Marisa Peñaloza is a senior producer on NPR’s National Desk. Peñaloza’s productions are among the signature pieces heard on NPR’s award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as weekend shows. Her work has covered a wide array of topics — from breaking news to feature stories, as well as investigative reports.
Although Peñaloza is a staff member on the National Desk, she occasionally travels overseas on assignment. Last year she traveled to Guatemala to report on parents separated from their children at the U.S. border and to Honduras to cover the genesis of the migrant caravans. She traveled to Brussels right after the terrorist attack in March of 2016 and to Haiti soon after the 2010 earthquake hit, and she went back several times to follow the humanitarian organizations working on the island nation. She’s covered education in Peru and in Ecuador, a dengue outbreak in El Salvador, the Madrid train bombings in Spain, as well as the South East Asia Tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
Her past productions include coverage of the 2018-2019 government shutdown; the opioid epidemic in communities of color; Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Hurricane Harvey in Houston; the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 2014; the devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma in 2013; and the Boston Marathon bombings also in 2013. In 2012 she produced a series on infertility, “Making Babies: 21st Century Families” — the stories explored the options parents have to create families. Peñaloza was one of the first NPR staff members to arrive on the Virginia Tech campus to cover the shootings in 2007. She was on assignment in Houston waiting for Hurricane Ike to make landfall in September 2008, and she produced coverage of New Orleans recovery after Hurricane Katrina. Peñaloza covered the Elian Gonzalez custody battle from Miami, protests outside the Navy site on the Island of Viequez in Puerto Rico, and the aftermath of the crash of the American Airlines flight 587 in New York. She also contributed to NPR’s Sept. 11 coverage.
For two consecutive years, Peñaloza was the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, which celebrates “excellence in investigative journalism on a wide spectrum of social justice issues.” In 2015 she was honored with the Distinguished Journalism Award for radio for her series on clemency and sentencing reform, “Boxed In: When The Punishment No Longer Fits The Crime.” Peñaloza was honored with the Robert F. Kennedy 2014 Award for a series on the increasing number of veterans who are getting out of the service with an “other than honorable” discharge. She was also honored with a Gracie Award in 2014 for a series on female veterans, “Women Combat Veterans: Life After War.” She won the 2011 National Headliner Award in investigative reporting and the Grand Award for a series of stories looking at the role of confidential informants — people who pose as criminals so they can provide information to federal law enforcement, except sometimes these informants are criminals themselves.
In 2009, Peñaloza was honored with several awards for “Dirty Money,” an enterprising four-part series of stories that examined law enforcement’s pursuit of suspected drug money, which they can confiscate without filing charges against the person carrying it. Local police and sheriffs get to keep a portion of the cash. The awards for “Dirty Money” include the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award in the investigative reporting category; the Scripps Howard Foundation’s National Journalism Foundation Award; and the RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award in the “best website” category.
In 2008, Peñaloza was honored by the Education Writers Association with its “National Award for Education Reporting” for a year-long NPR on-air and online series following a Baltimore-area high school’s efforts to improve student achievement. She won the Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award for Excellence in Reporting on Drug and Alcohol Problems in 2007 for “The Forgotten Drug Wars,” a five-part series of stories that examined the U.S.’s gains and losses since the war on drugs was launched more than 30 years ago.
Peñaloza made the leap from television to radio in 1997, when she joined NPR’s National Desk. Before joining NPR, she was a freelance writer for the Fox affiliate and an editorial assistant at the local NBC station in Washington, DC. She graduated from George Washington University.