The problem with Pulitzers

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.