Female political reporters optimistic about the future of women in journalism

When Jane Mayer, winner of the 2011 Robin Toner Prize, was rising in the field of journalism, she wore a red dress to a press conference by President Ronald Reagan.

“There’s the little girl in red!” Mayer recalled the shout from Reagan, who was known for noticing female reporters in red. Being a woman was both an advantage and a disadvantage, Mayer said, when she became the first women to White House correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in 1984.

“I tried not to take offense. I just tried to take over the front page,” Mayer told the audience for the 2012 Toner Symposium at the S. I. Newhouse School on March 26.

At the symposium, Mayer also accepted the $5,000 prize for the 2011 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting. Her winning coverage was “State for Sale,” published in The New Yorker in October 2011.

The prize and symposium are part of The Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting. It honors the late New York Times political correspondent Robin Toner. Toner was a summa cum laude Syracuse University graduate with dual degrees in journalism and political science from both Newhouse and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

The Toner Program is in its third year. At this year’s prize and symposium, Toner’s family helped to reward excellence in journalism and a panel of pioneering women journalists discussed the symposium topic titled “Keeping a Place in the News: Journalism & Women 2012.”

Toner’s husband, Peter Gosselin and their 14-year-old twin children, Nora and Jake,  thanked Mayer for her contributions to Toner’s tradition.

“My mother taught us the joy of words and justice,” said Jake Gosselin. “This is the exact kind of journalism my mom loved.”

Nora Gosselin congratulated the journalists recognized with honorable mention in the national contest. They are Olga Pierce, Jeff Larson and Lois Beckett of ProPublica; and Jonathan Salant, John Crewdson, Charles Babcock and Alison Fitzgerald for Bloomberg News.

“These reporters protected the human connection in writing and the bond that holds us together. My mom would be, and I am, forever grateful,” said Nora Gosselin.

Toner Prize-winner Mayer joined the other panelists for the symposium discussion, moderated by Kristi Andersen, the Chapple Family Professor of Citizenship and Democracy at the Maxwell School.

The panelists, seated from left to right next to Mayer and Andersen in the photo below, were:

Caption here (Photo by: jon Doe)

  •  Kristin Carlson graduated from Newhouse in 1999. Since, she has worked for WCAX-TV in Burlington, VT as a political reporter and anchor. Her investigative reporting for a story called “Foreigners on the Farm” won an Alfred I. duPont award, the highest honor in broadcast journalism. Carlson co-anchors “The Thirty” show for her station in Vermont.
  •  Lynette Clemetson, former correspondent for The New York Times who worked with Robin Toner for five years. Clemetson began her career in journalism as an Asia correspondent for Newsweek. She helped found TheRoot.com, a Washington Post Co. website dedicated to the voices of African-Americans. Clemetson is now the director of NPR’s StateImpact.
  • Peggy Simpson, one of the named plaintiffs in the ’70s class-action lawsuit against The Associated Press, a landmark case for women and minorities in journalism. Simpson has worked as Washington bureau chief for MS. Magazine, covered politics for Heart Newspapers and held a fellowship with the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. Now, she is a Washington reporter for the Women’s Media Center.

For more coverage of this year’s Toner Prize and Symposium: