Newhouse School Announces Winners of 2023 Toner Prizes for Excellence in Political Reporting

Politico won the 2023 Toner Prize for national political reporting, and chief investigative reporter Phil Williams of WTVF-TV in Nashville, Tennessee won the Toner Prize for local political reporting.

The winners of the annual Toner Prizes for Excellence in Political Reporting were announced by Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications during a ceremony Monday night at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. Sen. Mitt Romney delivered the keynote speech and CNN anchor and senior political correspondent Abby Phillip served as master of ceremonies.  

Toner Prize for Excellence in National Political Reporting

Winner: Politico

Reporters: Josh Gerstein, Alex Ward, Peter Canellos, Hailey Fuchs, Heidi Przybyla, Elena Schneider and Holly Otterbein
Entry: “The Supreme Court and Abortion”

Politico broke the news that the U.S. Supreme Court voted to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision granting abortion rights. The outlet published a PDF of the initial draft majority opinion, which was circulated inside the court and obtained by Politico. No draft decision in the modern history of the court has been disclosed publicly while a case was still pending. The revelation intensified scrutiny of the tactics of the conservative legal movement in building a new Supreme Court majority during the Trump presidency. Politico’s reporting also transformed the political year, putting abortion rights front and center in the 2022 midterm elections.

Judges’ comments

“A bombshell scoop with seismic repercussions for the third branch of government. Cautiously written to stick to the facts. Revelatory follow-ups on conservative outsiders trying to influence conservative Justices. This reporting took courage and professionalism.” – Ann Compton

“It was the political story of the year, and the extraordinary leak reverberated nationally and locally, galvanizing women and demonstrating the degree conservatives have shaped the judiciary. And it opened the window into how the Supreme Court operates, especially highlighting silent conflicts of interests.” – Maralee Schwartz

Toner Prize for Excellence in National Political Reporting Honorable Mention

ProPublica and The Texas Tribune  
Reporters: Jeremy Schwartz, Jessica Priest, Chris Morran, Perla Trevizo and Andrea Suozzo 
Entry: “Church Politics,” which explored the political activity of churches and the potential impact on candidates and campaigns.  

Judge’s comment

“ProPublica and The Texas Tribune joined forces in a ground-breaking five-part series on how churches and right-wing organizations representing themselves as churches violate the terms of federal tax exemption by taking sides on political candidates and issues.” – Joseph B. Treaster

Toner Prize for Excellence in Local Political Reporting

Winner: Phil Williams, WTVF-TV, Nashville, Tennessee

Entry: “NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Revealed

As the station’s chief investigative reporter, Williams led WTVF’s dogged efforts to look into how laws are made in the Tennessee General Assembly. The legislative branch is ruled by a supermajority with near-absolute power that sets its own rules. The exhaustive “Revealed” investigation was based on a simple premise: citizens cannot fully understand how the system can be fixed unless they understand how it really works.

Judges’ comments

“It is so hard to crack into the secretive world of campaign cash and lobbying in a state capital — and nearly impossible to do it on video. But somehow Phil Williams managed to do just that in this brilliant series shining light on state lawmaker practices and crisply showing viewers exactly HOW legislation is shaped and the exact questionable practices that are difficult to put into clear journalistic examples in any medium. I’m blown away by these pieces and will be using them to teach.” – Christina Bellantoni

“This is what a great local news investigation looks like. Documentaries like this one are not done nearly enough. It is excellent! It informs residents about what their lawmakers are doing and who has influence and power over them.” – Beverly Kirk

About the Toner Prizes

More than 250 people attended the first in-person Toner Prizes event in three years. The awards, along with the Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting at the Newhouse School, are named after Robin Toner, a 1976 graduate of Syracuse University and the first woman to serve as national political correspondent of The New York Times.

Among other speakers at Monday’s ceremony were Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud, Newhouse School dean Mark J. Lodato and Margaret Talev, Kramer Director of the Syracuse University Institute for Democracy, Journalism and Citizenship.