Athens, Ga. – Television is in the throes of “transition and confusion,” according to a report just released by the Peabody Awards in the wake of its inaugural University of Georgia Peabody/Loyless Seminar which assessed the state of TV.
The report encapsulates the observations, analysis and suggestions of a group of distinguished communications scholars and television critics gathered by Peabody Awards director Horace Newcomb in October at UGA’s Peabody Center for Media and Society.
The report, available in full at www.peabody.uga.edu under “Events & News,” describes a radically realigned video environment in which narrowcast niche channels and the World Wide Web have splintered once-massive audiences into sharply defined taste publics whose members define themselves by special interests, leisure preferences, political affiliation or other specific characteristics, and who need never experience content, styles, values or commitments that counter or contradict their own.
Conceding the reality that television will rarely again provide audiences with shared experiences that give them a sense of national community, the Peabody/Loyless report goes on to outline how fragmentation is affecting how and what we get in the way of news, information and entertainment. It also recommends steps that could be taken to bring more common ground – and common good – back to the medium.
Additional points and recommendations found in the report include:
- Television news organizations, their credibility weakened by cost-cutting, political intimidation and the seductions of celebrity fluff and sensationalism, must look to their critical role in democratic society as well as to their bottom lines. It is not funny that news satirists such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do more to unmask propaganda, spin and corporate interests than real-life journalists.
- Not only does “quality television” still exist, but the possibilities in both fiction and documentaries have been expanded and enriched by the growth of niche channels. The Internet not only broadens selection – choice fragments as well as whole programs – but makes it possible for anyone to create and distribute original content. The easily overlooked downside is that access to all this quality and participation is increasingly dictated by a financial caste system. Cable and computers do not come cheap. And the impending conversion to digital signals may mean that even worthy series such as PBS’s Sesame Street will be beyond the resources of people who need them most.
- As a new media environment evolves, those who control the media industries, those who make the policies that regulate and govern them, and those exuberant creators of new modes and models of content and delivery must remember the link between communication and community. The achievements of the old systems must not be abandoned, nor its errors repeated or compounded.
- Artists and audiences – of all colors, genders and orientations – must participate in the new television culture in ways that enrich that culture and raise issues of public importance. To achieve this aim, industry leaders and practitioners must increase efforts to diversify personnel at all levels and in all roles in the media industries and work to establish forms of “media commons” where multiple and conflicting points of view might stand side by side for user review and consideration.
The Peabody/Loyless Seminar and the resulting “State of Television” report will become annual projects for UGA’s Peabody Center for Media and Society. The seminar is made possible by the Donald Loyless Fund, instituted by Augustus Shaw Loyless, in honor of his father. The Loyless Fund established a permanent relationship with the George Foster Peabody Awards in 2005 through the generosity of Helen Loyless.
This year’s seminar panelists included journalistic TV critics Melanie McFarland of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times; and David Bianculli of the New York Daily News and National Public Radio’s cultural series Fresh Air. The scholars who took part were Lynn Spigel, chair of the radio/television/film department at Northwestern University; Jeffrey Jones, associate professor of TV, film and popular culture at Old Dominion University; and Mary Beltran, assistant professor in the department of communication arts at the University of Wisconsin.
The Peabody Awards, established in 1940 and administered by UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, are the oldest honor in television and radio. Today the Peabody recognizes distinguished achievement and meritorious public service by TV and radio stations, networks, producing organizations, individuals and the World Wide Web. The deadline for entries for the calendar year 2007 is Jan. 15.
The Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, established in 1915, offers seven undergraduate majors including advertising, broadcast news, magazines, newspapers, public relations, publication management and telecommunication arts. The college offers two graduate degrees, and is home to the Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism and the Peabody Awards. For more information, see www.grady.uga.edu.