2015 Award Winners

Carol Leonnig, one of the winners of the Edgar A. Poe Award © 2015 J.M. Eddins Jr.


The White House Correspondents’ Association is proud to announce the winners of its annual journalism awards. The awards will be presented at the WHCA’s annual dinner on Saturday, April 25, 2015.

For the Aldo Beckman Memorial Award, which recognizes repeated excellence in White House coverage, the winner is Peter Baker of The New York Times. Baker won the Merriman Smith Memorial Award in 2014.

The Merriman Smith Memorial Award, which recognizes deadline work in both print and broadcast, goes to Josh Lederman of the Associated Press and Jim Avila of ABC News.

The Edgar A. Poe Award, which recognizes coverage of news of national or regional significance, is shared by Carol A. Leonnig of The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal team of Gary Fields, John R. Emshwiller, Rob Barry and Coulter Jones.

This recognizes repeated excellence in White House coverage, with a single award for either a print or broadcast journalist. The award this year is given to Peter Baker of The New York Times.

From the judges:

Baker’s pieces are written with depth, insight and authority. He uses his longevity on the beat to give his stories the historic context that lifts them beyond the crush of daily coverage. Strong reporting makes for good writing, as Baker shows time and again. Iraq, he writes, is the “graveyard of American ambition.”

Special mention to Scott Horsley of National Public Radio for his creative coverage of White House policies and politics. Like Baker, but through use of the broadcast medium and natural sound, Horsley offers interesting, insightful takes on the president’s efforts to make a difference in the turbulent world of 2014.

This award recognizes presidential news coverage under deadline pressure, with separate awards for print and broadcast journalists.

Print: Josh Lederman, AP, “Fence Jumper”

Broadcast: Jim Avila, ABC News, “Cuba/Alan Gross”

From the judges:

When a jumper made it over the White House fence in September, Josh Lederman was not only in the right place at the right time, but he quickly realized this was more than the less-than-routine, but not unheard of, security breaches at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The first to report that the intruder actually made it inside the White House before being apprehended, Lederman was also resourceful enough to use social media to locate an official source for comment on a Friday night, when official Washington normally rolls up the sidewalks, to confirm his hunch that the breach was more serious than it was being portrayed. Lederman’s quick thinking and ability to turn around a story with nuance in a short time frame made this report stand out.

Jim Avila didn’t stop after breaking news that U.S. contractor Alan Gross was being released by the Cuban government after five years. Avila kept going — both on the story and on the map. In a whirlwind day of reporting, Avila reported Gross’ release, detailed negotiations behind it, explained the prisoner swap that was part of it and alerted viewers of the steps to thaw Cuban relations that the president was about to announce. He filed those reports while hopping from Miami to the Caymans to Havana, where he capped a day of news by interviewing Cubans about the historic changes. From tight, breathless morning reports where every word was news, to relaxed man-on-the-street evening interviews, Avila told the whole story on merciless deadlines. That’s the sort of excellence in presidential news coverage under deadline pressure that the Merriman Smith Award is meant to honor.

This award recognizes excellence in coverage of news of national or regional significance. This year, it goes to two entries:

The Wall Street Journal’s Gary Fields, John R. Emshwiller, Rob Barry and Coulter Jones,“America’s Rap Sheet”

Carol A. Leonnig of The Washington Post,“Secret Service”

From the judges:

Insightful and dogged reporting by The Wall Street Journal’s Gary Fields, John R. Emshwiller, Rob Barry and Coulter Jones documents the erosion of citizen trust in law-enforcement officials, chronicles the inadequate data keeping of killings by police and reveals the startling statistic that nearly one third of the adult American population has an arrest record. “America’s Rap Sheet” explores the roots and consequences of our country’s current policing crisis, illuminating the stunning dysfunction of a system that contributes to the disenfranchisement of our most vulnerable citizens. The Journal’s findings – impossible to ignore – have been duly noted by federal officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, who called the work “significant.”

Carol A. Leonnig of The Washington Post shares the Edgar A. Poe Award for her tenacious and revelatory beat reporting on problems within the United States Secret Service. Leonnig showed, over and over, how security lapses and other serious shortcomings at every level of the sprawling agency have undermined its very mission, especially in protecting the President of the United States. In shedding light on these longstanding problems, and the Secret Service’s inability to effectively reform itself, her coverage truly exemplifies what the Poe Award stands for — excellence in coverage of news of national or regional significance.

HONORABLE MENTION: Daniel Wagner, Eleanor Bell and Amirah Al Idrus of the Center for Public Integrity, “Profiting from Prisoners.” With the privatization of America’s prisons, inmates now are charged for everything from toilet paper to winter clothes. This two-part series examines how the prison commissary has become a profit center. Particularly startling was the investigation of how prisons collaborate with a Miami-based company that forces prisoners’ families to use its services and skims high fees from all transactions.

Judges for the Aldo Beckman Memorial Award:

Tom Diemer, Medill News Service, Northwestern in DC

Barbara Cochran, University of Missouri

Indira Somani, Howard University


Judges for the Merriman Smith Memorial Award:

Ellen Shearer, Medill News Service, Northwestern in DC

Steve Crane, Cronkite News Service, Arizona State University in DC

Jackie Jones, Consultant and writing coach


Judges for the Edgar A. Poe Award:

A’lelia Bundles, Foundation for the National Archives

Amy Eisman, American University

Josh Meyer, Medill News Service, Northwestern in DC

Barbara Feinman Todd, Georgetown University