New York Times Science and Health Reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. Wins Prestigious 2020 John Chancellor Award | Columbia Journalism School
Donald G. McNeil Jr. smiles at child sitting next to him
McNeil reporting on palliative care in India in 2007

New York Times Science and Health Reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. Wins Prestigious 2020 John Chancellor Award

Columbia Journalism School announced today that Donald G. McNeil Jr., a science and health reporter at The New York Times, is the recipient of the 2020 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism. For over a quarter-century, McNeil has dedicated his career to writing about infectious diseases that afflict people in developing countries and pandemics that have swept the globe. Since working as a correspondent based in Africa in the mid-1990’s, he has mastered reporting on viral outbreaks covering HIV-AIDS, Ebola, swine flu, malaria, Zika, and now coronavirus, among others. This year, his authoritative coverage helped inform and prepare millions of readers for the gravest health crisis the world has faced in a century.

"Sometimes the perfect reporter meets the perfect story. That happened this year. Donald knows science and medicine, and he is a determined and ambitious reporter who doesn't stop till he finds the truth," said Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times.

The John Chancellor Award is presented each year to a journalist for his or her cumulative accomplishments. The prize honors the legacy of pioneering television correspondent and longtime NBC News anchor John Chancellor, best remembered for his distinguished reporting on civil rights, politics and election campaigns. Selected by a committee of eight distinguished journalists, McNeil will receive the 2020 award with a $25,000 honorarium.

“Donald McNeil’s deeply reported work reflects an expertise rare in daily journalism,” said Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia Journalism School and a member of the Chancellor jury. “His dedication to the well-being of all people and his passion for justice reflect the integrity of the late John Chancellor.”

The award will be presented at a virtual ceremony held by Columbia Journalism School on Wednesday, November 18, 2020. 

“Over years of reporting in Africa, Asia and the Americas, Donald has described harsh realities, but always sought ways to answer the question that drives him: ‘What saves the most lives?’” said Celia Dugger, health and science editor at The New York Times. 

McNeil joined the Times in 1976 as a copy boy and has been a night rewrite man, an environmental reporter, a theater columnist and an editor. From 1995 to 2002 he was a foreign correspondent in Africa and Europe and has reported from 60 countries. During a hiatus from the Times in the 1980’s, he wrote plays, taught journalism at Columbia University and worked at People magazine, WCBS-TV, Adweek and New York Newsday. He has won awards for stories about cities that have successfully fought AIDS, about patent monopolies that keep drug prices high in Africa, about diseases that cannot be eradicated, about cancer victims in India and Africa dying without pain relief and about the Love Canal toxic waste dump. McNeil is the author of “Zika: The Emerging Epidemic.” He grew up in San Francisco and graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Berkeley.

The John Chancellor Award was established in 1995 by Ira A. Lipman. Mr. Lipman, who died in 2019, was the founder of Guardsmark, LLC, one of the world's largest security service firms. The jury is chaired by Lynn Sherr, and in addition to Ira Lipman’s son Josh Lipman, includes Dean Steve Coll, Dean Emeritus Nicholas Lemann, Jelani Cobb, Hank Klibanoff, Michele Norris, Bill Wheatley and Mark Whitaker, as well as John Chancellor’s daughter Mary Chancellor. 

About Columbia Journalism School
For more than a century, the school has been preparing journalists in programs that stress academic rigor, ethics, journalistic inquiry and professional practice. Founded with a gift from Joseph Pulitzer, the school opened its doors in 1912 and offers Masters of Science, Masters of Arts, a joint Master of Science degree in Computer Science and Journalism, and Doctor of Philosophy in Communications.  It houses the Columbia Journalism Review, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. The school also administers many of the leading journalism awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, the Maria Moors Cabot Prizes, the John Chancellor Award, the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism, Dart Awards for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award, and the Mike Berger Award.

Links to reporting by Donald McNeil Jr.:

"MEDICINE MERCHANTS: Patents and Patients; As Devastating Epidemics Increase, Nations Take On Drug Companies" The New York Times, July 9, 2000

"In India, a Quest to Ease the Pain of Dying" The New York Times, September 11, 2007

"Colombia Is Hit Hard by Zika, but Not by Microcephaly" The New York Times, October 31, 2016

"Wuhan Coronavirus Looks Increasingly Like a Pandemic, Experts Say" The New York Times, February 2, 2020

"Learning to Live with the Coronavirus" The Daily, The New York Times, March 13, 2020 

“The Coronavirus in America: The Year Ahead” The New York Times, April 18, 2020