Retro Report, an independent, nonprofit news organization, has been named the recipient of the 2023 Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics Award by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
Retro Report, an Emmy Award-winning news organization, will receive the $200,000 award to develop multimedia classroom resources to revitalize an understanding and appreciation of civics and democracy. Its multiplatform initiative will include educational videos and curriculum, along with professional development for 6th to 12th grade teachers, with a launch in the fall of 2024 as free classroom resources to accompany the debut of a PBS civics docuseries.
Based in New York, Retro Report produces trustworthy journalism steeped in historical context that seeks to bring clarity to complicated issues and ground them in history, civics, and media literacy education. The organization has developed more than 250 short and long documentaries in partnership with PBS, the New York Times, Frontline, NewsHour, Scientific American, Time, and other organizations.
“We are delighted to present this award to Retro Report for its innovative multimedia project on civics and democracy,” said Andrea (Ang) Reidell, director of outreach and curriculum for the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics (LAIC), a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC). “As we saw just this month, national test scores have shown a sharp decline in students’ knowledge of history as well as a dip in civics knowledge. The Retro Report project offers an exciting way to enhance learning in these areas. As one of our LAIC award judges noted, this project offers ‘a terrific opportunity to engage students directly and to strengthen civic literacy.’”
“We’re tremendously excited about this project,” said David Olson, director of education at Retro Report. “This grant enables us to do all the things we want to do on the educational side of this project, and we’re extraordinarily grateful for receiving it.”
Retro Report’s project
Retro Report’s education initiative calls for development of resources and activities that will build upon the yet-to-be-announced PBS docuseries, which will feature students across the nation and their knowledge of U.S. history and civics. “This project will produce all of the educational materials and outreach components to be coupled with the film project,” Olson said, as well as supplemental, digital-only short films to serve as historic “sidebars” on key debates in public policy and history.
Among the project’s elements are the development of 10 to 15 lesson plans, activities, and interactive materials designed to build civic skills such as engaging in research, information literacy, and civil discourse, as well as knowledge of history and civics. Retro Report and potential partners also plan to conduct a summer institute in 2024 with teacher training in New York City on the docuseries and the companion resources.
The docuseries and resources will also feature students grappling with complex issues such as abortion, gun control, immigration, and LGBTQ rights. “Students will be connecting these and other challenges of the 21st century to the Constitution and history,” Olson said. “If 17-year-olds can do this well and have civil conversations with each other and discuss these at more than just a surface level, then these are things that we should be able to discuss in the rest of society.”
Asked what makes this project so essential today, Retro Report president Kyra Darnton said this project was the most optimistic one she has worked on.
“It’s the most important question right now, at a moment when Americans – and students in particular – are surrounded by these partisan bubbles and struggling to have real conversations,” Darnton said. “We’re at a moment when kids don’t even know what news sources to trust. But in this PBS docuseries and Retro Report’s videos, we’ll be seeing people who care about the future of the country and are working together, making evidence-based arguments, and becoming leaders in their schools and their communities. And it’s a great thing to see.”
The LAIC Award
The Retro Report project was selected from among proposals submitted by some of the 43 partners in the Civics Renewal Network (CRN), a consortium founded by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations dedicated to strengthening civic life in the United States. The Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics Award aims to further an exemplary and ambitious project that would improve civics education in the nation’s elementary, secondary, or high school classrooms. The competition is open to organizations that are partners in CRN.
The first LAIC Award was presented in 2019 to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate to create resources to help 8th through 12th grade teachers conduct productive civic conversations on difficult issues. Past winners also include Street Law, in 2021, to develop a curriculum for middle and high school students on the rule of law, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, in 2022, to create a high school program on the role of the states in determining and protecting voting rights.
Retro Report is an independent, nonprofit news organization that has produced more than 250 short documentaries and video series in partnership with the New York Times, PBS, the New Yorker, VICE, Scientific American, and others. Recipient of an Emmy Award, Retro Report has also received 14 Edward R. Murrow Awards, been a finalist for nine Emmy Awards, and received numerous other film and journalism awards. In 2020 it launched Retro Report Education to revitalize history and civics education.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center was established in 1993 to educate the public and policy makers about communication’s role in advancing public understanding of political, science, and health issues at the local, state, and federal levels.