Column: Women are being honored for their excellent journalism

Published January 4


Special to the Times

Mary Richards would be pleased.

She was the spunky television news producer played by Mary Tyler Moore on the popular CBS show named for its star.

The theme song of the sit-com contained this line: “You’re gonna make it after all.”

Recently, the winners of the 2019 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards honoring outstanding video, audio, film and digital journalism were announced.

Most of the 16 duPont awards honor work by women. You could say these journalists did “make it after all.” Many of the winning projects are about women.

“In a year of big news and upheaval for women, it is fitting that there has also been an extraordinary number of journalistic achievements by women,” said duPont jury chair Cheryl Gould, a former NBC News executive.

Here are examples of the journalism by women that earned duPont Silver Batons:

• CNN’s documentary “RBG,” a profile of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, shown in theaters and on CNN. It was made by a largely female team led by directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen.

“RBG” is an intimate portrait of the justice and a lesson in constitutional law and the struggle for women’s rights.

• CNN International’s coverage of human-rights abuses. Correspondent Nima Elbagir traveled across Africa, reporting on a slave market in Libya, child labor in Congo and a network of human smugglers in Nigeria.

• HBO’s “I Am Evidence,” about the nationwide failure to process thousands of rape kits. It was produced by TV actress Mariska Hargitay and Trish Adlesic and directed by Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir.

The documentary details the experience of four women, each of whom told police she was a victim of sexual assault, but a rape kit containing evidence and a procedure to follow was left to languish in storage.

• NBC Bay Area KNTV’s “Drivers under Siege,” an investigative series that shows a rise in violent attacks on bus drivers in the San Francisco Bay area. It was reported by Vicky Nguyen.

• RYOT-Red Reel’s “On Her Shoulders,” about Nadia Murad, a survivor of the Islamic State’s persecution of the Yazidi minority in Iraq. It was directed by Alexandria Bombach.

The theatrical documentary follows the Nobel Peace Prize winner as she goes from country to country to speak out against wartime sexual violence.

PBS’ Frontline will receive a Gold Baton, the highest duPont honor and the first awarded in a decade. Frontline is headed by a woman, executive producer Raney Aronson-Rath.

In its citation, the jury commends Frontline for a longstanding commitment to original documentary programming and innovative, cutting edge content.

The jury said that eight Frontline programs shown in 2018 exemplified that commitment: “Bitter Rivals: Iran and Saudi Arabia,” “Life on Parole,” “Living with Murder,” “Mosul,” “Myanmar’s Killing Fields,” “Putin’s Revenge,” “The Gang Crackdown” and “The Last Generation.”

For the non-print media, the duPont batons are the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prizes, which mostly recognize excellence in newspaper journalism.

The Columbia Journalism School (my alma mater) administers both the duPonts and the Pulitzers. The duPont awards are named for the late Alfred I. duPont, of the chemical duPonts, who owned small newspapers in Delaware.

The batons will be presented Jan. 22 at the 77th annual awards ceremony on the Columbia campus in Manhattan.

Appropriately, the event will be hosted by two women – Lesley Stahl, a correspondent with CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” and Ailsa Chang, a host of NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

Paul Janensch, who divides his year between Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Vero Beach, was a newspaper editor and taught journalism at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. He can be reached at