What is the duPont-Columbia Award?

Last Updated by RMPBS Staff on

When it was announced Dec. 11 that “Insight with John Ferrugia” had won a duPont-Columbia Award – a first in Rocky Mountain PBS history – our efforts in public service journalism felt more validated than ever before.

That’s because the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award is considered the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, another program administered by Columbia University. It’s the pinnacle of excellence in broadcast journalism.

History

The duPont-Columbia Awards were established by Jessie Ball duPont as a tribute to the journalistic integrity and public-mindedness of her late husband, Alfred I. duPont, an American industrialist, financier and philanthropist. The first award ceremony was held in 1942 at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.

In the early years, recipients were often radio broadcasters covering World War II, and the awards were a testament to journalists reporting on the world in turbulent times. Over the decades, the award has changed to recognize new forms of broadcast technology, including television in 1950, and later, cable, digital and documentary forms of journalism.

Since 1968, the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University has administered the awards.

Selection process

Every year about a dozen news stories and films are honored with a duPont­ Baton for the strength of their reporting, storytelling and impact in the public interest. The work is judged on how well it demonstrates consistent high quality over time, with accurate and fair reporting. 

The winning pieces are selected by a duPont jury from hundreds of entries vetted by a board of screeners. The awards are then presented at a ceremony at Columbia University’s Low Library hosted by some of the country’s leading broadcast journalists.

2019 winners

The 2019 duPont-Columbia Award winners will be recognized Jan. 22 as part of the 77th annual awards ceremony in New York. The evening will feature highlights of the award-­winning reporting, including “Insight’s” winning entry, “Imminent Danger,” a special investigation on mental health and “red flag” laws that allow a judge to temporarily remove a mentally ill person’s fire arms until mental health is restored.

The award entry included the original half-hour program, shorter stories produced for other media outlets, and a 10-minute piece that aired nationally on “PBS NewsHour.”

When it first aired on RMPBS in April, the program generated public conversation and was shown during a bipartisan state legislative hearing to inform the dialogue around an impending red flag bill. Developed over a year, the investigation included exclusive interviews with the mother of a mentally ill man who killed a sheriff’s deputy, as well as the parents of Aurora theater shooter James Holmes.

While the bill did not pass in the 2018 session, it is expected to be introduced again in the upcoming legislative session, with the “Insight” team continuing to follow the story.

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