Newhouse honors The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer with Toner Prize

Jane Mayer, staff writer with The New Yorker, is this year’s winner of the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting, given by the Newhouse School.

Mayer won for an in-depth look at the effects on North Carolina of Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on campaign spending by corporations. The story, called “State for Sale,” is what one of the Toner Prize judges called “spellbinding – and chilling.”

“This is the kind of journalism that strengthens democracy and shows the value of a free press,” says Newhouse Dean Lorraine Branham. “With this kind of reporting, citizens are empowered to hold politicians and powerful interests accountable. It illustrates the depth, richness and insight that characterized the work of Robin Toner.”

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 for The New York Times.

Honorable mentions for the Toner Prize also went to teams of reporters for ProPublica and Bloomberg News.

For ProPublica, reporters Olga Pierce, Jeff Larson and Lois Beckett combined computer mapping tools and shoe-leather reporting  in a series called “Redistricting: How Power Interests Are Drawing You Out of a Vote.” The stories drew a clear and alarming picture of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to redraw election districts in states across the country.

For Bloomberg News, reporters Jonathan Salant, John Crewdson, Charles Babcock and Alison Fitzgerald produced “Secret Money,” a five-month investigation that exposed the often-secret donors whose spending on political attack ads in the 2010 election helped the Republican party gain control of the U.S. House and enlarge its number of Senators.

The Toner Prize will be awarded at a celebration at the Newhouse School on March 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium in Newhouse 3. The event will be live-streamed at Follow on Twitter at #TonerPrize.

The competition for the Toner Prize drew 128 entries from across the country and from across media platforms. They included the broad range of American journalism, from large news organizations such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN to community newspapers such as the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times and the Morris (Ill.) Daily Herald.

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; Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and now on the faculty of the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia; Lee Thornton, former CBS News correspondent and professor emerita of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland; Geneva Overholser, former editor of The Des Moines Register who led the paper to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service and now director of the Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Southern California; and Jerry Ceppos, former vice president for news for Knight Ridder and now dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University.

In praising Mayer’s Toner Prize-winning work, judges cited the detailed reporting and vivid storytelling. “A model of how to tell a critically important national story: focus on an illuminating specific, report the hell out of it, and turn it into a gripping story,” as judge Overholser described the story. Added Thornton: “It is engrossing fact-based storytelling that certainly honors traditional journalistic values.”

Mayer became a staff writer for The New Yorker in 1995, based in Washington, D.C. She was the first woman to be White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, for which she reported for 12 years. Her career includes writing a best-selling book on the war on terror and covering the fall of the Berlin Wall and the bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Her awards include the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and the Edward Weintal Prize. She is a native of New York and a 1977 graduate of Yale University.

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. She was married to fellow journalist Peter Gosselin and was the mother of twins, Nora and Jacob.

Her family, friends and classmates and Syracuse University are fundraising for a $1million campaign to endow The Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting.  Donations can be made online.

For more information, contact Charlotte Grimes at (315) 443-2366 or