The Victor K. McElheny Award

Victor K. McElheny, right, founder of the Knight Science Journalism program (then known as the Vannevar Bush program) with members of the Class of 1984-85.

 

This September, the Knight Science Journalism program will celebrate its 35th anniversary by launching an important new journalism award. The goal is to honor outstanding science journalism at the local and regional level in the United States — a special concern of the program’s founder, Victor K. McElheny, whose generous endowment made the award possible. The first winner of the $5,000 annual prize will be announced in April 2019; watch this space for more details. Below is the contest’s mission statement.


We may think of science as something remote from where we live — our hometowns and home states. Yet it is just there that science touches our daily lives, in areas as diverse as climate change, technological upheaval, and access to health care. This is why science literacy has never been more important — and local and regional journalists have a central role in promoting it.

A critical part of assuring journalism excellence is to honor it. The Victor K. McElheny Award — for outstanding coverage of science, public-health, technology, or environmental issues at the local or regional level — will do just that. Sponsored by the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the award honors the exceptional work done by journalists illuminating issues in their own communities. While some science journalism contests have “small market” categories, the McElheny Award will be the only one aimed exclusively at local and regional outlets and it will celebrate such work with a single award of $5,000 and a ceremony hosted by KSJ.

To encourage wide participation, we define “local or regional” broadly. Only outlets with a large staff and emphasis on a national audience will be excluded. We will accept entries on local or state-level topics from newspapers, small magazines and digital sites, broadcasters, podcasters, even bloggers. The award was made possible by generous support from Victor K. McElheny, the founder of the Knight program, and his wife, Ruth McElheny; and from the Rita Allen Foundation of Princeton, New Jersey.

The judges will be encouraged to honor investigative, community-service, and compelling narrative journalism — journalism that breaks new ground and makes a difference. In the words of Victor McElheny: “Reporting for regional news organizations is often the way for beginning science journalists to cut their teeth. The prize can help illustrate a continuing contribution to the maximum level of public understanding of what technology and science are achieving, and what these achievements imply for humanity.”