Newhouse School announces winners in 2020 Toner Prize competition

By Wendy S. Loughlin

March 30, 2020

Winners in the 2020 Toner Prize competition were announced today by the Newhouse School.

This is the 10th year for the Toner Prize, which honors excellence in political reporting. In recognition of that milestone, the competition now includes two prizes: one for national political reporting and one for local political reporting. Each carries a $5,000 honorarium.

Toner Prize for Excellence in National Political Reporting

An eight-member team of journalists from The Boston Globe is the winner of the Toner Prize for Excellence in National Political Reporting for the series “Back to the Battleground.” The series placed reporters in four pivotal states that helped decide the 2016 presidential election—Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin—to tell the stories of those states through the lives of average citizens. The Globe sought to document how the lives of voters had changed—or not changed—during the Trump presidency, and whether or not they were inclined to vote for him again as a result.

Judges praised the coverage as “sharp, richly-detailed reporting”  and  added “telling human stories like this is the exact right way into political coverage.”

Members of the winning team are Jess Bidgood, national political reporter; Erin Clark, staff photographer; Liz Goodwin, deputy bureau chief in Washington, D.C.; Laura Krantz, national political reporter; Shelby Lum, video producer; Jessica Rinaldi, staff photographer; Jazmine Ulloa, reporter; and Craig F. Walker, staff photographer.

Honorable Mention for National Political Reporting

Michael Kruse, senior staff writer for Politico and Politico Magazine, earned an honorable mention for his profiles of candidates in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Judges said, “Kruse takes a deeply human, personal look at the candidates… His writing is fluid and fresh.  I look forward to a sequel.”

National Political Reporting Finalists

Other finalists for the Toner Prize for Excellence in National Political Reporting were Mark Leibovich of The New York Times Magazine for “The Things They're Willing to Go Through: Strange Days in Washington and Iowa”; Robert Samuels of The Washington Post for profiles of the Democratic presidential candidates; Alex Thompson of Politico for “Covering Elizabeth Warren”; and the staffs of The Arizona Republic/USA Today/Center for Public Integrity for “Copy. Paste. Legislate.”

Toner Prize for Excellence in Local Political Reporting

A five-member team from WBEZ Public Media in Chicago won the first Toner Prize for Excellence in Local Political Reporting for their coverage of the 2019 Chicago Municipal Elections. In an election involving 14 mayoral candidates and dozens of people running for City Council seats, WBEZ’s coverage sought to help voters understand the people and issues at stake.

Judges called the coverage “a real public service… Informative, clever approach to cover a local election of huge importance to the city, but overwhelming for voters to engage with... They personalized information for any voter…. It should be a model.”

Members of the winning team are Alex Keefe, senior editor of government and politics; Cate Cahan, projects and investigations editor; Paula Friedrich, interactive producer; Claudia Morell, political reporter; and Becky Vevea, political reporter.

Local Political Reporting Finalists

Other finalists for the Toner Prize for Excellence in Local Political Reporting were Lauren Chooljian, Jack Rodolico and the staff of New Hampshire Public Radio for “Stranglehold: A Podcast About the People, Power and Influence of the New Hampshire Primary”; the staffs of Spotlight PA & The Caucus for “Big Spending, Little Accountability”; political beat reporters of The Baltimore Sun for "Healthy Holly"; Rob Davis, Beth Nakamura, Teresa Mahoney and Steve Suo of The Oregonian/OregonLive for “Polluted by Money”; and Kim Norvell, Shelby Fleig, Robin Opsahl, Brianne Pfannenstiel, Kelsey Kremer and Tim Webber of The Des Moines Register for “3 Counties: Iowa Campaign Coverage.”

Judges were Christina Bellantoni, professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and a former political reporter and editor at the Los Angeles Times; Ann Compton, retired White House correspondent for ABC News; Maralee Schwartz, retired political editor of The Washington Post; Joseph B. Treaster, professor at the University of Miami’s School of Communication and a former New York Times correspondent; and Cynthia Tucker, journalist-in-residence at the University of South Alabama and a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Toner Prize is named in honor of late alumna Robin Toner ’76, who was the first woman to serve as national political correspondent for The New York Times. This year’s competition drew nearly 140 entries from across the country and from across media platforms.

For more information about the Toner Prize and the Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting at the Newhouse School, visit tonerprogram.syr.edu.