The NewsHour’s Superior Coverage of a ‘Desperate Journey’

Posted by Michael Getler on

For the past year, the PBS NewsHour has covered one of the most heart-wrenching stories of our time – the flow of tens of thousands of desperate refugees and migrants fleeing Syria, elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa into Western Europe, too often with tragic consequences – better than any other U.S. television news operation.

And yesterday, that coverage was acknowledged when the NewsHour was named a recipient of a 2015 George Foster Peabody Award for its continuing series of “Desperate Journey” reports. The Peabody is the TV news equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize for the printed press.

I actually don’t follow the awards business closely but, privately, I’ve been rooting for a long time for some sort of recognition to go to this work by the NewsHour and especially for its extraordinary special correspondent, Malcolm Brabant, who has covered this story like the proverbial blanket from many countries and angles with superb reportorial skill, compassion, understanding, and a pitch-perfect delivery.

Brabant is a Brit who worked for the BBC for many years and then, for many more years, set himself up as a freelancer, reporting from lots of countries. He has been called “The King of the Stringers,” a reference to those who work, usually piece-by-piece, for a variety of news outlets.

He is based in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the NewsHour, in its press release about the award, singles him out as the primary contributor to the series and as “a one-man band who has reported for PBS NewsHour on the crisis from Turkey, Hungary, France, Sweden, Denmark, and, primarily, Greece. It was there, on the island of Lesbos in October 2015, that a boat carrying an estimated 300 people capsized. Many of its passengers died. Brabant brought us the harrowing scene, amid the darkness of night, as rescuers sought to assist the many in need and comfort those who lost everything.”

The NewsHour said the series also featured reporting by NewsHour correspondent William Brangham, special correspondent Jane Arraf,  NewsHour producer Jon Gerberg, and PBS NewsHour Weekend producer Saskia de Melker. Arraf reported from Jordan in October 2015 with cameraman Basel Quol on why more Syrian refugees are leaving than arriving and in December 2015 with cameraman Sebastian Meyer on the dangerous path to Europe from Iraq for Yazidis. Brangham, Gerberg, and de Melker traveled to Hungary, Austria and Germany in September 2015 to report on the crisis, following two families as they made their way through Europe. Former senior foreign affairs producer Justin Kenny and current senior foreign affairs producer Morgan Till managed and contributed to the series, the NewsHour said.

In describing its work, the NewsHour said: “Since June 2015, the NewsHour has extensively covered the migrant flow into Europe from Turkey and points beyond, putting a human face on one of the year’s most-important ongoing international stories. By combining the struggles of the refugees and migrants, providing a voice for those not often heard, and shining a light on the growing divisions within Europe, PBS NewsHour offered a depth of coverage and context for a generational challenge seen nowhere else on American television.”

The ombudsman agrees.

A Similarly Superb Frontline Contribution

By coincidence, on the same day that the NewsHour was honored for its coverage of the refugee crisis, PBS's flagship investigative and documentary series Frontline broadcast another extraordinary contribution, in my opinion, to the recording of this historic, ongoing flow of the displaced.

If you haven't seen it, you can watch it here. It is an hour of television you will not forget. The program, "Children of Syria," filmed over three years in the life of a Syrian family, traces the lives of that family and its four wonderfully expressive children from their war-ravaged home in Aleppo to a new life in Germany. Four stars.

Posted on April 20, 2016 at 2:56 p.m.

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As ombudsman, Michael Getler serves as an independent internal critic within PBS. He reviews commentary and criticism from viewers and seeks to ensure that PBS upholds its own standards of editorial integrity. Read More >
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