Here's (some of) the best political journalism of 2016
Before the tsunami of Election Day coverage begins, we at Poynter wanted to take a breath and celebrate some of the best political journalism done this year.
On Friday, we opened our online poll with a list of finalists chosen in-house and invited you to vote. More than 25,000 of you did, and many wrote in outstanding journalism that didn't make our original list.
The results are below, along with write-ups of the contenders.
Jamelle Bouie, Slate/CBS News (1st): Back in August, when most major networks were heralding the election as a close contest between Trump and Clinton, Bouie blasted the conventional wisdom in a piece for Slate, where he's the chief political correspondent. His piece, titled "There Is No Horse Race," articulated a runaway lead for Clinton — a lead that she held until the polls tightened in recent weeks. Bouie has been a regular and incisive presence on "Face the Nation," and a prolific columnist over at Slate, where he's examined the nexus of politics, race and the media.
David Fahrenthold, The Washington Post (2nd): For months, Fahrenthold has combined old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting (notebook, pen) with digital-first sensibilities (Twitter sleuthing) to crack open one of the biggest stories of the election: The uncharitable charity founded by Donald Trump. His byline also appeared over one of the biggest scoops of the election: the "Access Hollywood" recording on which Trump bragged about forcing himself on women.
Katy Tur, NBC News (3rd): When she grabbed her go bag and left London for a Make-A-Wish Foundation event last year, Tur didn't anticipate she'd be covering the eventual Republican nominee. But in short order, Tur began following Trump around the country, covering a longshot campaign that ultimately turned into the biggest story in American politics. And, as she said in a recent first-person essay for Marie Claire, she's not going anywhere. "Whether or not Trump wins the White House, I'll still run for those live shots. What else am I supposed to do?"
Sopan Deb, CBS News (4th): There's no doubting Deb's commitment to his assignment, which is covering Donald Trump for CBS News. In March, the Murrow Award-winning digital dervish was knocked down and arrested while covering a Trump rally in Chicago. He kept rolling, and police ultimately dropped the bogus charges against him. During a Twitter-centric campaign, Deb has been a prolific tweeter, and his colleagues say he's among the fastest typers in the press corps — a consequence of his piano playing days, according to Politico.
Molly Ball, The Atlantic (5th): Less than 24 hours after Trump clinched the GOP nomination with a victory in the Indiana primary, The Atlantic published 2,600 words from Ball under the headline "The Day the Republican Party Died." It was a detail-rich, deeply reported dispatch from Trump Tower that foresaw a party fundamentally at odds with its presumptive nominee more than two months before the political conventions. Before and since, she's penned impressive stand-back pieces on the state of American politics, including a takeout in The Atlantic's October issue that laid bare the futility of consulting.
Best reporter, print
David Fahrenthold, The Washington Post (1st): No list of the best print reporters would be complete without a mention of Fahrenthold, who has broken some of the biggest stories of the campaign from his desk in Washington, D.C. Executive Editor Marty Baron stopped Fahrenthold in the Post elevator lobby one debate night and told his to dig into the Trump Foundation, and he's been filing scoops ever since.
Maggie Haberman, The New York Times (2nd): It's not uncommon to come across a detail in one of Haberman's stories about Trump or Clinton and wonder to yourself how she managed to pry it loose from a campaign staffer. Haberman joined The Times from Politico in 2015 to serve as the paper's presidential campaign reporter and since then has turned in story after story from deep inside both campaigns. Her success at the Gray Lady has no doubt been a source of pride for her father, Clyde Haberman, a three-decade veteran of the newspaper.
Susanne Craig/David Barstow, Mike McIntire, Patricia Cohen and Russ Buettner, The New York Times (3rd): This is the only tag-team listed in the "best reporter" category, but we felt an exception was required for these scribes from The New York Times who broke one of the biggest stories of the election: the possibility that Trump avoided paying taxes for nearly two decades. It all stemmed from a tip sent to Craig, a New York Times metro reporter, who discovered Trump's 1995 tax records in her mailbox one Friday. She then enlisted additional reporting muscle — including three-time Pulitzer-winner David Barstow — to help her decipher and verify the document. In doing so, the team from The New York Times beat the New York Daily News, which also had Trump's records but failed to verify them on deadline.
Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker (4th): Cobb has spent much of the year chronicling the other big story of 2016: the protests in Baltimore, Chicago, Baton Rouge and elsewhere that stemmed from police violence against Black Americans. But he's also been a canny observer of the presidential race, connecting the bigoted rhetoric of the Trump campaign to demagogues of decades past. His essays for The New Yorker have added much-needed context for this year's race, which at first glance can seem so outlandish as to have no historical precedent.
Karen Tumulty, The Washington Post (5th): Tumulty, who won the 2013 Toner Prize, has been a consistent and revelatory presence on WashingtonPost.com whose bylines have spanned the gamut of political journalism — a ticktock of Clinton's wooing of vice-presidential pick Tim Kaine, reported analysis of political messaging and party dynamics, and old-fashioned campaign scoops.
Best reporter, online
Clare Malone, FiveThirtyEight (1st): FiveThirtyEight has a well-earned reputation for data-driven explainers and precise predictions. But some of Malone's best work of late has taken political data from the realm of abstraction and given it a human face. That was the case for an Oct. 31 piece on an election gambling podcast, a feature on "delegate hunters" and deep-dives into Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and the Republican Party. She's also a regular on FiveThirtyEight's election podcast, a chummy gabfest about data driving the election.
Andrew Kaczynski, BuzzFeed/CNN (2nd): BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith made a good decision when he recruited Kaczynski in 2011, back when he was a 22-year-old archive-delving student at St. John’s University. And CNN made a savvy move in October when it poached Kaczynski and his team from BuzzFeed's ranks. The 26-year-old scoop-monger revealed when he was working for BuzzFeed that Trump supported the Iraq War, and he hasn't stopped breaking stories since he jumped to CNN.
McKay Coppins, BuzzFeed (3rd): Coppins gave readers a mapcap preview of Trump's candidacy way back in 2014, when he spent 36 hours with the future nominee and declared Trump's presidential aspirations stillborn. Since then, Coppins has followed Trump's candidacy closely, most notably in a July piece that examined his own culpability in his rise.
Annie Karni, Politico (4th): Since joining Politico from the New York Daily News in 2015, Karni has been a steadfast chronicler of the Clinton campaign, filing stemwinders on the makeup of a possible Clinton White House, the impact of the Wikileaks disclosures and her battle with the email controversy. A look through Politico's archives shows Karni is a regular and authoritative presence on the site, pulling no punches in her coverage of the Democratic nominee.
Edward-Isaac Dovere, Politico (5th): Threats don't stop Dovere, Politico's senior White House reporter. In July, Rep. Alan Grayson suggested Dovere would be arrested if he kept asking him about allegations of domestic violence. Undeterred, Dovere kept pressing his line of questioning until Grayson got into an elevator. Lately, Dovere has covered President Obama's endorsement of Clinton on the campaign trail, offering granular coverage of "YOLObama"'s advocacy.
Best reporter, broadcast
Katy Tur, NBC News (1st): She's endured jeers from Trump's supporters and personal insults from Trump himself, but that hasn't stopped her. If anything, it's only given her a bigger platform to cover Trump — as she did last week when he called her out by name in front of a large audience.
Andrea Mitchell, NBC News (2nd): Among the political press corps, perhaps none has more experience covering Clinton than Mitchell, a top correspondent for NBC News who's covered Whitewater, Bill Clinton's impeachment and Hillary Clinton's early campaigns. A May 2015 profile of Mitchell by Hadas Gold described her as "more like a cub reporter hungry for her first scoop than a star television journalist with her own show." She's been a leader among the team of women driving NBC News' political coverage.
Sopan Deb, CBS News (3rd): In addition to being arrested in Chicago, Deb has also endured insults from Trump, who tweeted that he should be "fired for dishonest reporting." Far from being shown the door, Deb is now at the top of every recruiter's list, according to a recent story by Politico.
Brianna Keilar, CNN (4th): Keilar, CNN's senior political correspondent, has been a steady presence behind the desk this year, evincing an aversion to spin and a willingness to inject a dose of reality into her often-contentious interviews. She demonstrated her tough-minded questioning during an August interview of Trump attorney Michael Cohen, prompting the now infamous "Says who?" moment.
Jeff Zeleny, CNN (5th): Zeleny has been a road-warrior for CNN, criss-crossing America to bring viewers campaign travails from across the United States. His experience (it's his fifth presidential election cycle) has been evident in dispatches regarding Clinton's tax returns and her claim that she was planning to join the Marines.
Best reporter, audio
Tamara Keith, NPR (1st): This year, after six election cycles, Keith finally achieved her dream of covering a national political campaign. She wrote about that experience on her website earlier this year, tracing her career from its roots in UC Berkeley's grad school to her eventual campaign correspondent assignment. She's made the most of that dream, reporting with clarity for NPR on the home stretch of Clinton's campaign, tackling topics including Clinton's emails, her Wall Street speeches and her swing state strategy.
Zoe Chace, "This American Life" (2nd): There has been perhaps no better portrait of the Trump voter this election than Chace's recent deep-dive into his supporters in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The piece is a sensitive portrait of racial and economic anxieties in America that eloquently depicts decent American Republicans struggling to grapple with their nominee.
Mike Pesca, The Gist/"On The Media" (3rd): Pesca's work for Slate (rebroadcast by WNYC's "On the Media" this year) has taken him deep inside the electionland spin cycle, where he's filed "rapid response" dispatches that break down the presidential debates shortly after their conclusion. His reporting has been been by turns funny and insightful, parsing our national "Punch and Judy Show" with a careful eye for strategy and optics.
Matt Katz, WNYC (4th): Katz has provided consistent and excellent coverage of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for WNYC, tracking the governor's extensive out-of-state travel and the unfolding Bridgegate saga. But he's also taken detours to sound off on the Clinton-Trump debates, cover the rise in anti-Semitic tweets from Trump supporters and explore the rise of conservative media.
Best debate moderator
Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper, ABC News/CNN (1st): The Anderson Cooper-Martha Raddatz duo earned plaudits from the press for their rigid control over the second presidential debate. Notable moments included Cooper pressing Trump to respond to allegations of sexual assault, an answer that prompted multiple women to come forward and accuse the Republican nominee of groping.
Chris Wallace, Fox News (2nd): Wallace's turn as debate moderator — a first for Fox News — was well-received by journalists who praised his ability to rein in the candidates and focus on important issues. Despite Wallace's early claims that he was going to lay off "truth-squadding," he insisted he wouldn't be "a potted plant" and held the candidates to their previous statements and policy proposals.
Lester Holt, NBC News (3rd) : Holt was generally regarded as a fair moderator, kicking off the presidential debates by fact-checking Trump on issues including his taxes, his early public support for the invasion in Iraq and his assertion that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
CNN Reliable Sources (1st): Poynter looks to Brian Stelter's Reliable Sources email blast on a daily basis for media stories we missed during the day. The newsletter is powered by scoops from Stelter and his cadre of hyperkinetic colleagues, including Dylan Byers, Tom Kludt and Frank Pallotta and represents an exhaustive pulse-taking of the media world. For a campaign that sits squarely at the intersection of media and politics, this is a must-read.
Playbook (2nd): The newsletter franchise that spawned a bevy of competitors has managed to survive and thrive in the post-Mike Allen era. Its new stewards, Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman, are including more interviews in the daily newsletter and bringing it onto new platforms. Given the newsletter's influence and reach under workaholic Allen, Palmer and Sherman should be commended for keeping it relevant now that he's left for an as-yet unnamed media startup.
The Daily 202 (3rd): The Washington Post's answer to Playbook, The Daily 202 incorporates its forebear's bolded subheds and informal style (direct address and first-person are common). Author James Hohmann, a Politico alumnus, is no miser with the wordcount and delivers briefings informed by interviews and on-the-ground reporting.
First Draft (4th): The New York Times also followed The Washington Post's lead in tapping a Politico alum to lead its political newsletter. First Draft, anchored by Haberman, is part of the Times' running commentary on the election, which appears in its First Draft vertical.
Best data visualization
Election forecast, FiveThirtyEight (1st): FiveThirtyEight's election forecast is undoubtedly open on browsers across America, refreshed every 20 minutes or so to see if the polling forecast has changed. It's been such a staple this year that the Clinton campaign has used it in a message to supporters.
Election tracker, The Upshot (2nd): The Upshot's election tracker is similar to FiveThirtyEight's, but it uses a slightly different methodology and contains different visualizations. It also compares the likelihood of an election result to a real-world event. Currently, Trump's victory is as likely as an N.F.L. kicker missing a 38-yard field goal.
Guide to absentee voting, NPR (3rd): This guide from NPR blew away any and all excuse not to cast ballots on time. Published on Sept. 23 with information from all 50 states, it included cartograms with "no excuse required" and "excuse required" designations.
Red Feed, Blue Feed, The Wall Street Journal (4th): During a campaign where Facebook has been accused of turbocharging partisan beliefs, The Wall Street Journal's "Red Feed, Blue Feed" showcased the social network's penchant for enabling our confirmation bias.
Biggest election scoop
Trump's tax returns, The New York Times (1st): This scoop, born from a tip snail-mailed to both The New York Times and the New York Daily News, prompted renewed calls for Trump to release his tax information. Here's the nut graf:
The 1995 tax records, never before disclosed, reveal the extraordinary tax benefits that Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, derived from the financial wreckage he left behind in the early 1990s through mismanagement of three Atlantic City casinos, his ill-fated foray into the airline business and his ill-timed purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.
After The Times got ahold of the documents, they assigned a team of four reporters to verify and explain the records, an investment that ultimately paid off.
"Access Hollywood" recording (2nd): This story, broken by The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold, revealed that Trump bragged about grabbing women by their genitals without their consent. It elicited an instant condemnation from Clinton and an outpouring of opposition from Trump's would-be allies in the Republican party. Trump eventually apologized for the remarks, calling them "locker room talk," but the recording ultimately led several women to come forward and accuse him of sexual assault.
Clinton, Inc., The Washington Post (3rd): Using documents made public by Wikileaks, The Washington Post told the story of Teneo, a consulting company led by former Bill Clinton campaign staffers that sought for-profit opportunities for the ex-president:
(Doug) Band, who grew close to Bill Clinton two decades ago as his personal aide in the White House and became the architect of his post-presidential activities, argued in the memo that he and his firm had benefited the former president and his foundation.
Donald Trump's Iraq War support, BuzzFeed (4th): In February, when he was still working for CNN, Kaczynski reported that Trump initially supported the Iraq War in an interview with Howard Stern. The disclosure has followed Trump throughout the campaign trail and provoked stringent denials from the Republican candidate, who has insisted that he privately opposed the war in conversations with Fox host Sean Hannity.
Biggest viral moment
"Access Hollywood" recording (1st): The "Access Hollywood" tape published by The Washington Post touched off a renewed conversation on social media about the prevalence of sexual assault.
"Says Who?" (2nd): This gaffe arose from Keilar's interview with Cohen, who fired back a halting rebuttal that the Trump campaign wasn't reorganizing its leadership in response to disappointing poll numbers. Here's a summary of the exchange, from The Hill:
"Says who?" Cohen asked CNN anchor Brianna Keilar after she said that the Trump campaign was "down."
"Polls. Most of them. All of them," Keilar responded.
"Says who?" Cohen asked again.
"Polls, I just told you. I answered your question," she responded.
Cohen then asked which polls show the GOP nominee behind.
"All of them," she answered, before Cohen stopped questioning.
"Blood coming out of her wherever." (3rd): Trump deployed this not-so-veiled reference to menstruation while criticizing the performance of "Kelly File" host Megyn Kelly after the August 2015 Republican primary debate. It was the first salvo in a months-long war between Trump and Fox News wherein former Chairman Roger Ailes was caught between supporting Kelly and placating a ratings-driving newsmaker.
Best political podcast
Election Podcast, FiveThirtyEight (1st): In a campaign season rife with election podcasts, FiveThirtyEight's has stood out for buoyantly applying the site's data-oriented approach to the traditional horse race narrative. The podcast, which has provided daily coverage in the dwindling days of the election, features FiveThirtyEight stars Nate Silver, Clare Malone and Harry Enten as they sound off on the issues from the comfort of a diner or onstage in front of an audience.
Keepin' it 1600 (2nd): This gabfest from former Obama aides Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer allows listeners to eavesdrop on a pleasing combination of wry election banter and genuine campaign insight. Favreau and Pfeiffer are unapologetic left-leaners (co-host and former Clinton staffer Jon Lovett ironically refers to himself as a "straight shooter widely respected on both sides"), but they regularly bring on guests to leaven the partisan echo.
Politics Podcast, NPR (3rd): One of the delights of podcasting is hearing the wealth of knowledge every reporter has in their head but can't always fit into a story. That's doubly true for NPR's Politics Podcast, where hosts Sam Sanders and Tamara Keith unload news nuggets and bits of analysis that don't always fit into tautly edited radio stories. Political Editor Domenico Montanaro is also a regular presence on the podcast, as are a roving cast of characters from NPR's deep political reporting bench.
The Run-up, The New York Times (4th): One of the biggest upsides to the Run-up, a very good political podcast hosted by Times reporter Michael Barbaro, is its access to the ample political reporting ranks of The New York Times. Recent podcasts have pulled in Times reporters Maggie Haberman and Nick Confessore to chat about the Republican Party, Amy Chozick to discuss the third presidential debate and Upshot editor Nate Cohn to discuss the shifting electoral map. The latest (and last, before the election) episode features comedians Phoebe Robinson, Chris Gethard and Cameron Esposito to answer an important question: Is Trump funny?
The Axe Files, CNN (5th): You can tell by listening to the Axe Files that its host, former Obama adviser David Axelrod, used to be a journalist. During his in-depth, intimate conversations, the former Chicago Tribune political columnist teases out revealing details from political luminaries including Maureen Dowd, Fareed Zakaria, Robert Gibbs and John Dickerson.
Off Message, Politico (6th): Glenn Thrush has a reporter's knack for making news during his interviews with important political figures — during a chat with President Obama, for instance, Obama remarked that America had gotten "meaner" during his tenure — which makes Off Message a staple for political junkies. Thrush, chief political correspondent at Politico, brings reporting chops from stints at Newsday, The New York Observer, Bloomberg News and the New York Daily News, among others.
Special Relationship, The Economist/Mic (7th): Here, The Economist and Mic bring a much-needed global perspective to what can sometimes be a provincial view of American politics. Special Relationship, hosted by Mic reporter Celeste Katz and Economist reporter John Prideaux, examines topics with "broader perspectives provided by global and historical comparisons from both sides of the pond."