Mississippi Goddam: The Ballad of Billey Joe, a seven-part investigative series by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, has been named a nominee for the George Foster Peabody Award by unanimous vote from its board of jurors.
The project was chosen as one of 60 nominees this year from nearly 1,300 entries. The Peabody Awards are one of the most prestigious in media, considered to be the Oscars of broadcasting.
The Mississippi Goddam series followed Reveal host Al Letson and reporter Jonathan Jones as they examined the suspicious death of Billey Joe Johnson Jr., a 17-year-old Black student and one of the top high school football recruits in the country, who reportedly shot himself with his own shotgun during an early morning traffic stop at the edge of town in Lucedale, Mississippi, in December 2008.
The story of his death and subsequent investigation by law enforcement highlighted the inadequacies of the inquiry conducted by the district attorney’s office and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and cast doubt on the reliability of the findings that Johnson accidentally shot himself.
The series also illuminated the concerns about the quality of police investigations into the deaths of Black people in Mississippi and sought to situate Johnson’s death in the broader context of institutional racism and discrimination in the South.
Reveal’s investigation into Johnson’s death is a poignant narrative of how justice fails Black people in America. The story shows that the suspicion and anger toward law enforcement were not inevitable. If investigators had been more thorough, they could have come closer to answering the question that still haunts the Johnson family: What happened to Billey Joe on that cold December day?
The 30 winners of the Peabody will be announced in June in a virtual ceremony.
Letson and Jones reported and produced the series. Kevin Sullivan served as series editor and executive producer. Michael I Schiller was the series producer. Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda provided sound design, engineering and composing. Steven Rascón was the production assistant. Sumi Aggarwal was the editor in chief. Amy Mostafa was the production manager. Rosemarie Ho and Nikki Frick were the fact checkers. Additional help came from Nina Martin, the series digital editor; Andrew Donohue, executive editor of the projects team; and Sarah Mirk, the digital producer.
Last week, the project shared in the Investigative Editors & Reporters Award in the large audio division.
Listen to the award-winning podcast series: Mississippi Goddam: The Ballad of Billey Joe