Monday, April 20, 2015


At a time when the news industry in many ways is continuing a slow demise into the world of cheap coverage, lazy reporting and greedy corporate control, it is always refreshing to find those outlets still willing to do the work that counts.

And that is what will happen later today when the Pulitzer Prizes are announced. The 14 awards in the journalism category continue to bring out the best and brightest of news and give a much needed spotlight on investigations, explanations and editorializations that are still what makes journalism great.

During my 11 years at Editor & Publisher, from 1999 to 2010, I was lucky enough to cover the awards nearly every year and still look forward to the prestigious announcement.

The 3 p.m. revelation, still done in person at the World Room on the third floor of The Graduate School of Journalism building at Columbia University, has all the trappings of a royal event. For many years I looked forward to seeing former Pulizer Administrator Sig Gissler come out to the waiting press and announce that the winners are chosen and they will "change some lives forever."

Today, Pulitzer Administrator Mike Pride does the honors, but it is available on livestream. (See it HERE, complete with a countdown clock.)

The names and stories are then posted online where many of the winners keep tabs via computer screens in their newsrooms. It was always fun at E&P to get the photos of these moments in newsrooms, which all looked similar with eyes fixed on a screen, or later champagne popping.

Final results of presidential elections or the choice of a new pope or king came to mind with the same anticipation, secrecy and impact the Pulitzers have, at least in the news industry.

The Pulitzer remains the most prestigious award in news, beyond an Emmy, Polk, or any of the other well-deserved honors. Part of this is its history, dating back to 1917 when just two awards were given, to the now defunct New York World and New York Tribune.

The impact of hard-nosed news coverage has been well-represented with the awards, especilaly the prestigious Public Service prize, which is the only Pulitzer given to a newspaper or news site and includes no prize money. 

From the 1921 prize for the Boston Post for taking down the original Ponzi scheme to the Pentagon Papers reporting by The New York Times and the Watergate coverage from The Washington Post in the 1970's to Hurricane Katrina coverage by the flooded-out Times-Picayune of New Orleans and The Sun Herald of Biloxi, MS. in 2006, these winners have shown how good journalism means battling legal, governmental and even natural challenges.

Today the Pulitzer categories have expanded to more than a dozen and online-only submissions have been part of the nominees for years. Still, it is essentially a newspaper award, with television and radio still barred from competing. Magazines are being allowed to compete for the first time in two categories, investigative and feature writing.

At one point in my E&P tenure, I was fortunate enough to get leaked finalists. For several years, we had spies who were kind to reveal the finalists weeks ahead of time. Gissler, to his credit, helped put the end to this and they usually remain secret until today. 

But I still get inquiries each year from interested parties wondering about the finalists.

Winners, who were chosen by the 19-member Pulitzer Board last week, still get out, at least among those who are chosen. It is likely that some of the lucky few who will be named later today have known about their victories for at least a day or two.

With Pulitzer Board members from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press and Bloomberg, it is almost certain any word of their victory is already spread through the newsrooms there.

One of the great attractions of the Pulitzers and one of the reasons the finalists are not revealed in advance of the winners is that they can be changed. Pulitzer veterans know that the Pulitzer "juries" sift through the submissions months in advance and choose three finalists in each category. It is these finalists that we used to be able to leak. 

But the leaks are frowned upon because they are not necessarily the finalists that will be chosen later. The Pulitzer Board has the power to move finalists around, drop them, bring up other submissions to be finalists, award multiple winners in a category, or no winners in a category.

It is this power that makes the board's work even more intriguing and mysterious.

And for the news business, the pride and quality of news that is marked by the Pultizers should not be limited to one day per year, it should be the goal on every day of the year in every newsroom.

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