In order to reach potential participants, Peabody must execute an advertising campaign. Depending on the medium, applicants will send in an entry fee of $175 to $300, along with the work they wish to be reviewed, said Newcomb.
“We’re looking for people that have done something innovative and produced original work in the calendar year,” says Noel Holston, Peabody’s public relations coordinator.
Upon being received by the Peabody Awards Office, tucked into the sleepy third floor of the Journalism Building, the materials are carefully catalogued and given a number.
“This process, trust me, takes forever,” says Holston.
In the initial screening process, 30 groups of two faculty members and one student judge each view or listen to a certain number of entries apiece. The students then write a recommendation, or lack thereof, on behalf of their group.
Student judges are selected earlier in the year. To be considered, students must submit an application. They are then asked to watch a video or listen to a radio broadcast and write an essay explaining whether they would or would not recommend the piece for a Peabody Award and why.
“They have to show that they can make a clear argument, not just say, ‘I like this,’” says Newcomb.
The videos that receive a positive recommendation are sent to the Peabody Board. The board currently contains 16 members, one of which is Newcomb.“We say we’re looking for excellence, but it’s excellence on its own terms,” says Newcomb.
As many members as can attend converge upon Los Angeles in early February to screen the recommended media and discuss their evaluations. Two weeks later, those who are able attend another meeting in Washington D.C. do so and repeat the process.
Usually during the last week of March, all board members come to the university for four and a half days and collaborate until they come to a unanimous decision. Last year saw 38 winners, the highest number ever awarded. Usually between 32 and 36 are chosen, the bulk of which goes to non-fiction entries, said Holston.
“The odds of winning are really, really small,” said Holston. “In order to win, your entry has to really be something special.”
The effect of receiving a Peabody Award can vary depending on the winner’s area of expertise.
“It’s partly about bragging rights in the entertainment industry, but it’s really a heady experience for small-time news organizations that get the same honor as something like Dexter or Stephen Colbert,” says Holston.
The award’s potential life-altering ability also fluctuates with the winner’s previous popularity.
“For Katie Couric, not much can change, but it’s a type of confirmation,” says Newcomb.
Whether they win or not, all entries are archived in the Peabody collection, which currently resides in the Main Library. Early next year, though, it will be making a move to the new Special Collections Library on Hull Street. The university’s other two special collections—the Hargrett Rare Books and Manuscripts Library and the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research— already await it.
“The main impetus is ideal storage,” says Ruta Abolins, director of the Walter J. Brown media archives and the Peabody Awards collection. “It’s important to have ideal storage conditions in order to keep the film in good condition as long as possible.”
Film is a high-maintenance roommate. If the temperature is too high, film can start to deteriorate and smell like vinegar. If humidity is too high, film can mold. The new building promises the media prime comfort and protection with a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 30 percent relative humidity.
The Special Collections Library cost around $46 million to erect. Two-thirds of the money was provided by the state, while one-third came from private sources, says Abolins.
Every entry considered for a Peabody since 1940 is stored in the library, which can leave those trying to wade the deep archival waters drowning in a sea of information. The collection is available for the public’s viewing or listening pleasure, but Abolins suggests seekers come with what they want in mind.
“It kind of renews your faith in journalism and media to see just how good the work people can do is if they’re given the chance,” says Holston.