Tom Jennings Headshot

WOUB Member Spotlight: PBS FRONTLINE Producer/Writer/Director Tom Jennings

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Jennings has been supporting WOUB since 2008

ATHENS, OH – Tom Jennings lives in New York City, but has been giving to WOUB Public Media since 2008. You may wonder why someone who lives that far away would become a WOUB member. Jennings, who is a producer, writer, and director for PBS FRONTLINE, says the explanation is simple – Athens is home and WOUB inspired his public media career.

“My public media story starts with the usual, I watched Sesame Street on WOUB TV as a child,” said Jennings. “But I also have so many memories of listening to the local radio shows at WOUB, and they were very important to me growing up. The local news and music shows were incredibly sophisticated. I remember listening to Rusty Smith and John Ray, local names that were celebrities in Athens, who took us through our day.”

Jennings parents worked at Ohio University in the School of Music. As Jennings was finishing high school and preparing to go to college, PBS FRONTLINE made its debut. The program has won every major award in broadcast journalism: 100 Emmys; 38 duPont-Columbia University Awards; 26 Peabody Awards; 18 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards; eight Television Critics Awards; and eight Banff Television Awards, and it had a major impact on Jennings.

“FRONTLINE became a really big deal for me,” said Jennings. “It was a documentary series like I had never seen before, and it changed my perception of everything. I subconsciously realized what I wanted to do with my life.”

After completing his undergraduate degree at Miami University, Jennings returned to Athens and earned his master’s degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

Jennings has been making films for FRONTLINE since 2009. His first, Law and Disorder, a collaboration with A.C. Thompson and ProPublica on police shootings in New Orleans, won the prestigious George Polk Award and was nominated for an Emmy Award. Jennings then directed the Emmy-nominated A Perfect Terrorist and its sequel, American Terrorist (2011, 2015), was a team producer on the landmark documentary series, Money, Power & Wall Street (2012), and wrote and directed Being Mortal (2015), with New Yorker writer and fellow Athenian Atul Gawande. Jennings directed Right to Fail (2019), about people with severe mental illness living independently, Opioids, Inc (2020), and Boeing’s Fatal Flaw (2021), an investigation with The New York Times into the 737-MAX crashes. With June Cross and Jelani Cobb at Columbia University, he made Whose Vote Counts, which won the 2021 Peabody Award and NABJ Award. He has also received two Emmy Awards, the duPont-Columbia Award, the Overseas Press Club Award, the Deadline Club Award (in partnership with Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica), the Loeb Award, and six Writers Guild of America Awards.

“I feel really strongly about the importance of public media as an important source of information and educational programming. It is not encumbered by commercial interests,” said Jennings. “I know what goes on behind it, and the importance of local outlets like WOUB is so serious these days. I’m concerned about the distribution of the media we create so that it is seen across the country. That’s why I give to WOUB.”