practice of family separation.
The Peabody Awards Board of Jurors named Kartemquin Films winner of an Institutional Award for its commitment to unflinching documentary filmmaking and telling an American history rooted in social justice and the stories of the marginalized. Founded in 1966 in Chicago as a nonprofit collective, Kartemquin has served as a home for filmmakers to develop their craft and produce films that promote dialogue and democracy.
The Peabody Board of Jurors named “Sesame Street” winner of an Institutional Award for 50 years of educating and entertaining children in the U.S. and around the world. Conceived by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, “Sesame Street” premiered in 1969 with wide-eyed optimism and determination to make a difference. Structured on the belief that a children’s TV show could help close an achievement gap in preparation for school, while also teaching about the values of diversity, mutual respect, and empathy, it remains one of the 1960s greatest offerings.
A view into the myriad challenges parents face when raising children with mental health issues, the film shines a light on the link between mental illness and recent mass school shootings.
A masterful example of using open source technology and meticulous reporting, BBC Africa Eye collaborated with Amnesty International, the Bellingcat network, and independent analysts on Twitter to source a viral video of two women and their two young children being murdered by men in military fatigues. Despite government claims that the video was “fake news,” painstaking analysis showed the men to be Cameroonian army soldiers, who were eventually arrested and held accountable for the atrocity.
Reporters Susannah Frame and Taylor Mirfendereski reveal the stunning failures of Washington public schools to provide support and services for students with disabilities. The only state with a fixed cap on special education funding, Washington faces an education crisis in special education classroom inclusion and graduation rates. The result is impressive journalism that led the Washington state legislature to prioritize education for all children.
“Saturday Night Live” alum Bill Hader has built a dark comedy off the unlikely premise of a hitman who really wants to be an actor and earnestly pursues his dream under the guidance of his has-been acting teacher played by Henry Winkler. Even as one of the quirkiest and entertaining series on TV, “Barry” asks serious questions about emotional connection, the nature of violence, and the cost of doing whatever it takes to keep a secret.
A searing account of how Larry Nassar got away with abusing hundreds of women and girls for more than two decades, this podcast is also an amazing exploration of the cultures that enabled this abuse. Reporters Kate Wells and Lindsey Smith peel away the successive layers of the case, starting with Nassar’s veneer of being a “good guy” to the many institutions that failed the survivors. Using numerous interviews and primary source materials, they carefully piece together the survivors’ collective story while zeroing in on key issues the story brings to light. The result is a laudable balance between revealing the victimization perpetrated by Nassar with a determination to give the survivors agency, strength, and a right to tell their stories.
Journalist Hank Klibanoff and his Emory University students investigate the death of Isaiah Nixon, a black man gunned down outside his South Georgia home in 1948 for exercising his right to vote. With intensive research of FBI documents, microfilm of archival newspapers, medical records, NAACP reports, and primary evidence held in private collections, the podcast has the appeal of the “true crime” genre but constantly strives for deeper historical understanding. The largely forgotten incident gains new immediacy when read alongside Georgia’s more recent struggles over voter suppression, helping us understand how the past touches the present.
In coordination with The Guardian and The New York Times, Channel 4’s exposé shows the vulnerability of personal data to harvesting and misuse. A political consulting firm that mined millions of Facebook users’ profiles for data, Cambridge Analytica’s clients included Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Brexit. Leveraging information from a whistleblower and a secret recording of CEO Alexander Nix admitting the firm used espionage and entrapment to destroy political opponents, the impact of the reporting was immediate. Facebook lost more than $100 billion in share price and Cambridge Analytica closed operations soon thereafter.
When the tanks rolled out of towns and cities liberated from ISIS control, Rukmini Callimachi moved in, searching for diaries, receipts, computer files, anything that would help her answer the key question of this gripping podcast: why did people join ISIS? Callimachi and audio producer Andy Mills present their answers in absorbing style, wedding storytelling, reports from Iraq, and interviews with a wide range of subjects—from Abu Huzayfah to a Yazidi girl tortured by ISIS troops—to produce a wonderful example of what longform audio reporting can and should sound like.
Comedian Hannah Gadsby makes a major statement about the social costs of laughing at someone, and about what it means to be the brunt of a joke. She brilliantly finds the tragedy in comedy, in the process breaking apart and reconstructing the standup comedy special format. Throughout, she delivers the thunderous message of the destructive power of heteronormativity, toxic masculinity and male sexual violence, and how easily society tolerates each.
An exhilarating portrait of activist and community organizer Dolores Huerta that serves as a timely reminder of the power of collective action in service of social justice.
Filmmaker Erika Cohn chronicles the day-to-day challenges of the Middle East’s first female Sharia law judge, Kholoud Faqih, offering a rare glimpse into an oft-misunderstood culture and faith through the eyes of a strong Muslim woman, and demystifying fallacies around both subjects.
Although some might assume redlining—the practice of discouraging non-white people from living in certain neighborhoods by manipulating rentals and homebuying—a thing of the past, this report found people of color are still far more likely than whites to see mortgage applications denied in 61 metro areas across the country. The review of 31 million records also unearthed redlining in ethnically and racially diverse areas. The series prompted investigations in several states, inspired the establishment of a $100 million affordable housing fund in Philadelphia, and forced banks to open branches in underserved areas.
The tense cat-and-mouse spy thriller—serving as a vehicle for amazing performances by Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer—is also a masterful, playful recalibration of the genre, creating room not just for two women at the helm, but also for women’s interests and circumstances in almost every inch of the plot. Like its psychopathic assassin, Villanelle, it is equal parts terrifying, hilarious, slick, playful, and surprisingly soulful.
A tribute to Lorraine Hansberry’s life and career as an essayist, journalist and playwright, and fearless advocate for social justice, the film mines her rich archive of writing, diaries, letters, and personal effects, resulting in an intimate and powerful portrait of an innovative artist and radical activist.
Through a patient, observational lens and devastating interviews, filmmaker Bing Liu lays bare the pain and eventual hope he and his skateboarding friends endure despite the challenges they face in this heartfelt presentation of the transition from boyhood to manhood.
Exploring the contested history surrounding monuments in the South and the Southwest, this nuanced report adds depth to current debates about how the public should mark troubling chapters of our national history. The investigative teams explore how “Lost Cause ideology” often substitutes for historical accuracy by sending black and white reporters, individually, into Beauvoir, a Mississippi site dedicated to Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Listeners hear what “truths” each get told. The series also addresses how monuments to racist pasts is a national, rather than regional problem, as Southwestern states memorialize moments of settlement and colonization.
Hasan Minhaj has created the perfect model for engaging his fellow millennials in contemporary politics and public life. With his trademark high-octane energy, the first Indian-American and Muslim late-night host brings a welcome voice to political entertainment television. He’s also bold and fearless, taking on the ruthless Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman just weeks after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Set in 1980s New York, “Pose” follows the ongoing rivalry between the established House of Abundance and the upstart House of Evangelista in an honest telling of trans and gay people of color at a critical time in history. Presided over by Billy Porter’s Pray Tell, the competition and its delicious melodrama serves as backdrop for the burgeoning LGBTQ community and family, doing important representational work and storytelling both on and off the ballroom floor.
Writer/director Tiffany Hsiung follows the personal journeys of three surviving “comfort women,” forced into institutionalized sexual slavery during World War II, as they seize this last chance to set future generations on a course for reconciliation, healing, and justice.
Breaking the mold of what we think television is and can be, “Random Acts of Flyness” ponders what it means to be young and black in America and produces a layered, complex experience of wonder, joy, and insight. The series brilliantly assembles black sonic, visual, and literary worlds into a 21st century cut ‘n’ mix of black aesthetic of absurdity, critique, affirmation, and fun. Most importantly, it does so without a preoccupation with white gaze or desire, centering blackness as a complex, productive historical fact and contemporary lived experience rather than a phobic-obsessed reaction to whiteness.
In response to the U.S. government’s decision to separate migrant children from their parents in processing centers, FRONTLINE shows characteristic attention to broader contexts undergirding the policy and its enactment. “Separated: Children at the Border” explores the roots of the policy in El Paso, Texas, 12 months prior to it making headlines, and draws a line from Obama-era practice and infrastructure to current policy. From Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border to Washington, the report and its makers commendably show as much care and attention to the humans and traumas of the story as to its politics and rhetoric.
A precise demonstration of how rape culture works systemically, and the traumatic and horrible costs it has on women’s lives. Through tough original reporting, the series digs deep into Michigan State’s institutional knowledge of Larry Nassar’s abuse of hundreds of gymnasts and athletes dating back almost two decades. For the first time on camera, the programs provide testimony by a former sexual assault counselor who recounts the rape culture machinery at work—insulated internal handling of cases, lack of transparency, and discouraging victims from seeking external resources. The reporting includes powerful testimony by many abuse survivors, culminating in a roundtable discussion with five former athletes, and more than 140 “sister survivors” walking onstage to accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2018 ESPYS.
On its surface, Rebecca Sugar’s animated series develops a complex mythology centering around the Crystal Gems—“polymorphic sentient rocks” who protect young Steven and his human friends from cosmic threats. But in this earnest fantasy epic and superhero saga, empathy is perhaps the most important superpower, something our real-world human society needs now more than ever.
If a great drama series is judged—at least, in part—by the way its story ends, then “The Americans” can easily be counted among the best TV shows in history. Over six seasons, the 1980s-set thriller centered on two Soviet spies deeply undercover as middle-class American parents in a Virginia suburb. In 2018, creators brought the acclaimed story to a masterful conclusion, forcing spies Elizabeth and Philip Jennings to make impossible choices as their carefully constructed lives imploded on multiple fronts.
Teenage angst collides with dark British humor in this series about a self-identified psychopath and a wily high school rebel who seek adventure outside their boring suburban town. Based on a graphic novel by Charles Forsman, the British-American co-production features deeply funny and moving performances by Jessica Barden and Alex Lawther that capture the confusion of adolescence with intelligence and depth. A wonderfully unorthodox coming-of-age story for 21st century realists and hopeless romantics alike.
This in-depth investigation into the Silicon Valley giant reveals a corporation that willfully ignored warnings and shirked responsibility as it reveled in global success, exploiting user data and sowing social and political unrest in the process.
A Peabody nominee last year, Michael Schur’s fantasy-comedy about the afterlife keeps refusing to follow the formulas of broadcast network sitcoms, constantly renegotiating its format as our favorite contemporary morality play. The energies of Kristin Bell, Ted Danson, Jameela Jamil, and D’Arcy Carden, in particular, keep the show moving with virtuosity in every unexpected laboratory from the Good Place to the Bad Place, the afterlife to the Medium Place, and of course, to Earth.
A momentous cultural achievement that looks at the important contribution of jazz music and musicians to Cold War diplomacy, American race relations, emerging black identities, and newly independent third world nations around the world. The film is also an inspiring tribute to jazz masters Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Dave Brubeck.
Correspondents Jeffrey Brown, Amna Nawaz and Paul Solman take an in-depth look at how our dependence on plastic is affecting ecosystems worldwide. The series effectively describes how our appetite for durability and convenience has created a pervasive and overwhelming problem—one that has become more acute since China has adopted much stricter requirements for plastic imports. In an exploration of the recycling industry and its limits, viewers are pushed to confront the difficult truth that recycling—a virtuous habit for many Americans and the basis for one of our long-time leading exports—will not solve a growing crisis.
In a prime example of the ripple effect of excellent local investigate reporting, reporter Randy Travis delves into the reliability of drug-testing kits, known as “$2 Tests,” used by police around the country as a quick, cheap way to analyze suspicious substances in the field. Despite warnings of the tests giving false positives, dashcam videos show how police regularly relied on them to arrest individuals for everyday items such as headache powder, vitamins, or cleaning supplies. The coverage led police departments to drop the tests and compelled professional associations to educate law enforcement, prosecutors, and public defenders on the fallibility of the tests.
- Thursday, March 28: Career Achievement Award press release.
- Tuesday, April 9: Nominees press release.
- Tuesday, April 16: Documentary winners press release.
- Thursday, April 18: Entertainment & Children’s winners press release.
- Tuesday, April 23: News, Radio, Podcast & Public Service winners press release.