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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Law
5:01 am
Tue July 8, 2014

First Trial Begins For A Friend Of Marathon Bombing Suspect

Originally published on Tue July 8, 2014 9:51 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The first trial connected to the Boston Marathon bombing is underway. The defendant is not the surviving suspected bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It's Tsarnaev's friend - a 20-year-old from Kazakhstan who is accused of obstruction of justice. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

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Law
4:44 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

High Court Ruling Sends Abortion Clinics Scrambling To Adjust

Originally published on Thu June 26, 2014 7:10 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Let's go now to Massachusetts where staffs at abortion clinics are scrambling to adjust their plans after that ruling. From Boston, NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: The rules of the game have changed, as one abortion-rights activist put it, and protesters agree on that point. Ray Neery, who's been demonstrating outside Boston-area clinics for years, says he can do a better job now inside the 35 foot buffer zone than he could from the outside.

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Education
4:32 pm
Fri June 13, 2014

A Campus Dilemma: Sure, 'No' Means 'No,' But Exactly What Means 'Yes'?

Many colleges are grappling with how to define consensual sexual activity between students. Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, mandates that students get verbal permission before making any sexual advance.
Peggy Turbett The Plain Dealer/Landov

Originally published on Fri June 13, 2014 6:23 pm

As the federal government presses colleges to improve the way they handle cases of sexual assault, schools are turning their focus to defining "consent" — how to distinguish between activity that's consensual and activity that's not.

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Law
7:01 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

Already Tough On Gun Control, Massachusetts Aims To Get Tougher

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo addresses a crowd during a Democratic Party convention last year. DeLeo unveiled a comprehensive gun bill Tuesday.
Aram Boghosian Boston Globe via Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 28, 2014 8:10 pm

The rampage that left six dead in California last week has once again revived the debate over gun control around the nation. In Massachusetts — a state that is already one of the toughest on guns — lawmakers are considering sweeping new legislation that includes some of the nation's tightest restrictions on sales of shotguns and rifles, and more focus on the mentally ill.

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Around the Nation
5:01 am
Fri May 23, 2014

Jacqueline Kennedy's Letters No Longer On Auction Block

Originally published on Fri May 23, 2014 7:52 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A college in Ireland is working with the family of Jacqueline Kennedy to decide what to do with a collection of her letters. The former first lady wrote them to an Irish priest. The college planned to auction the letters, but reconsidered. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

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Around the Nation
5:12 am
Thu May 15, 2014

Lawyer Reflects On Nation's First Gay Marriages: 'The Cage Had Been Lifted'

Bonauto celebrates on May 17, 2005, the one-year anniversary of legal same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Bonauto argued the case that benefited couples like Hillary and Julie Goodridge (at right), here with their daughter Annie.
Darren McCollester Getty Images

Originally published on Fri May 16, 2014 7:20 am

Ten years ago this week, attorney Mary Bonauto woke up with more than just your average case of pre-wedding jitters. It had been six months since her arguments had persuaded Massachusetts' highest court to allow the nation's first legal gay marriages, but opponents were still trying to stop the weddings before they started.

"I had been so scared, so many times, during really what had been really a ferocious onslaught to try to keep marriages from ever happening, so I continued to worry," Bonauto recalls.

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Politics
8:32 pm
Thu May 1, 2014

When College Sexual Assault Panels Fall Short, And When They Help

Dartmouth College is one of 55 colleges and universities on the Education Department's list of institutions being investigated for how they've handled sexual assault cases.
Jim Cole AP

Originally published on Fri May 2, 2014 10:45 am

Thursday, the federal government sent a message that it's taking sexual harassment on college campuses seriously. Education officials released the names of 55 schools facing investigation for their handling of sexual abuse allegations.

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Around the Nation
3:37 am
Wed April 16, 2014

After Losing A Leg, Woman Walks On Her Own — In 4-Inch Heels

Heather Abbott of Newport, R.I., shows off her "high-definition" prosthetic leg, which allows her to wear high heels and skirts.
Stephan Savoia AP

Originally published on Wed April 16, 2014 4:33 pm

Returning to watch the Boston Marathon was never a question for Heather Abbott. After losing her leg in the bombing last year, watching the race is just one item on a long list of things she did before and intends to do again. Also on that list: wearing 4-inch heels.

"Sometimes, I think: Why am I doing this to myself? Because I could just wear regular flat shoes," Abbott says. "I don't want to give things up that I love to do, so I'm going to get used to it and figure it out."

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Around the Nation
4:08 pm
Thu April 10, 2014

A Year After Bombings, Some Say 'Boston Strong' Has Gone Overboard

The phrase Boston Strong sprang up after last year's marathon bombings and is now ubiquitous around town. But some wonder if the commercialization of the slogan also trivializes the tragedy.
Tovia Smith NPR

Originally published on Thu April 10, 2014 8:12 pm

The phrase Boston Strong emerged almost immediately after last year's marathon bombings as an unofficial motto of a city responding to tragedy. But now some are wondering whether the slogan is being overused.

The words are everywhere: Boston Strong is plastered on cars, cut into the grass at Fenway, tattooed on arms, bedazzled on sweatshirts and printed on T-shirts (and everything else).

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Education
4:09 pm
Mon March 17, 2014

On The Syllabus: Lessons In Grit

Originally published on Thu March 27, 2014 2:54 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Got grit? That's the new it-thing in education. New research suggests that perseverance and resilience are key to a student's success. The science is still out on how or if grit can be taught, but schools around the nation are trying. One program in particular called Brainology is showing some promise.

NPR's Tovia Smith checked it out at a public school in Brooklyn.

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Around the Nation
5:07 am
Mon March 17, 2014

Does Teaching Kids To Get 'Gritty' Help Them Get Ahead?

At the Lenox Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y., educators try to teach kids to see struggle as a normal part of learning.
Tovia Smith/NPR

Originally published on Thu January 22, 2015 5:00 pm

It's become the new buzz phrase in education: "Got grit?"

Around the nation, schools are beginning to see grit as key to students' success — and just as important to teach as reading and math.

Experts define grit as persistence, determination and resilience; it's that je ne sais quoi that drives one kid to practice trumpet or study Spanish for hours — or years — on end, while another quits after the first setback.

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Around the Nation
4:05 pm
Tue March 4, 2014

In Boston, Gay Groups Remain Closed Out Of St. Patrick's Day Parade

Originally published on Tue March 4, 2014 6:31 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he's still hopeful for a deal allowing a gay group to march in South Boston's St. Patrick's Day Parade. Organizers say talks to include gay groups for the first time in two decades have fallen apart. Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants, is still trying to bring the sides together.

NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Gay rights activists called it historic that they were even talking to parade organizers. But now, chances for a deal are slipping.

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Around the Nation
4:48 am
Thu January 30, 2014

Holder To Decide Soon On Death Penalty For Tsarnaev

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 7:27 am

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is due to announce this week whether he'll seek the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother accused in the Boston Marathon bombing. The 20-year-old defendant is accused of killing four and injuring hundreds in the attack and the manhunt that followed.

Around the Nation
6:22 pm
Thu January 23, 2014

After 20 Years, Transgender Inmate Is A Step Closer To Surgery

Michelle Kosilek in a New Bedford, Mass., court in 1993. When Kosilek was known as Robert, he was convicted of the 1990 murder of his wife.
Lisa Bul AP

Originally published on Fri January 24, 2014 5:32 pm

Ever since she was convicted of a brutal murder in 1992, Michelle Kosilek has known that she'd be stuck in prison for the rest of her life.

That she can live with. The harder part was feeling she was stuck for life in the wrong body, says her attorney, Joseph Sulman.

"It's horrible," Sulman says. "I don't like to use the word 'torture,' but it's, you know, emotional claustrophobia and ... constant anxiety."

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Around the Nation
5:23 am
Wed January 22, 2014

Punishing Winter Temperatures Drain Propane Supplies

Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 8:12 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And this latest winter storm and those freezing temperatures are putting a strain on already low supplies of propane in the Northeast and Midwest. Millions of Americans use the liquefied gas to heat their homes. And as NPR's Tovia Smith reports, they're paying more and getting less this winter season, which started early, thanks to the extreme cold of the polar vortex.

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Economy
5:28 pm
Fri January 17, 2014

In The Long Wait For Aid From Washington, Job Hunters Despair

Originally published on Fri January 17, 2014 6:20 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Lawmakers are promising new efforts to restore jobless benefits for long-term unemployed, but it may take a while - 1.4 million people who've been out of work long term saw their benefits disappear three weeks ago. Congress failed to agree on funding to renew them. NPR's Tovia Smith visited with a few people who are without work in Boston.

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Sports
5:09 pm
Fri January 10, 2014

A Story Of The Boston Marathon Bombing, As Told On Skates

Ross Miner skates during the men's short program at the 2013 Skate Canada International last year. He hopes to qualify for the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Dave Sandford Getty Images

Originally published on Fri January 10, 2014 7:48 pm

Ross Miner is among those competing for a spot on the U.S. Men's figure skating team Friday night in Boston. He is a hometown favorite who is bringing some local flavor to his performance — he's going to tell the story of last year's Boston Marathon bombing.

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Shootings In Newtown, Conn.
5:11 am
Sat December 14, 2013

A Grieving Newtown Mother's Motto: 'Love Wins'

Jimmy Greene holds a picture of his daughter, Ana, as he kisses his wife Nelba Márquez-Greene, at a January news conference in Newtown, Conn. They try to remember the good days with their daughter. "It is what brings me great comfort and great joy," Márquez-Greene says.
Jessica Hill AP

Originally published on Wed December 18, 2013 12:31 am

As much as Dec. 14 will forever be a day of unfathomable grief for Nelba Márquez-Greene, Dec. 13 will be one of unending gratitude.

"I will never forget that day," she says.

On that day, Márquez-Greene stopped the usual frantic drill: rushing to activities and errands, worrying about the dishes and laundry, even cleaning up the mess on the floor.

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Around the Nation
5:22 am
Thu December 12, 2013

Newtown Parents Seek A Clearer Window Into Violent Behavior

Avielle's artwork hangs on the walls and windows of Jeremy Richman and Jennifer Hensel's home.
Craig Ruttle AP

Originally published on Thu December 12, 2013 11:22 am

The shooting in Newtown, Conn., last December has left families of the 26 victims, most of them children, struggling to heal in different ways.

Jeremy Richman and Jennifer Hensel are one such family. They lost their only child, 6-year-old Avielle, in the shooting. In the year since, they've responded as any parents would: Asking why such a tragedy could have happened.

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NPR Story
4:26 pm
Thu November 14, 2013

Mobster 'Whitey' Bulger Gets Two Life Terms And Then Some

Originally published on Fri November 15, 2013 10:22 am

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Victims wept in court today as a federal judge sentenced Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger to two life terms in prison, plus five years, ensuring that the now 84-year-old will never walk free. Bulger was convicted in August of running a massive racketeering operation that spanned decades and included extortion, drug running and at least 11 murders. NPR's Tovia Smith was in court and joins us now. Hi, Tovia.

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Around the Nation
5:07 pm
Wed November 13, 2013

Critics Say Mob Boss's Trial Has Been A Disappointment

Originally published on Wed November 13, 2013 8:01 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The sentencing hearing of convicted mobster James Whitey Bulger began in federal court in Boston today. Bulger was convicted in August of taking part in 11 murders while running a massive criminal enterprise going back to the 1970s. Sentencing takes place tomorrow, but no matter what jail time he gets, it's pretty clear that the 84-year-old Bulger will spend the rest of his life in prison.

As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, it is an anti-climactic end to a long, expensive trial that has left many frustrated by what it didn't accomplish.

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Law
5:08 am
Wed November 13, 2013

Victims' Relatives To Face Whitey Bulger At Sentencing Hearing

James "Whitey" Bulger was captured in June 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif., with his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig.

Originally published on Wed November 13, 2013 10:59 am

It's the moment many victims of former Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger have been waiting decades for: In federal court in Boston, relatives of those killed by Bulger will face the former gangster and describe their pain.

Bulger was convicted in August of taking part in 11 murders while running a massive criminal enterprise for decades. There is little suspense around Bulger's sentencing — even the minimum would be enough to send the 84-year-old away for the rest of his life.

To many victims, Wednesday's sentencing hearing is less about Bulger than it is about them.

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Sports
4:50 pm
Thu October 31, 2013

Boston Celebrates First World Series Win At Home In 95 Years

Originally published on Thu October 31, 2013 6:01 pm

Boston fans celebrated the World Series win Thursday by the Red Sox over the St. Louis Cardinals. The victory is the first series win for Boston at home in Fenway in 95 years.

Around the Nation
4:03 am
Fri October 18, 2013

Students At Harvard's Kennedy School Weigh In On Shutdown

Originally published on Fri October 18, 2013 12:23 pm

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Federal employees are making their way through a backlog of emails, voicemails and work now that the government has reopened.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Immigration services are verifying the status of workers.

MONTAGNE: Fishing inspectors are getting the crab season started.

GREENE: And, Renee, here in Washington, the National Zoo's Panda Cam is showing more adorable private moments between mama and cub.

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Around the Nation
5:59 pm
Thu September 26, 2013

Putting Good Deeds In Headlines May Not Be So Good

Glen James holds a special citation while facing reporters with Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis during a news conference at police headquarters on Sept. 16.
Steven Senne AP

Originally published on Thu September 26, 2013 7:19 pm

An online collection has raised more than $145,000 for a man who stumbled onto a pile of money and turned it over to police.

Glen James' story of a good deed is just one of many making headlines. It may not be exactly brand new, but public interest does seem to be piqued these days by ordinary folks making what are seen as extraordinary ethical decisions.

Some, however, question if airing this kind of "good" news is actually good.

A Series Of Good Deeds

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Shots - Health News
5:12 pm
Thu September 19, 2013

Boston Hospitals Share Lessons From Marathon Bombing

A Boston police officer wheels an injured boy down Boylston Street as medical workers carry an injured runner after the Boston Marathon bombing in April.
Charles Krupa AP

Originally published on Mon September 23, 2013 10:10 am

Boston hospitals say that overall they did well in their response to the bombings because, as crazy as it sounds, they got lucky on April 15.

Dr. Richard Wolfe, chief of emergency medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says hospitals were fortunate with both the location and timing of the bombs that stunned the city.

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Education
4:27 am
Wed September 18, 2013

Should It Take 2 Or 3 Years To Earn A Law Degree?

Originally published on Wed September 18, 2013 4:49 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Law students are looking for some changes to their education. The American Bar Association plans to issue a report in the next few weeks, recommending a major overhaul of how law schools operate. And students are hoping that a recent comment from President Obama, will boost one reform in particular: cutting law schools down to two years, from three.

NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

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Health
5:12 pm
Mon September 9, 2013

Scrutiny Of 'Molly' Party Drug Increases After 4 Deaths

Molly, a purified form of Ecstasy, is said to be popular at dance clubs and electronic music festivals.
Alen Popov iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 5:20 pm

A recent string of deaths in the Northeast from a drug known as Molly has authorities looking into whether a bad batch may be to blame.

Police believe the purified form of the drug known as Ecstasy is what killed four young people in just over a week, and sent many more to emergency rooms. Incidents involving the drug have stretched from Boston to New York and Washington, D.C.

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Law
5:02 am
Tue August 6, 2013

Jury To Decide James 'Whitey' Bulger Case

Originally published on Tue August 6, 2013 6:06 am

Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys gave their closing arguments on Monday. One side calling Bulger vicious and violent — the other calling the government systematically corrupt. The former south Boston mob boss is accused of a rash of crimes including 19 murders.

NPR Story
4:13 pm
Fri August 2, 2013

'Whitey' Bulger Won't Testify, But He Didn't Finish Quietly

Originally published on Fri August 2, 2013 5:19 pm

In Boston Friday, former mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger said he would not take the stand in his criminal trial and that his defense would rest. But before that happened, he railed at the judge and his defense team.

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