December 30, 2005
That Was the Year That Was
BY Stephen Talbot
Good Night and Good Luck, George Clooney's tribute to iconic broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, was this year's surprise movie hit. A surprise, at least, to me -- I did not expect a serious, black-and-white film about journalism to appeal to a large audience.
But the movie's story of how Murrow and his team at CBS in the 1950s dared to challenge Senator Joe McCarthy's anti-Communist witch-hunt is clearly striking a nerve with contemporary audiences. McCarthy's crusade fed on Cold War fear and anxiety. Americans felt threatened -- it was a time of political tension that resonates with our own war on terror. Clooney's film portrays journalists willing to take on a powerful politician whose bullying tactics and unsubstantiated smears intimidated critics and destroyed many innocent lives. The movie's success, I suspect, reflects something of a renewed desire for journalism with a conscience -- a nostalgia for the kind of reporter who questions authority even when it involves personal risk.
Coincidentally, FRONTLINE/World won this year's Edward R. Murrow Award from the Overseas Press Club for Best TV Documentary Coverage and Interpretation of International Affairs. We like to think that Mr. Murrow would have approved.
Inspired by Murrow's unrelenting brand of journalism, we partnered this year with The New York Times and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Lowell Bergman to investigate the environmental hazards and political skullduggery behind a vast U.S.-owned gold mine in Peru.
Inspired by Murrow's unrelenting brand of journalism, we partnered this year with The New York Times and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Lowell Bergman to investigate the environmental hazards and political skullduggery behind a vast U.S.-owned gold mine in Peru. When our report, "The Curse of Inca Gold," aired in October 2005, we were heartened by the response of viewers and critics.
"This is classic investigative journalism, the kind that prompts not only thought but change," wrote The New York Sun. "Frontline/World and Mr. Bergman have nobly maintained a commitment to these kinds of yarns in the face of cutbacks, and the results remind us just how important it is to support their efforts by watching."
Throughout the year, we worked hard to ask tough questions and turn up sometimes uncomfortable facts. We began last January with Amy Costello and Cassandra Herrman's report, "The Quick and the Terrible," examining charges of genocide in Sudan's Darfur region, then continued with investigations of the political assassinations of opposition leader Rafik Hariri in Lebanon and journalist Georgy Gongadze in Ukraine.
Last spring, in association with the BBC, we gained special access to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors as they tried to discover if Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons -- a difficult and frustrating task, but part of the reason the IAEA and its director, Dr. Mohamed El Baradei, won this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
On our Web site, we conducted our own investigation of the proliferation of nuclear technology in "Nuclear Underground," a groundbreaking report by Mark Schapiro about a South African arms dealer and a Pakistani businessman who conspired to illegally import nuclear weapons parts from U.S. companies.
We are gratified to see that traffic to our Web site more than doubled this year. Although we have been around since 2002, many of you are discovering the site for the first time, so we thought we would take this opportunity to introduce ourselves.
The FRONTLINE/World television series and Web site are both produced by the same editorial team. We are bicoastal, based at WGBH in Boston and the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.
Our one-hour international news magazine airs four to five times a year as part of the FRONTLINE series on PBS, Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. (check your local public television station listings) from October through June. Look for our next episode on January 24, 2006, featuring "Saddam's Road to Hell," a story linked to the deposed dictator's ongoing trial.
In a typical episode, we cover two to three stories: a lead investigative or in-depth news report, a feature story and a short "dessert course." So far, we have produced 17 episodes with 43 stories from 30 countries. You can watch any of these stories in streaming video on this Web site. We recommend Quicktime for best viewing.
From the beginning, we wanted to develop a strong, vibrant Web site that enhanced our television broadcasts. In our very first year, we won an Online Journalism Award for general excellence, and we have been nominated every year since. We have also received Webby nominations four years in a row (and it's hard to complain when you lose to the BBC).
"There's nothing quite like FRONTLINE/World on television or the Web, a series devoted to international news and analysis that blends a "let's go" spirit of travel and adventure with serious reporting.
Recently, our redesigned Web site has taken on a life of its own, featuring:
* "Rough Cut," our new series of videos produced exclusively for our Web site. We began the "Rough Cut" series as an experiment last summer. Now we unveil a new video nearly every week, on Tuesdays. As a sample, check out "Tuvalu: That Sinking Feeling," about an island nation in the South Pacific threatened by rising seas thought to be caused by global warming.
* "Dispatches," frequent eyewitness reports from our correspondents around the world. Recent stories include David Montero on earthquake survivors facing winter in Pakistan's remote mountains, Darren Foster on immigrant youth who rioted in the Paris suburbs, and Hadas Ragolsky with settlers and soldiers during the Gaza withdrawal.
* "FRONTLINE/World Fellows," a series of video and multimedia reports by the next generation of international reporters -- talented journalism grad students. Last summer's video about a matriarchal society in China, "The Women's Kingdom" by Xiaoli Zhou, remains a Web favorite.
There's nothing quite like FRONTLINE/World on television or the Web, a series devoted to international news and analysis that blends a "let's go" spirit of travel and adventure with serious reporting. We are committed to bringing new and diverse voices to the screen. Each story we present is a journey of discovery. The Los Angeles Times caught the spirit of what we are trying to do, saying that we provide "a sterling showcase" for "the modern era of backpack journalism."
But my favorite description of FRONTLINE/World comes from The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey, which said that our "Stories From a Small Planet" subtitle "describes not just the program's content, but its mood. Intelligent, complicated and often dryly funny, it often suggests what might happen if 60 Minutes and the public radio series This American Life had a baby, then turned it loose to travel the globe." The same critic, Matt Zoller Seitz, included FRONTLINE and FRONTLINE/World in his Top 10 TV Shows of 2005, saying that "the sister series aren't just doing consistently outstanding news reports; at times they seem to be single-handedly propping up a tradition of sober-minded inquiry that's all but vanished from network TV news."
Discover for yourself. Please wander off the beaten path through our rich and varied Web site. And if you are still curious about who we are and how we got started, here are links to two of the most detailed articles ever written about us.
Thanks for watching us this year, for visiting us online and for letting us know what you think about our stories. And if you've just discovered us: Welcome! We promise to continue to do our best to inform, amuse, provoke, inspire and surprise you in the New Year.