photos of 2023 Nyhan Prize winners: Mike Hixenbaugh, a light skinned man with dark hair and facial hair and glasses; Antonia Hylton, a medium skinned woman with curly brown hair, and Robert Downen, a light skinned man with dark hair and facial hair

Antonia Hylton, Mike Hixenbaugh, and Robert Downen win Nyhan Prizes for Political Journalism

For the first time in the 18 year history of the Nyhan Prize for Political Journalism, administered by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, the selection committee has chosen three co-winners for this year’s Nyhan Prize. Robert Downen, reporter at The Texas Tribune, and the team of Mike Hixenbaugh and Antonia Hylton from NBC News, were chosen by the committee of Nick Nyhan, Denise Marie Ordway, Cheryl Thompson-Morton, and Professor Thomas Patterson. A conversation with all three winners will be held virtually on April 30th at 4pm ET. Click here to register.

The committee noted all three reporters’ high degree of craftsmanship and care in reporting on what are often thorny and sensitive stories, while never shying away from holding those in power accountable when their actions fail to center the public good of their communities. Though all three are quite young, they have demonstrated an abiding interest in how national and local politics affects everyday people in the communities they cover, and the committee recognized them for their work to-date and the trajectory of their careers to come.

The fact that all three winners’ recent reporting has focused on Texas, and the particular interplays of national and local politics at work in the state, is a coincidence of the selection process, but one that should make for a fascinating conversation between the three winners, in celebration of their awards, on Tuesday, April 30th at 4pm ET. Register now to join the conversation online.

The Nyhan Prize for Political Journalism was established at the Shorenstein Center in memory of the late Boston Globe columnist and reporter David Nyhan, who for more than 30 years challenged the powerful and acted as a voice for those whose voices are seldom heard. It honors a political journalist who covers politics and social policy in the public interest and embodies David’s style of journalism that speaks to – and for – everyone. Nyhan was a fellow at the center in 2001, and the prize was established with support from a large group of his family and friends after his death in 2005.

Learn more about this year’s Nyhan Prize winners:

Robert Downen is reporter at The Texas Tribune whose work has forced some of the nation’s most powerful institutions to confront their darkest parts — from white supremacists embedded in the Republican Party of Texas to a sexual abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second-largest faith group.

Raised in the Chicago suburbs, Downen graduated in 2014 with a degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University. At 23, he was named the managing editor of six newspapers in central Illinois, and later won a prestigious, two-year reporting fellowship through Hearst Media.

After spending a year covering business in New York for the Albany Times Union, Downen moved to Houston a day before the arrival of Hurricane Harvey, and was part of the Houston Chronicle’s newsroom-wide reporting effort that was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news. As a reporting fellow at the Chronicle, he also developed and was the lead writer on “Abuse of Faith,” a groundbreaking 2019 investigation into sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. The findings prompted historic reforms, an ongoing Department of Justice investigation and, five years later, continue to dominate the faith group’s agenda.

In 2022, Downen was hired by The Texas Tribune, where he covers threats to democracy such as extremism, disinformation and conspiracy theories. His work has shed light on the rise of Christian Nationalism, efforts to vilify the LGBTQ+ community and the influence of far-right Texas oil billionaires on the state’s politics and leaders — including during the impeachment of their key ally, Attorney General Ken Paxton. In late 2023, Downen and a photographer revealed that the leader of one of the state’s most powerful political groups, Defend Texas Liberty, had hosted white supremacist Nick Fuentes at his office for several hours. Photos from the meeting, which were captured by the Tribune from across the street, immediately sparked outcry from some Republicans and calls for the Texas GOP to distance itself from one of its most important donor groups. Subsequent reporting by Downen found even deeper ties between extremists and Defend Texas Liberty, and prompted the Texas GOP to pass a resolution that banned the party from associating with antisemites.


Antonia Hylton and Mike Hixenbaugh have, as a team, produced incisive and groundbreaking reporting on the intersections of education and politics for NBC News. Their podcasts Southlake and Grapevine delved into the backlash against anti-racism and critical race theory in Texas public schools, and revealed how national politics and campaigns drove a local communities into uproar.

Antonia Hylton is a Peabody and two-time Emmy award-winning Correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC, and the New York Times bestselling author of Madness: Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum. She is also the cohost, with Mike Hixenbaugh, of the hit podcasts Southlake and Grapevine.

From 2016 to 2020, Hylton was a Correspondent and Producer for Vice Media and HBO’s nightly news and documentary show, Vice News Tonight. Since 2019, she has also served as an annual judge for the American Mosaic Journalism Prize.

Hylton has won several awards, including Emmys for education and immigration reporting, two Gracie Awards for her stories about women, a NAMIC Vision Award for reporting on violence and politics in Chicago, and two Front Page Awards for special reporting and breaking news.

Hylton graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 2015, where she received prizes for her writing and investigative research on race, mass incarceration, and the history of psychiatry.

Mike Hixenbaugh is a senior investigative reporter for NBC News and author of They Came for the Schools: One Town’s Fight Over Race and Identity, and the New War for America’s Classrooms.

Hixenbaugh is a Peabody award-winning journalist and cohost, with Antonia Hylton, of the hit podcasts Southlake and Grapevine.

He graduated from the University of Akron in 2007 before going to work at newspapers in Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Texas. He lives in Maryland with his wife and four children.