Announcing the 2018 Winners of the Mike Berger & Paul Tobenkin Awards | Columbia Journalism School

Announcing the 2018 Winners of the Mike Berger & Paul Tobenkin Awards


Columbia Journalism School announced today the 2018 Meyer "Mike" Berger Award and the Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award winners, honoring human interest reporting and recognizing coverage of racial or religious intolerance. The awards each carry a $1,500 honorarium and the winners are invited to speak to Columbia Journalism School students and professors at the annual Journalism Day celebration at Columbia University on May 15.


2018 Meyer "Mike" Berger Award Winner


John Woodrow Cox, an enterprise reporter for The Washington Post, has won the 2018 Berger Award for his series on children affected by gun violence. In his series, Cox showed that children don’t have to be shot or witness a shooting to be profoundly changed by gun violence. The Berger Award, named after the late New York Times reporter Meyer “Mike” Berger, is awarded annually to a reporter(s) for an outstanding example of in-depth, human interest reporting.


Jurors: David Hajdu, Meg Kissinger, Karen Stabiner


Jurors' Citation:

Long before the marches and school walkouts, John Woodrow Cox of The Washington Post knew of the terrible toll of gun violence to children in America. He traveled across the country last year to take inventory of the carnage of our most vulnerable citizens. His reporting took him to funeral homes, classrooms, hospital wards and, of course, playgrounds. Cox’s compelling portraits of gunshots’ youngest victims brought the judges to tears:

— The little girl in South Carolina who is so traumatized by the shooting death of her first-grade buddy that she tears her eyelashes out.

— The 4-year-old in Cleveland, caught in the cross-fire of gang warfare, was shot in the head as he sat his car seat. Doctors put his skull back together with titanium plates.

— The high school twins frantically searching for one another in the slog of blood and bullets at a country music festival in Las Vegas.

— The mother who asked mourners to wear Batman costumes to her 7-year-old’s funeral because the boy loved superheroes.

By Cox’s accounting, more than 200,000 children have been directly affected by school shootings. The numbers continue to grow.

Cox drew these stories with an artist’s eye for detail, a sociologist’s firm grasp of data and a poet’s gift for stirring the soul.

For outstanding human interest reporting across platforms Columbia University is honored to confer the Mike Berger Award to John Woodrow Cox.


Winning Work:

Twelve seconds of gunfire

“Children under fire

‘Did Your Father Die?’

The wounds they carry

‘I Want It To Stop’


2018 Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award Winner


Reporters from ProPublica and the Florida Times-Union have won the 2018 Paul Tobenkin Award for their series “Walking While Black,” which looked into the problematic practices of Jacksonville, Florida police officers who issued a large number of jaywalking tickets, mostly to black males. The Tobenkin Award honors the late New York Herald Tribune reporter, and recognizes outstanding achievements in reporting on racial or religious hatred, intolerance or discrimination in the United States.


Jurors: Daniel Alarcón, Elena Cabral, Lonnie Isabel


Jurors' Citation:

Jaywalking is a minor infraction that occurs with regularity in many urban areas. In Jacksonville, Florida, African Americans, particularly males, have been ticketed disproportionately.  The investigative project “Walking While Black” chronicled the discriminatory practice of ticketing in mostly black neighborhoods and the detrimental effect it has on the lives of those who are ticketed. A citation for such offenses as walking on the wrong side of the street, or in the street, or crossing at less than a right angle at a corner could lead to the loss of a driver’s license, a job or a good credit rating.

Topher Sanders of ProPublica and Ben Conarck of the Florida Times-Union used savvy street reporting and painstakingly pieced together data from several local and state agencies to show stark racial disparities across every category of tickets given to pedestrians. They showed that police inaccurately told pedestrians they had to carry ID by law, and they captured video of police officers themselves casually jaywalking with some frequency.

“Walking While Black” had an immediate impact. Reporters were able to show that police issued thousands of erroneous tickets. Government officials confirmed the interpretation of the law that led to that conclusion, but police have taken no action to rectify the citations given in error. Sanders and Conarck’s video, done in collaboration with Vox, got 2.2 million views on Facebook and another 1.2 million on YouTube.  

The project points out that this discriminatory practice has existed in many U.S. cities, including Ferguson, Missouri and New York City, where a judge ruled that “stop and frisk” was unconstitutional.

For their far-sighted, meticulously reported investigation that raises critical questions about how the criminal justice system treats one population versus others, we are proud to award the journalists behind “Walking While Black” the Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award.


Winning Work:


Walking While Black



Ranjani Chakraborty, Vox-ProPublica Video Fellow

Ben Conarck, Reporter, Florida Times-Union (M.S. ‘06)

Hilary Fung, News Application Developer, ProPublica

Kate Rabinowitz, Data Fellow, ProPublica

Topher Sanders, Reporter, ProPublica

Lucas Waldron, Social Visuals and Graphics Producer, ProPublica



Contact Information: 
Caroline Martinet Wernecke, Program Manager
[email protected]


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2018 Journalism Day Ceremony