School of Journalism Alum Wins Excellence in Political Reporting Honor
* This article appeared in the March 24, 2014, edition of The Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting. *
By Charlotte Grimes
Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post is the winner of the 2013 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting. The $5,000 Toner Prize honors the late Robin Toner, a summa cum laude graduate of Syracuse University with dual degrees in journalism and political science. She was the first woman to be national political correspondent of The New York Times. The Prize is sponsored by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
The Prize recipient and an honorable mention honoree are being announced March 24 in Washington, D.C., at a celebration with remarks by Vice President Joe Biden. Both Toner and Biden are alumni of Syracuse University. Biden graduated from the SU College of Law in 1968.
Newly named SU Chancellor Kent Syverud praised the Toner Prize honorees’ work.
It “highlights the critical need for dedicated journalists who understand the role of an independent and free press, and fulfill that role with integrity and a passion for the truth,” Syverud said in his prepared remarks.
Tumulty of the Washington Post won the Toner Prize for her engaging reporting on politicians, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as well as her in-depth look at the political landscape in West Virginia. A standout of her coverage was a poignant profile of a Vietnam war veteran, Earl Smith, who gave his 101st Airborne screaming eagle patch to then-Sen. Barack Obama as he campaigned for the presidency. Her work, as one judge described it, shows “great breadth of reporting, excellent looks at politics from ground level, marries politics and humanity.”
Jennifer Davidson of KSMU public radio in Springfield, Missouri, also won recognition with an honorable mention for the Toner Prize. Davidson explored the public policy option facing Missouri lawmakers right now: whether to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Davidson covers the rural Ozarks-area where she grew up. She single-handedly reported both sides of the Medicaid expansion debate in a series of stories. Davidson “did a fabulous job of breaking down this national issue into bite size chunks,” the judges said.
“The work of these two outstanding journalists is exactly the kind of excellent reporting the Toner Prize was meant to honor,” said Charlotte Grimes, Knight Chair in Political Reporting and administrator of The Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting at the Newhouse School. “This is reporting and writing that brings alive issues, people and places in ways that enrich our democracy.”
At the Toner Prize celebration, the awards were presented by Robin Toner and Peter Gosselin’s children, Nora and Jacob.
The 2013 competition for the Toner Prize drew 125 entries from across the country and from across media platforms. They included a cross section of American journalism, from large news organizations such as The New York Times and MSNBC to community news organizations such as WWBT- NBC12 in Richmond, Va., and the online St. Louis Beacon.
To judge the competition, 33 veteran journalists – most of them now teaching journalism at universities – served on 11 juries to recommend finalists. The Toner Prize and honorable-mention recognition were awarded by the five finalist judges:
Adam Clymer, formerly chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times; Maralee Schwartz, a 30-year veteran journalist of The Washington Post and its former national political editor; Barbara Cochran, former executive producer of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and now the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism; Jon Margolis, the former chief national political correspondent for the Chicago Tribune; and Dori Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland, California.
Robin Toner, who graduated from Syracuse University in 1976, spent 25 years as a reporter for The New York Times. She began her journalism career in West Virginia with the Charleston Daily Mail and reported for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For The New York Times, she covered five presidential campaigns, scores of Congressional and gubernatorial races and most of the nation’s major public policy issues. She died in 2008.
Her family, friends, classmates and Syracuse University have created an endowment for The Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting.