Tovia Smith

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR News National Desk correspondent based in Boston.

For the last 25 years, Smith has been covering news around New England and beyond. She's reported extensively on the debate over gay marriage in Massachusetts and the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church, including breaking the news of the Pope's secret meeting with survivors.

Smith has traveled to New Hampshire to report on seven consecutive Primary elections, to the Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill, and to Ground Zero in New York City after the September 11, 2001 attacks. She covered landmark court cases — from the trials of British au pair Louise Woodward, and abortion clinic gunman John Salvi, to the proceedings against shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Through the years, Smith has brought to air the distinct voices of Boston area residents, whether reacting to the capture of reputed Mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, or mourning the death of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.

In all of her reporting, Smith aims to tell personal stories that evoke the emotion and issues of the day. She has filed countless stories on legal, social, and political controversies from the biggies like abortion to smaller-scale disputes over whether to require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms.

With reporting that always push past the polemics, Smith advances the debate with more thoughtful, and thought-provoking, nuanced arguments from both –or all— sides. She has produced award-winning broadcasts on everything from race relations in Boston, adoption and juvenile crime, and has filed several documentary-length reports, including an award-winning half-hour special on modern-day orphanages.

Smith took a leave of absence from NPR in 1998, to launch Here and Now, a daily news magazine produced by NPR Member Station WBUR in Boston. As co-host of the program, she conducted live daily interviews on issues ranging from the impeachment of President Bill Clinton to allegations of sexual abuse in Massachusetts prisons, as well as regular features on cooking and movies.

In 1996, Smith worked as a radio consultant and journalism instructor in Africa. She spent several months teaching and reporting in Ethiopia, Guinea, and Tunisia. Smith filed her first on-air stories as a reporter for local affiliate WBUR in Boston in 1987.

Throughout her career, Smith has won more than two dozen national journalism awards including the Casey Medal, the Unity Award, a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award Honorable Mention, Ohio State Award, Radio and Television News Directors Association Award, and numerous honors from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Public Radio News Directors Association, and the Associated Press.

She is a graduate of Tufts University, with a degree in international relations.

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7:34am

Thu March 14, 2013
U.S.

Crime Lab Scandal Leaves Mass. Legal System In Turmoil

Originally published on Sat March 16, 2013 7:26 am

Annie Dookan, a former Massachusetts crime lab chemist, is accused of falsifying evidence in as many as 34,000 cases. The state's criminal justice system is now reeling as former defendants are challenging their convictions and hundreds have already been released.
Jessica Rinaldi Reuters/Landov

A scandal in a Massachusetts crime lab continues to reverberate throughout the state's legal system. Several months ago, Annie Dookhan, a former chemist in a state crime lab, told police that she messed up big time. Dookhan now stands accused of falsifying test results in as many as 34,000 cases.

As a result, lawyers, prosecutors and judges used to operating in a world of "beyond a reasonable doubt" now have nothing but doubt.

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3:30pm

Tue January 15, 2013
Shots - Health News

Colleges Try To Curtail Flu Risk For Students

Originally published on Tue January 15, 2013 5:54 pm

Dr. Tom Nary is the director of health services at Boston College.
Tovia Smith/NPR

As college students return to class from winter break this week, campuses around the nation are bracing for the possibility of a flu outbreak.

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3:11am

Sun December 30, 2012
It's All Politics

Massachusetts Freshman Brings Kennedys Back To Capitol Hill

Originally published on Sun December 30, 2012 2:39 pm

Joseph Kennedy III, son of former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II and grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy, delivers his victory speech on Nov. 6 in Newton, Mass.
Bizuayehu Tesfaye AP

Last year marked the first time in more than six decades that there was no Kennedy in elected office in the nation's capital.

But that gap ends this week with the inauguration of Rep.-elect Joseph Kennedy III of Massachusetts. The son of former Rep. Joe Kennedy and the grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy was elected by a 2-1 margin in his first run for office.

There's little denying that Kennedy's election was about more than just him.

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2:25pm

Tue November 27, 2012
Education

As Colleges Retool Aid, Can Entry Stay Need-Blind?

Originally published on Wed November 28, 2012 3:23 pm

Cornell University just converted some of its grants into loans.
iStockphoto.com

With money coming in more slowly than the financial aid given out, schools say they are nearing the breaking point, and even the most selective elite universities are rethinking their generosity.

"It just became clear that if we continue to give more and more aid, the numbers don't add up," says Raynard Kington, head of Grinnell College. Thanks to longtime former board member Warren Buffett, Grinnell has an endowment bigger than most schools dream of. For years, that's enabled Grinnell to admit students on a need-blind basis — and then give them as much aid as they need.

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3:33am

Tue October 30, 2012
Business

Travel At A Near Standstill Along The East Coast

Originally published on Tue October 30, 2012 11:20 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The transportation industry is also taking a hard hit. Travel is at a virtual standstill along the East Coast because of Sandy. Up to 15,000 flights have been canceled. Amtrak service in the Northeast is shut down again today. And crews are just beginning to assess the extensive cleanup work needed to clear tracks and roads.

NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Travelers across the Northeast have been going nowhere fast. Some who thought they were getting lucky, got half way home before hitting the end of the road.

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2:37pm

Thu September 13, 2012
Education

Teacher Evaluation Dispute Echoes Beyond Chicago

Originally published on Thu September 13, 2012 9:19 pm

One of the primary disputes in the Chicago Public Schools teachers' strike is over Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposal to link teacher pay to student performance.
Robert Ray AP

One of the primary issues at the heart of the the Chicago teachers' strike is whether student test scores should be used to evaluate teachers and determine their pay. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing that approach, as are other officials around the nation.

But many teachers insist that it's inherently unfair to grade their teaching based on their students' learning.

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5:17am

Tue September 11, 2012
Around the Nation

In Chicago, 'Perfect Storm' Led To Teachers' Strike

Originally published on Tue September 11, 2012 7:57 am

Striking Chicago Public School teacher Lanessa Mendoza pickets with fellow teachers Monday as Mayor Rahm Emanuel visits students staying at Maranatha Church in Chicago during the strike.
M. Spencer Green AP

It was a major accomplishment in Chicago that teachers who used to walk out frequently had, for the past 25 years, managed to avoid a strike. But it's not surprising, many experts say, that things would fall apart now.

"I think it is a perfect storm," says Tim Knowles, head of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute. He says issues in Chicago — of tying teacher pay to student test scores, job security, longer school days and expanding charter schools, for example — are not unlike issues unions have grappled with in other cities, from New York to Los Angeles.

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4:04am

Thu September 6, 2012
Law

Mass. Prison Reviews Court's Transgender Ruling

Originally published on Thu September 6, 2012 8:17 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Prison officials in Massachusetts say they are still reviewing a federal court decision in Boston ordering them to provide sex-change surgery for a prison inmate. Critics are urging officials to appeal what they call an outrageous abuse of taxpayer funds. But as NPR's Tovia Smith reports, the decision this week reflects national trends of prisons treating gender identity disorder as a legitimate medical condition deserving treatment like any other.

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1:38pm

Mon August 20, 2012
Presidential Race

Ann Romney Adds Fire, Faith To Husband's Campaign

Originally published on Mon August 20, 2012 6:52 pm

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, greet supporters during an Illinois primary victory party in March.
Scott Olson Getty Images

If you want to see how much Mitt and Ann Romney consider themselves a team, check out his official portrait at the Massachusetts Statehouse. He's the first governor to request that an image of his wife be included in the painting — he's posed beside a framed picture of her.

By all accounts, the Romneys consult each other on everything. So after a bruising campaign in 2008 that left Mrs. Romney openly disgusted by the process and vowing she would never do it again, it looked like that might be it for Mitt.

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1:39am

Wed August 15, 2012
Law

The Law — And Reality — Of Gun Access

Originally published on Wed August 15, 2012 4:44 am

Federal law bars gun sales to the mentally ill only if they've ever been deemed by a judge to be mentally incompetent or involuntarily committed. States reporting of such things to the federal database is spotty, and very often, it doesn't show up when a gun seller does a background check.
Gabriel Bouys AFP/Getty Images

Timothy Courtois' family had been worried about him for weeks. They repeatedly told police in Biddeford, Maine, that the 49-year-old was off his meds for bipolar disorder. And police were also told he had guns. But still, because he wasn't doing anything that rose to the legal definition of imminent threat, police said their hands were tied.

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2:42pm

Wed August 8, 2012
News

To Prevent A Tragedy, How Much Can A School Do?

Originally published on Wed August 8, 2012 4:15 pm

A Colorado judge on Thursday will consider whether to lift the gag order in the case of James Holmes, 24, who's accused of killing 12 and wounding dozens more at a movie theater last month.

NPR and other news organizations want access to case files, including a notebook that Holmes reportedly sent to a university psychiatrist before withdrawing from the school that may have described an attack.

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3:25pm

Thu July 19, 2012
Around the Nation

When Hyphen Boy Meets Hyphen Girl, Names Pile Up

Originally published on Fri July 20, 2012 6:43 pm

Sasha Harris-Cronin and her partner struggled with their daughter Shannon's last name. They finally decided on two middle names and a hybrid hyphenated last name: Shannon Bayard Cronin Harris-Taylor.
Courtesy of Sasha Harris-Cronin

Those born at the height of the name-hyphenating craze will be the first to tell you — having two last names can be more trouble than it's worth. There's the perennial confusion at school and at the doctor's office, and the challenge of squeezing your name onto forms.

And now that the hyphenated generation is marrying and parenting, a whole host of new tricky situations has emerged.

Take Leila and Brendan. Their story is one of those fairy tale stories of love at first sight. She was in the lobby of her apartment building when this cute guy started moving in.

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3:00pm

Mon July 2, 2012
Education

Online Classes Cut Costs, But Do They Dilute Brands?

Originally published on Tue July 3, 2012 6:15 am

Recently reinstated University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan came under fire for failing to move fast enough into online education.
Steve Helber AP

The University of Virginia may have settled its most urgent controversy by reinstating President Teresa Sullivan after initially forcing her out. But still unresolved is one issue underlying her ouster: whether the university was too slow to join the stampede of schools into the world of online education.

Many other schools share the concern and wonder if the technology will live up to its hype.

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4:20pm

Thu May 10, 2012
Mitt Romney

Romney's Views On Gay Marriage: Also Evolving?

Originally published on Fri May 11, 2012 12:39 pm

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters at a campaign stop in Omaha, Neb.,on Thursday.
Jae C. Hong AP

A day after President Obama announced his support for gay marriage, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney avoided the issue at a campaign appearance Thursday in Nebraska.

But in an interview with Fox News, he reiterated his belief that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry.

Obama has said his position on gay marriage "evolved" over time, and a case can be made that Romney's views on gay rights have changed as well.

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3:57am

Sun May 6, 2012
Election 2012

Pledge Holds Attack Ads At Bay In Mass. Senate Race

Originally published on Sun May 6, 2012 9:38 am

Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren holds up a poster of herself as Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., looks on during the annual St. Patrick's Day Breakfast in Boston on March 18. A civility pledge between the candidates has kept attack ads largely on the sidelines in their race.
Michael Dwyer AP

It was no big surprise when outside groups started spending millions of dollars on attack ads in the high-stakes U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts between Republican incumbent Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Republican strategist Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS superPAC aired spots highlighting Warren's ties to the Occupy Wall Street movement, saying she "sides with extreme left protests who support radical redistribution of wealth and violence."

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1:31am

Mon April 30, 2012
Education

Economy Puts Value Of Liberal Arts Under Scrutiny

Originally published on Tue May 1, 2012 4:47 am

Wellesley College English professor Yoon Lee teaches a class on the rise of the novel.
Tovia Smith NPR

As high school seniors wrestle with big decisions before Tuesday's deadline about which college they want to go to, some of the nation's top liberal arts colleges are dealing with big decisions of their own. Many of the most elite private schools are trying to figure out how they may have to adapt at a time when they're seen as a more expensive — and less direct — path to landing a job.

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4:34pm

Thu April 19, 2012
Sports

A Century Of Joy And Heartbreak At Fenway Park

Originally published on Fri April 20, 2012 10:09 am

The flag covers the Green Monster as the national anthem is played before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays on April 16 at Fenway Park in Boston.
Elsa Getty Images

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about Fenway Park. A century after it was built, fans still gush about this "lyric little bandbox," as John Updike called it. To guys like Ed Carpenter, Fenway is history and home, magic and mystique.

"I love this place," he says, tearing up. "I mean, it's not mortar and bricks and seats."

Carpenter first started coming to Fenway with his dad in 1949, when he was 6.

"We walked up this ramp right behind this home plate," he recalls. "I can still see everything was green, emerald green. It was love at first sight."

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3:06pm

Thu April 19, 2012
Sports

Fenway Park Celebrates 100 Years Of Baseball

Originally published on Fri April 20, 2012 1:30 pm

The nation's oldest ball park is turning 100. Boston's Fenway Park has been home to the Red Sox through some of baseball's greatest highs and most heartbreaking lows. The park also narrowly escaped the fate of similar old stadiums that were torn down.

1:53am

Fri March 30, 2012
Education

In Bullying Programs, A Call For Bystanders To Act

Alyssa Rodemeyer, 16, talks about her younger brother Jamey at an anti-bullying rally in San Francisco. Jamey committed suicide in September 2011 after being bullied. More schools are looking for ways to combat bullying among students.
Marcio Jose Sanchez AP

The documentary Bully opens in theaters Thursday, and the heated controversy over the appropriate rating for the film has frustrated many schools hoping to use it as a teaching tool.

Administrators have struggled to find effective ways to help curb bullying in their schools in recent years, and a growing number of bullying prevention programs have emerged to meet the demand.

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10:01pm

Thu March 8, 2012
History

Girl Scouts: 100 Years Of Blazing New Trails

Originally published on Mon March 12, 2012 9:09 am

Brownies from Troop 65343 in Brookline, Mass. recite the Girl Scout pledge. Enrollment in the organization has declined since the 1980s, but a modernizing makeover and new focus on minority and immigrant communities have helped some.
Tovia Smith NPR

It's hard to imagine Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Lucille Ball as part of the same club. But they were all, at one time, Girl Scouts. Founded 100 years ago in Savannah, Ga., the Girl Scouts now count 3.2 million members.

Girl Scout cookies have become as much of an American tradition as apple pie. At a busy intersection in Brookline, Mass., a gaggle of Girl Scouts stand behind a folding table piled high with boxes of Thin Mints, Samoas and Shortbreads.

"They are really, really good," the troop collectively assures a prospective buyer.

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