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NPR reporter Nina Totenberg to receive U. of I. journalism award

10/2/2012 | Craig Chamberlain, Social Sciences Editor | 217-333-2894;

[ Email | Share ] CHAMPAIGN,Ill. — NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, honored over decades for both her explanatory reporting and major stories on the U.S. Supreme Court and its nominees, will be the 2012 recipient of the Illinois Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism.

Nina Totenberg

Nina Totenberg, the longtime legal affairs correspondent for NPR, has been named to receive the 2012 Illinois Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism. The recipient is chosen by the University of Illinois journalism faculty. | Photo by Steve Barrett/NPR

The prize will be awarded Friday (Oct. 5) at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., following an evening reception and dinner.

Totenberg is the fifth journalist to receive the award. Ben Bradlee, Seymour Hersh, Gay Talese and Mike Wallace won previously.

The prize honors people whose career contributions to public affairs reporting “represent the highest and best achievements of American journalism.” The recipient is selected by the University of Illinois journalism faculty.

Totenberg is “richly deserving” of the prize, said Rich Martin, the head of the department of journalism, since “she has established herself as this nation’s premier legal reporter.”

“Her comprehensive daily reports of the hearings and decisions of the Supreme Court, along with in-depth stories, put the court’s activities into a meaningful context for her listeners,” Martin said. “Her audience knows she will give them reliable and trustworthy legal reporting that cannot be found anywhere else, especially in an age in which quick-hit journalism is increasingly emphasized at the expense of thoughtful, interpretive reporting.”

Totenberg began her career as a print journalist, first at the Boston Record American and later at the National Observer and New Times magazine, before joining National Public Radio in 1975.

Perhaps her biggest scoop came in 1991, when her report on University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment by Judge Clarence Thomas led the Senate Judiciary Committee to re-open Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

NPR received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for its coverage of the hearings, anchored by Totenberg, and for its inquiry into Hill’s allegations, which included Totenberg’s reports and her exclusive interview with Hill. The same coverage earned Totenberg additional honors, among them a George Polk Award for excellence in journalism and a Joan S. Barone Award for excellence in Washington-based national affairs and public policy reporting.

In 1998, Totenberg was named Broadcaster of the Year by the National Press Foundation, becoming the first radio journalist to receive its Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcasting. She also was the first recipient of the American Judicature Society’s award honoring a career body of work in the field of journalism and the law, and has been honored seven times by the American Bar Association for continued excellence in legal reporting.

In 2010, she received the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Edward R. Murrow Award, which recognizes individuals who foster public radio’s quality and service and shape its direction.

Totenberg also is a regular panelist on “Inside Washington,” a weekly syndicated public affairs television program produced in Washington, D.C. She also has been a frequent contributor to major newspapers and periodicals, among them The New York Times Magazine, The Harvard Law Review and The Christian Science Monitor.

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