Monday, December 8, 2008

What’s The Story, Pulitzer Folks?

The Pulitzer Board has decided to open up qualifying publications to include some web sites, which is a step in the right direction. But it continues to exclude magazines, broadcasters and their respective websites -- which seems painfully quaint.

The Pulitzer Prizes are meant to celebrate journalism — well, U.S. journalism, but that’s another story. When they were created newspapers were arguably the best gene pool of quality journalism. They were also a major source of slipshod, opinionated, careless writing — which does nothing to explain the Pulitzer Board's current Two Internets policy. The term "Yellow Journalism" was coined during Joseph Pulitzer's New York City newspaper war with William Randolf Hearst, for heaven's sake, an era which saw tabloidy excess that would make today's least conscientious blogger shudder.

But — and it seems almost ludicrous to argue what seems so obvious — newspapers are no longer the exclusive or even main conduit for quality journalism anymore. Corporations that own them describe themselves as media companies which happen to own newspapers. Many long ago began buying up broadcasters — to subsidize their bleeding newspapers.

At the same time magazines — The New Yorker and Time and Newsweek and many others — routinely do impactful journalism (which may or may not originate on their respective websites), as do broadcasters. And, in the main, they remain considerably more viable as businesses. They will be around to do journalism when there aren't any newspapers (or whatever they decide to call themselves) anymore.

Any remaining divide in the definition of who does journalism is plain silly. Will newspapers have to be completely in their death throes until the Pulitzer people decide to embrace journalism, wherever it is done?

That day of reckoning seems to be approaching. The New York Times is worth only a little bit more than $1 billion (almost half the price at which some people thought Google would have been brilliant to pick it up) and is doing a re-fi on its new headquarters to get through 2009. The Christian Science Monitor is abandoning print. And, on the day the Pulitzer Board announced its changes, the Tribune Co. -- publisher of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times — said it was applying for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

I have the appearance of conflict, so disclosures are in order: remains ineligible for a Pulitzer, as does sister Condé Nast publication The New Yorker. While I have no illusions about ever doing or supervising Pulitzer-caliber work (no offense, team) the continued ineligibility of my extremely talented colleagues seems absurd.

How absurd? Seymour Hersh won a Pulitzer for exposing the My Lai Massacre on the pages of the New York Times. A quarter-century later he again "set the political agenda," according to the New York Times, by reporting about the mistreatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib — on the pages of The New Yorker.


Bo Lumpkin said...

Newspapers and the print media are mostly driven by the amount of advertising they sell. The internet is driven by people. People who think they have something to say, people who love to write, draw or make videos, people whose opinions are as relevant as paid journalists. Newspapers are scaling down. Your comments are right on the mark.

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