The Pulitzers enter 1994

Good for The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Steiger, who as the new chair of the Pulitzer board argues that they must pay attention to online.

“I think the biggest priority for us is to continue to find ways to move forward,” said Steiger, 63. “Last fall, we opened up the use of online material. We will probably look at ways to do more of that.” He declined to cite specifics, but noted that the online entries are still limited to the written word and still photos. Podcasts, audio, video and a number of interactive Web elements remain restricted from Pulitzer submissions.

When asked if such audio and video Web items could be included in Pulitzer submissions, Steiger said “sure.” He also cited Web services such as ‘newstrackers,’ which provide interactive updates and links for ongoing stories, and online data bases such as those that follow presidential polling in each state, the past rulings of judges, and congressional votes.

Of course, I’d go farther:

The Pulitzers should reward good acts of journalism regardless of medium. That is vital to the survival of journalism. If newspapers continue to define themselves by their medium, they will die with their presses. And if they continue to require that journalism be performed only by employees, they will miss important news — pick any recent disaster as proof — and will go bankrupt trying to cover an ever-faster world with an ever-shrinking budget.

I have argued often that the Pulitzers have been bad for journalism, motivating papers to be edited for prize juries instead of the public. The Pulitzers have helped separate journalism from its public. That’s why I don’t like prizes.

Still, the Pulitzers could and should lead journalism into the future. They should reward those with the courage to gather and share news from new sources in new ways regardless of medium. Will they do it? I sure wouldn’t bet on it. I might bet on Steiger to try — judging from my meetings with him at various media confabs, he is clueful — but there’s still a committee that thinks it is operating journalism’s Vatican.

So what we need is the new Mr. Pulitzer, who endowed America’s first journalism school, the home of the profession’s most prestigious award, out of apparent repentence for helping to create yellow journalism in this country. Who is the media mogul who will now reward brave steps into the future of journalism by anyone anywhere through any means? Who wants to change his legacy and endow such a new prize? Mr. Murdoch (so they’ll remember the Murdoch Prize over FoxNews)? Google guys or Yahoo guys (as penance for your cooperation with the enemies of free speech and human rights in China)? Mr. Ridder (as an apology for running a major journalism organization into the ground)?