Arkansas PBS, the state’s public telecommunications network, has some national prizes to show off at its headquarters in Conway after taking five Public Media Awards in the National Educational Telecommunications Association’s 53rd annual competition.
Winners were announced Tuesday, with Arkansas PBS taking gold in overall excellence in content, overall excellence in marketing/communications and best local project, for “Reading in the Delta.”
That initiative was aimed at nurturing the love of literacy in four towns in the Arkansas Delta, sharing high-quality books and reading experiences among people miles from libraries and other resources like digital internet connections. Reading in the Delta was a project of the Joan R. and Charles M. Taylor II Memorial Endowment Fund, Arkansas PBS officials said.
The state network, officially the Arkansas Educational Telecommunications Network, was honored at a gala during the 2022 NETA Conference and Corporation for Public Broadcasting Thought Leader Forum. Compilation videos of the winning and nominated projects are available at myarpbs.org/awardwinning and myarpbs.org/awardnominated. The prizes honor NETA members’ best efforts in content, community engagement, marketing/communications and education.
Arkansas PBS also won in the cultural documentary category for “Urban Forge: Ozark Artistry,” and for independent production with “Rap Squad,” by Nathan Willis. The Urban Forge documentary, a full-length feature, examines working blacksmiths in Mountain View who are keeping an ancient craft alive. Produced by Charles Eric White, Terrell Case and CJ Burks, its executive producer was Ed Leon, chief operating officer of Arkansas PBS.
“Rap Squad,” another full-length film, documents Arkansas high school hip hop artists with career aspirations and a healing outlook fed by their music. Willis directed the film and produced it with Nolan Dean. Executive producers were Craig Renaud and Courtney Pledger, Arkansas PBS’ chief executive officer.
The top awards in overall excellence were a repeat from last year for Arkansas PBS, which has widened its content production, educational programming and video coverage of government affairs under five years of Pledger’s leadership. A crucial information pipeline and schooling tool during the pandemic, the network has also modernized operations and broadened Arkansas storytelling to a national audience.
The changes Pledger brought after being named to the job in March 2017 by Gov. Asa Hutchinson made her unpopular, but she has been busy remaking the network’s culture and her image within it.
The recent awards are evidence the nation is taking notice of Arkansas PBS’ broader scope, she said. “We’ve really made a seismic change in the way we conceive content, the way we produce it, and the way we distribute it on all these platforms,” Pledger told Arkansas Business last year.
In a Wednesday press release, she hit on the same theme.
“Our Arkansas PBS team is honored to have been recognized with these highly competitive national awards – including two for overall excellence for the second consecutive year,” Pledger said in the release. “Through hard work and dedication, and together with our numerous statewide partners, we have committed ourselves to reaching new audiences and sharing one-of-a-kind Arkansas stories.”
Along with its winning entries, Arkansas PBS was nominated for overall excellence in education, overall excellence in community engagement, and community initiative for “Reading in the Delta” and “Celebrating Black Lives Every Day and All Year Long.”
Other nominated projects were in use of digital media for “2020 Civics Campaign, You Decide: Know. Think. Participate,” a multiplatform six-month awareness campaign to educate, engage and provide resources to Arkansas citizens during the 2020 election year; in teacher professional learning for “Portraits of Courage: The Story of Women’s Suffrage in Arkansas”; in integrated media with a promotional effort for “The Glow With Big Piph,” focusing on multicultural artisans in Arkansas; in promotion for the “Rise and Shine” theme song and “Mr. Steve the Music Man”; and special event for Nettle STEAM Intermediate School’s live downlink with astronauts about the International Space Station.
Public media professionals and other industry experts judged the awards. Except for the overall excellence categories, networks compete within divisions based on their station size.