I have been arguing for sometime that the Pulitzer Prize is bad for journalism, turning the profession into a circle-jerk of mutual self-love. Nick Denton agrees:
But the newspapers’ Pulitzer-chasing is most damaging because it distracts newspapers from their real challenge. Rather than impress colleagues with the seriousness of their reporting, US newspapers need to engage a readership that is drifting off to television and the internet. Pulitzer-winning journalism will win Pulitzers; it won’t save an industry which is experiencing double-digit annual declines in advertising revenue. . . .
The respect of peers is a luxury that US newspapers have enjoyed because, for much of the second half of the 20th century, they were local monopolies. They could afford to be respectable, because they didn’t need to pander to readers. In the UK, by contrast, 12 national dailies are in vicious competition. Editors fear the loss of their jobs, not their honor.
It is not as if the New York Times and Washington Post can magically invigorate themselves by eschewing the Pulitzers. America’s vastness, which mitigates against national newspapers and produces smaller local markets which can only support one title, is an unalterable fact. But, while the Washington Post and other winners may celebrate today, they should recognize a harsh truth: the same monopolies which have allowed a public-service mentality to flourish have also left newspapers unprepared for new competition. These Pulitzers are the totem poles of the newspaper industry; beloved relics of former glory.
If the Pulitzers had the future of journalism at heart, they would award innovation.
The Pulitzer Prize has long been a dangerous influence in American journalism, and it’s only getting worse.
For too long, newspapers have been edited for prize juries not their publics, taking resources away from local reporting to write long, show-off pieces that don’t necessarily serve their communities and that skew the priorities of newsrooms. Of course, I’m not saying that all Pulitzer-winning journalism is bad; of course, not. But I am saying that pandering to the Pulitzers is a perversion of the intent of the prize and of newspaper reporting as well.
Last year, the Pulitzers allowed just a little bit of online content to qualify for a prize. This year, they open that up to include “a full array of online material-such as databases, interactive graphics, and streaming video.” But they still insist, stubbornly, to award only journalism from newspapers.
Eligibility for entering the competition will continue to be restricted to newspapers published daily, Sunday, or at least once a week during the calendar year. “This keeps faith with the historic mandate of the Pulitzer Prizes,” Gissler said.
I thought the Pulitzers existed to award journalism, not printing.
And the more newspapers continue to define themselves narrowly, as a club, the worse their fate will be in a world of expanding journalism. That’s what I mean when I say that the negative impact of the Pulitzers is only getting worse, even as they try to make it better.
Esteemed jurors: Open up the prize. Award great journalism wherever and however and by whomever it is committed.
: See also Lost Remote and Yelvington.