The Atlantic's Molly Ball is the winner of the Newhouse School's 2012 Toner Prize

By Wendy S. Loughlin

March 28, 2013

Ball won for her in-depth reporting on the 2012 election

Molly Ball of The Atlantic is the winner of the 2012 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting. The prize is sponsored by the Newhouse School.

Ball won for her in-depth reporting on the 2012 election, including coverage of the presidential candidates and the campaign around gay marriage referenda in four states. Her entry of five stories, submitted as examples of her work through the election year, “tells how America changed fundamentally last November,” as one judge described Ball’s work.

Molly Ball

“Ms. Ball’s coverage is a superb example of journalism that helps us understand our electoral process and illuminates the people and policies that shape us as a nation,” says Lorraine Branham, dean of the Newhouse School. “This is reporting with the engaging detail and informed insights that were hallmarks of Robin Toner’s outstanding work.”

The Toner Prize is part of the Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting at the Newhouse School. The prize carries a $5,000 award. The program honors the late Robin Toner '76, 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.

Honorable mentions for the Toner Prize also went to teams of reporters for ProPublica and The Wall Street Journal.

For ProPublica, reporters Kim Barker, Justin Elliott and Olga Pierce and intern Theodoric Meyer revealed the trail of “Dark Money” flowing from tax-exempt non-profit organizations into elections across the country.

For The Wall Street Journal, its political reporting team profiled the forces at work in “Swing Nation,” a series of stories that mapped the campaigns in key counties in three swing states: Hamilton County in southwestern Ohio; Arapahoe County near Denver, Colo.; and Volusia County around Daytona Beach, Fla. Reporting for the stories were Arian Campo-Flores, Colleen McCain Nelson, Neil King Jr., Doug Belkin, Jack Nicas and Stephanie Simon.

The Toner Prize was awarded March 28 at a dinner celebration in Washington, D. C., where Toner had done much of her reporting. The prize was presented by Robin Toner and Peter Gosselin’s children, Nora and Jacob.

The 2012 competition for the Toner Prize drew 118 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, The Washington Post and CNN to community news organizations such as WCNC-TV in Charlotte, N.C., 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 and a member of the Toner Program Fundraising Committee; Maralee Schwartz, a 30-year veteran journalist of The Washington Post and its former national political editor; Bill Celis, a former correspondent for both The New York Times and The Wall Street journal and now associate director of the Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California; F. Richard Ciccone, a former managing editor and political editor of the Chicago Tribune who now teaches a journalism course at the University of Notre Dame; and Karen Dunlap, who has been a journalist and journalism educator for more than 30 years and is now president of The Poynter Institute.

In praising Ball’s work for the Toner Prize, judges cited her vivid reporting, engaging writing and sharp insights. “This rocks,”  Dunlap summarized a consensus among the judges. Added Ciccone: “She wrote with compelling authority and reported with her eyes, ears and feet.  She deftly made herself a surrogate for her readers in each of her stories.”  

Ball  joined The Atlantic in September 2011 from Politico, xwhere she covered the GOP nomination fight and the 2010 midterm congressional elections. Before joining Politico in 2010, she was a reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun, covering the 2008 presidential race. Ball also has reported for newspapers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Cambodia, as well as The New York Times and The Washington Post. She is a graduate of Yale University and was a 2009 recipient of the Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan. She is married to David Kihara, managing editor of WJLA.com. They are the parents of Benjamin, age three-and-a-half, and Miriam, born March 2.

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 are fundraising for a $1 million campaign to endow the Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting. The program is administered by Newhouse's Knight Chair in Political Reporting, Charlotte Grimes, who coordinates the Toner Prize.

For more information, contact Grimes at 315-443-2366 or cgrimes@syr.edu.

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