WASHINGTON — Margaret Sullivan came charging into the nation's capital last year after 13 years leading her hometown paper and four years as the The New York Times' in-house critic.
And already, the former Buffalo News editor has charged hard enough to win the Charging Buffalo Award, which she picked up at the 39th annual Buffalo Nite in Washington on Wednesday.
The award honors people whose thriving careers connect Buffalo and the nation's capital, and that describes Sullivan, now the media columnist for The Washington Post.
"Margaret was selected the Charging Buffalo recipient based on her many 'firsts'," said Susan Unger, Buffalo director of the New York State Society, which puts together the annual beer, wing and weck festival on Capitol Hill. "At The Buffalo News, she was the first female editor, after also being the first female managing editor, and at The New York Times she became their first female public editor."
In addition, Sullivan deserves the award for her career of journalistic excellence "and a focus on expanding the public's connection to and engagement with the press," Unger said.
As media columnist for The Washington Post since last year, Sullivan has taken aim at the Obama administration for cracking down on whistleblowers and at President Trump for his oft-repeated attacks on journalists, while also trying to delve deep into how the public sees, understands and misunderstands journalists.
"It's been a roller coaster ride," Sullivan said of her first 16 months at the Post, which has coincided with Trump's rise as a candidate and the tumultuous first months in the White House.
"There's a substantial minority of Americans who agree with the president that the news media is biased, has an agenda and is not to be trusted," Sullivan conceded, citing the emails and phone calls she gets to that effect.
At the same time, she recently got a call from a reader who said: "Please keep doing what you're doing. It's so important."
Sullivan's column has a prominent spot in the Post's legendary Style section now, and that's just the latest chapter of a very varied journalistic career. A Lackawanna native, she started as a reporter at The News after getting an undergraduate degree at Georgetown University and a master's in journalism from Northwestern University. She later served as a metro columnist before moving up the editing ranks to the paper's top job in 1999.
She created an investigative team at The News during her tenure there, and with a new emphasis on in-depth reporting, the paper won the New York News Publishers Association's Distinguished Community Service Award for eight consecutive years under her tenure.
Sullivan left the News in 2012 to serve as public editor at the Times, where she had the difficult job of serving the readers' interests and criticizing the journalists working all around her.
She left the Times last year after serving as public editor longer than anyone else ever did, and she quickly found another challenge awaiting her in Washington — as well as another honor.
Past winners of the Charging Buffalo award include the late Tim Russert of NBC, Wolf Blitzer of CNN and Post political cartoonist Tom Toles.
Asked how she felt about winning the award, Sullivan noted that last year's award winner was Kim Michele Keenan, president and CEO of the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council — and like Sullivan, a graduate of the Nardin Academy.
"My first thought was that I was honored, and my second thought was that it was the second year in a row that a Nardin Academy graduate won the award," Sullivan said. "So I was proud of my alma mater."