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.