The inaugural Peabody-Facebook Futures of Media Award, a new initiative for featuring the rich landscape of storytelling possibilities in digital spaces, honored five winners in a luncheon at the Paley Center, and launched a new partnership with the social media giant.
This year’s award recipients represent a variety of approaches to digital storytelling, including a parody sitcom web series challenging anti-Muslim bias, the immersive experience provided by virtual reality technology for understanding the Ebola crisis, an interactive web documentary centered on memory, grieving, and loss, a curated radio/audio-photography retelling of the complex story of Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri and a non-linear video game that combines and subverts classic genres while challenging how video game narratives are told.
The winners for 2015 are as follows:
- Ebola Outbreak (FRONTLINE)
Ebola Outbreak: A Virtual Journey combines documentary with virtual reality technology to create an immersive experience that gives viewers a comprehensive look at the Ebola crisis. Using Google cardboard, viewers are transported to a 360-degree environment where they can move to control their surroundings. The virtual reality technology allows viewers to become eyewitnesses to the actions and testimonies of people doing what they could to control the outbreak. This medium is essential to tell this story effectively; a film alone could not evoke such a sense of urgency for this issue.
Aasif Mandvi’s web series, a sitcom parody, challenges the anti-Muslim bias that is prevalent in American society today. Through Aasif Qu’sosby’s absurd antics, each episode illuminates actual problems that Muslim Americans must regularly deal with, such as being under constant scrutiny for “suspicious activity” or becoming a target for bullies. While the episodes themselves are noteworthy for their hilarity, the innovation of Halal in the Family is its use of a digital space to create a story that seamlessly blends punch lines with advocacy. When the credits roll and the laughs stop after each episode, Halal in the Family‘s digital platform allows viewers to scroll down to learn the true gravity of the satirized issues and enables us to see how we can take action.
A box of notebooks, a couple of audio cassettes and 36 cents – that’s all that remained of 25-year-old David Dornstein, one of the 258 people killed in the infamous 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Inheritance is a riveting web-based documentary that explores the loss of a loved one and what remains once he is gone. David’s brother, Ken Dornstein, examines the surviving personal items, odds and ends gleaned from wreckage and given to him 27 years ago, finding rich memories and traces of a life, a legacy, in seemingly mundane artifacts. The collective aspect of the story is powerfully mirrored in the interactive way it is told, allowing the audience to experience Ken’s vulnerability and grief through his eyes.
In this engrossing video game, players are thrust into the life of a seemingly ordinary high school student who discovers her ability to rewind time and thus change the course of the game’s tragic events. The game smartly combines tropes from classic genres – murder mystery, science fiction, coming-of-age quests – and subverts them with unique, non-linear game-play mechanics, taboo subjects, and gorgeous environments. Through these elements, Life is Strange offers players the ability not only to lose themselves in a rich narrative, but also to discover how seemingly random choices have unimaginable consequences and outcomes.
In the wake of the 2014 slaying of Ferguson, Missouri teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer and the protests that ensued, American news audiences were overwhelmed with a nonstop barrage of coverage and commentary, often to alienating effect. St. Louis Public Radio’s One Year in Ferguson offers clarity in the form of a raw, arresting sequence of images and sound clips that plunge the audience into a curated experience of the year that followed for Ferguson’s citizens. The application’s simplicity belies its powerful design. The stark layout in which the story is unfurled represents the cutting edge of technical and journalistic storytelling methods in public radio.
This initiative embodies shared core interests of the Peabody Awards and Facebook in recognizing stories that matter, educate, and inspire social change. The name’s inclusion of “Futures” refers to the judges who choose the award, student Peabody Fellows at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, and the role young people play in shaping our shared future, as well as the honorees who are using digital technologies to blaze a trail for the future of innovative storytelling.
Jeffrey P. Jones, Director of the Peabody Awards, noted the importance of the partnership. “I couldn’st be more pleased to have Facebook, one of the preeminent technology and media companies in the world, as our partner for these awards,” Jones said. “These award winners represent the cutting edge of how stories can be told in digital spaces. Facebook is at the forefront of shaping how we learn about, share, discuss, and experience stories such as these.”
The Peabody Awards, the oldest and most prestigious award for electronic media, have recognized various forms of digital content since 2003. The Futures of Media Award, however, is a separate and distinct award from the main Peabody Awards.
“The pace of innovation in digital storytelling is inspiring and these winners demonstrate some of the possibilities to leverage new technologies,” said Andy Mitchell, Director of Global News & Media Partnerships, Facebook. “To partner with Peabody on this award and have all the winners shown on FB Live, one of the many new digital products inspiring this innovation, is an honor.”