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.

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. Katie Couric, the pioneering and award-winning broadcast journalist, best-selling author, and media entrepreneur, received the award in 2019.


Moved by Poynter’s mission to advance women to the highest levels of leadership within the journalism industry, Couric donated money to support the Leadership Academy for Women in Media.

“It’s one of the reasons I wanted to start my own company,” Couric said. “I’m really excited about helping young women, and a diverse group of young women, to really consider journalism as an important career. We’ve been under siege a lot lately and to be able to be in a group that really recognizes and appreciates what journalists do is so gratifying.”

Previous honorees:

Lester Holt, anchor of the “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” and “Dateline NBC” received the Poynter Medal in 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.

Poynter presented Norman Pearlstine, executive editor of the Los Angeles Times with the 2019 award. Before joining the Times in 2018, Pearlstine worked as an editor and reporter for five decades in the United States, Asia and Europe. Among his many executive-level positions, he was executive editor at The Wall Street Journal, executive editor of Forbes for the West Coast and the Pacific, editor-in-chief of Time Warner and Time Inc., and chief content officer at Bloomberg L.P.

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)
  • Arthur Sulzberger Jr., former publisher of The New York Times and chairman of The New York Times company (2018)

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, as well as the parents who relied on their local paper to know exactly what happened to their children that Valentine’s Day:

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.