Toner Prize competition expands to offer two awards for political reporting

November 25, 2019

Entries are now being accepted for the 2020 Toner Prizes competition. Submit online at tonerprogram.syr.edu.

To celebrate the 10th annual awarding of the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting, the Newhouse School is expanding the award and refining its focus.

Starting with this year’s contest, two Toner Prizes will be given, one for national political reporting and the second for local political reporting. Each will carry a $5,000 honorarium.

In addition, with the 2020 elections looming, the school is refining the awards’ criteria to emphasize continuing coverage of campaigns, candidates and elections, work that gives voters ongoing information to engage them in democracy. The prizes won’t be limited to campaign coverage, but extra weight will be given in judging entries.

The Toner Prizes honor the late Robin Toner '76, the first woman to be national political correspondent for The New York Times. They are part of the Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting at the Newhouse School, Toner’s alma mater.

The changes in the upcoming contest are aimed at two of the greatest challenges facing journalism and democracy today, says Amy Falkner, interim dean of the Newhouse School. These are the loss of local news outlets and the demands of a continuous election cycle.

“Grassroots political reporting is at the heart of American democracy. With the expansion of the Toner Prize, we seek to support and encourage local political reporting at this crucial moment in our nation’s history,” Falkner says. 

In addition, endless campaigns boost voters’ need for a steady flow of incisive reporting to keep abreast of what’s happening in the electoral process.

Under the refined criteria, the Toner Prizes will go to reporting that:

  • Illuminates the electoral process, with a special focus on coverage of candidates, campaigns or elections; or
  • Reveals the politics of policy; and
  • Engages the public in democracy.

Both the new Toner Prize for local political reporting and the focus on campaigns “build on Toner’s personal history,” says Bill Kovach, former New York Times Washington bureau chief, a colleague of Toner’s at The Times and a member of the Toner Program’s advisory board.

Toner covered local politics for the Charleston Daily Mail of West Virginia and for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In nearly 25 years with The New York Times, she covered national politics, including five presidential campaigns, scores of gubernatorial and Congressional races and many of the country’s most important policy issues.

Toner died in 2008 at age 54. Her family, classmates and colleagues created the Toner Program to honor her legacy as one of the nation’s preeminent journalists. The late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy described Toner as “a reporter’s reporter who deeply cared about the people and the issues she covered.”

The first Toner Prize was awarded in 2011 to Craig Harris of The Arizona Republic. The other winners are Jason Zengerle, contributing writer for GQ and The New York Times Magazine; Stephanie McCrummen and a team of other Washington Post journalists; David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post; Alec MacGillis of ProPublica; Dan Balz of The Washington Post; Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post; Molly Ball of The Atlantic; and Jane Mayer of The New Yorker.

The Toner Prize has become one of journalism’s most prestigious awards, presented yearly at a celebration in Washington, D.C., where Toner did much of her most important reporting. The prizes are presented by Nora and Jacob Gosselin, the twin children of Toner and her husband, journalist Peter Gosselin.

Keynote speakers have included then-President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Syracuse University alumnus and then-Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia; and then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

The 2020 Toner Celebration will be held March 30. The contest for the national and local Toner Prizes opens for entries on Dec. 2, 2019, and closes on Jan. 20, 2020. The competition is open to reporting on any platform. Eligible coverage for the 2020 prizes must have been reported and published, posted or broadcast between Jan. 1, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2019. For more information about entering, visit tonerprogram.syr.edu or contact Toner Program administrator Charlotte Grimes at cgrimes@syr.edu.