Institutional 2019

Institutional Award: FRONTLINE


PBS’s flagship investigative documentary series FRONTLINE was launched in 1983 by executive producer David Fanning, and quickly established itself as the preeminent home for hard-hitting, thoughtful, and consequential investigative journalism on television. Indeed, in 1984, the Peabody Board in awarding FRONTLINE its very first Peabody award noted, “During its deliberations the Peabody Board viewed a number of documentaries submitted by the Frontline management team, seeking one which would, by its very excellence, qualify it for the Peabody medallion and certificate. When the viewing had been concluded not one of the programs submitted stood out. All of the programs submitted stood out. It was then that the Board made the decision to recognize Frontline for its total contribution to the world of exceptional television.”

Since then FRONTLINE has won an additional 20 Peabody awards—a testament to its enduring commitment to serious and fearless investigative journalism. Those awards have honored programs as varied as “Crisis in Central America” (1985), a four-part series examining the history of US involvement in Central America; “Waco: The Inside Story” (1995), a gripping account of the tragic siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas; “Confronting ISIS” (2016), which the Peabody board commended as “riveting public service journalism that brings clarity to a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon;” and “The Facebook Dilemma” (2018), exploring how the world’s largest social media platform’s push for profits allowed for violations of user privacy, electoral interference in US elections, the spread of disinformation, and hate speech worldwide.

In a world where serious long-form investigative broadcast journalism has all but been abandoned, FRONTLINE has stayed the course, bringing us almost 800 films that peel back the curtain on the important issues of the day without fear of consequence.

But FRONTLINE has not rested on its laurels. Under the leadership of Raney Aronson-Rath, who took over as executive producer in 2015, the organization has not only thrived by continuing its robust output of films (with even greater diversity of filmmakers), but expanded its reporting and distribution channels by venturing boldly into the digital era. It has embraced new forms of investigative journalism, developing virtual reality and web- based stories (winning two Peabody-Facebook Futures of Media Awards for digital storytelling), and launching THE FRONTLINE DISPATCH, an investigative podcast series. Recognizing the need to support local journalism, it launched a partnership in 2019 with five regional journalism outlets across the US to support and mentor local investigative journalists.

At a time when trust in the media is challenged, when journalists are casually cast as the “enemy of the people”, and when fact-based journalism is often overshadowed by opinion and ideology masquerading as truth, Peabody honors the consistent, stalwart, and excellent journalism through which FRONTLINE has served and continues to serve the American public.