The Bowtie Ball

Poynter’s annual Bowtie Ball celebrates significant contributions to journalism and the essential role of a free press in democracy. It’s also a fusion of fashion, fun and community.

Each year, hundreds of prominent media executives, business people, philanthropists, public servants and citizens gather for the fundraising gala that honors winners of the Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism and Distinguished Service to Journalism Award. All proceeds from the event support the nonprofit Poynter Institute, a global leader in journalism education and the international headquarters for fact-checking.

The 2019 Bowtie Ball was Nov. 2 at the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Florida. Katie Couric, the pioneering and award-winning broadcast journalist, best-selling author, and media entrepreneur, received the 2019 Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism. Norman Pearlstine, executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, received the 2019 Distinguished Service to Journalism Award.

As a celebration of the best of journalism, the Bowtie Ball also features storytelling about the impact of journalism on citizens. At the 2019 gala, we highlighted the Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that investigated the Parkland shooting: 

Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism

The Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism honors accomplished journalists who have helped inform and inspire the country and the world. “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt received the award in December 2018.

“I think as long as organizations like Poynter are reaching out and supporting good journalism, we’re going to be okay,” Holt said when he received the honor.

It was at the Bowtie Ball that Holt first learned about MediaWise, Poynter’s digital literacy project for teenagers. He is now the first MediaWise Ambassador.

“Fact-checking and identifying trustworthy sources is something I’ve done every day for over four decades,” Holt said. “But in today’s noisy media environment, those skills are just as important for our readers and viewers as they are for those of us doing the reporting. MediaWise will help instill those values at a young age and I’m honored to play a small part in educating a new generation of thoughtful and discerning news consumers.”

Other recipients of the Poynter Medal expressed similar support for Poynter’s mission, which can feel more urgent with increased attacks on the free press around the world.

“It’s such an honor to be recognized by Poynter, which from the day it opened its doors has been dedicated to nourishing excellent journalism as the foundation of our democracy,” Judy Woodruff said. “Its mission of educating journalists at every stage of their careers has never been more important than it is now.”

Distinguished Service to Journalism Award

Poynter’s Distinguished Service to Journalism Award is bestowed upon an individual who has championed the goals and craft of journalism through actionable efforts or meritorious service.

In recognition of his exceptional stewardship of the world’s most influential newspaper, Poynter presented former New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. with the 2018 award.

“With journalism that has held the world’s most powerful people to account, a vision to set The New York Times on a course of unparalleled digital innovation, and a second-to-none commitment to diversity, Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s industry-wide leadership is worthy of continued recognition,” said Poynter President Neil Brown. “His standards for journalistic excellence led to 61 Pulitzers and unprecedented global resonance. We are delighted to honor him with Poynter’s signature service award.”

Previously, Poynter presented the Distinguished Service to Journalism Award to:

  • Brian Tierney, advertising executive and former publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer (2015)
  • H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, media entrepreneur, philanthropist and Founder of The Institute for Journalism in New Media (2016)
  • Paul Steiger, founding editor-in-chief, CEO and president of ProPublica (2017)

Behind the bowtie


The Poynter Institute’s visionary founder, Nelson Poynter, proudly wore a bowtie. The Bowtie Ball carries on his legacy, both for journalistic excellence and dapper dress. As the publisher of the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times), Mr. Poynter was renowned for editorial innovation and pioneering independent ownership models.

Get involved with the 2020 Bowtie Ball

Contact Wendy Wallace at if you’d like to sponsor the Bowtie Ball. You can also support the Poynter Institute right now. Any donation amount supports Poynter’s mission of strengthening democracy by elevating journalism.