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The Communicator


Washington Post’s Sullivan earns Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism

Margaret Sullivan headshot

The media columnist for The Washington Post whose work focused on a variety of topics — including how the president impacts press freedom, the challenging future for small newspapers, flickers of hope for local journalism, and even a “mea culpa” looking back at a mistake she made earlier in her career — was selected as the winner of the 2020 Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism.

Margaret Sullivan was selected from a strong group of finalists by three external judges, after submissions for the award were screened by faculty members in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. The annual Bart Richards Award recognizes constructively critical articles, books, and electronic and online media reports; academic and other research; and reports by media ombudsmen and journalism watchdog groups.

Judges supported Sullivan’s work unanimously, saying it set a standard for media criticism. The judges for this year’s contest were: Tony Barbieri, former managing editor of The Baltimore Sun and a retired Penn State faculty member; Cheryl Fair, president and general manager of KABC-TV in Los Angeles; and Mark Russell, executive editor of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee.

Sullivan has been a media columnist for the Post since 2016. She previously served as public editor of The New York Times — the first woman and fifth person in that position. Before that, she served as chief editor of The Buffalo News, the first woman to hold that position at her hometown newspaper, where she started her career as a summer intern.

Sullivan, who published her first book in 2020, “Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy,” will be honored publicly in May during a special online event coordinated by the Bellisario College. She will receive a crystal award and an honorarium.

During her career she has regularly expressed concern about the overuse of anonymous sources, false equivalency, the "horse race" nature of political reporting and other ingrained journalistic practices.

“I deeply appreciate the importance of good journalism, and feel that part of my job is to explain and celebrate such work when appropriate — while calling journalists to fulfill their highest purpose,” Sullivan said.

The judges also selected a submission by Taryn Finley, a senior reporter for The Huffington Post, for special recognition. Her single, 4,500-word piece focused on challenges facing Black reporters across the country who were covering, and coping with, the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Other finalists for the award were Paul Farhi of The Washington Post, who won the 2018 Bart Richards Award, and Michael Grynbaum of The New York Times.