Dallas Morning News vice president and editor of the editorial page Keven Ann Willey and her editorial page staff paused to pop some bubbly after learning they won the 2010 Pulitzer for examining the disparities between northern Dallas and the city's southern sector.
When the 96th Annual Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday on a bright spring afternoon at Columbia University, the biggest surprise wasn’t who won journalism’s top prize, but who didn't win.
For the second time in four years, the Pulitzer Board didn’t award a Pulitzer to Editorial Writing, leading many to wonder if the editorial page has lost its strong voice in the daily newspaper.
Another surprise was there was no Pulitzer awarded for Fiction Writing. Prior to Monday’s announcement, 10 times the Pulitzer Board did not award a Pulitzer to Fiction, the last being in 1977. Monday’s announcement, meanwhile, marked the ninth time a Pulitzer for Editorial Writing hasn’t been awarded (including 2012).
Not awarding a Pulitzer to fiction writing wasn’t that much of a surprise to many in the literary community. Alfred Bendixen, author of ``A Companion to the American Novel’’ (Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture) and co-author of the ``Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature’’ tells me: ``the Pulitzer was always a journalism award awarded by journalists and with a commitment to fiction and poetry that varied over time. ‘’ `` The old National Book Award’’, Bendixen said, `` used to be a better marker of literary quality than the Pulitzer, which liked to reward big best-sellers.’’
Bendixen additionally points out that in 1974, the Pulitzer Board balked at awarding Thomas Pynchon's postmodern novel ``Gravity's Rainbow’’ a Pulitzer, which subsequently was named one of the top 100 novels of all time by Time Magazine, while other critics hail it as one of the greatest American novels ever written.
There were other surprises on Monday.
The New York Times came away with only two Pulitzers (Explanatory Reporting, International Reporting), the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal were shutout altogether, while The Huffington Post, won its first Pulitzer for National Reporting; and Politico, the political online newspaper, also won its first Pulitzer for Editorial Cartooning.
For all those David’s fighting the Goliath’s year after year and coming up empty handed, they must have taken heart in seeing some fresh faces on the winner’s list this year, including: The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News Staff for Breaking News (reporting on the devastating tornado); while Local Reporting went to Sara Ganim and members of The Patriot-News Staff, (Harrisburg, Penn), for the explosive Penn State sex scandal involving former football coach Jerry Sandusky.
When I asked Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Chairman, CEO and Publisher The New York Times Company if he was surprised the Times only pulled in two Pulitzers, he responded through an email: ``Since when was two Pulitzers anything but fabulous? Yes, there have been years we've won more. And there have been years we won less. We feel very good about this year's results.’’
The only surprise to Jonathan Krim, senior deputy managing editor at the Wall Street Journal was that there was no top prize given to Fiction Writing.
In a recent article published in the Columbia Journalism Review Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler didn’t place much stock into the notion, voiced by many observers, that the craft of editorial writing has been diminished over the years. The article points out that ``no award for editorial writing’’ simply means that a majority of the 18 board members couldn’t agree on a single winner. ``It’s not a statement about the condition of editorial writing today,’’ Gissler was quoted as saying.
But not everyone agrees with Gissler.
A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who did not want to be identified, told me: ``When did you last read an editorial that changed how you viewed the world? Editorial writing is a lost art. It requires extensive research and quality writing. ‘’
Aside from that stinging commentary on the state of editorial writing, only time will tell if 2012 was just an off year for the big boppers (N.Y. Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal) in the other Pulitzer categories-or if we’re in fact witnessing a seismic shift in which the best journalism is moving toward Internet only sites like the Huffington Post and Politico, both of whom won a Pulitzer this year.
April 18, 2012
Since the craft of editorial writing has been under sharp scrutiny ever since the Pulitzer announcement, I thought I would ask others if they were surprised there was no top prize for Editorial Writing and whether they feel it has become a lost art.
Here are some responses that came flying back:
``Not at all, anymore than I think fiction is a lost art because no prize was awarded. This is a commentary on the Pulitzers, not on editorial writing or the American novel.''
- Frank Rich, former New York Times op-ed columnist, currently an essayist and editor-at-large for New York magazine
``I was puzzled by that. I don't think so, but then maybe I'm just hoping it's not. I don't pretend to know what I'm talking about, but I think a lot of places, smaller places, are afraid of taking a stand, because of pressures from their communities.''
-Rick Bragg, a 1996 Pulitzer recipient for Feature Writing and former New York Times national correspondent, currently a Professor of Writing in the Journalism Department at the University of Alabama.
``I have been disappointed in the editorials, which have lost both any real sense of outrage at bad things, real compelling language, and real compelling logic to shape opinions. But I think all that is transitory.''
-Norman Ornstein, political scientist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
``I was surprised and disappointed that the board chose not to make an award in editorial writing and in fiction. That a majority of the board could not settle on a winner in either of those categories suggests to me that the rules need to be changed. Not picking a winner suggests that nothing was worthy of an award and it demeans the work of the finalists. As to prizes going to new media players, I can't help thinking this is an outsized effort to dispel the belief that the Pulitzers are stuck in the past, which, I guess, is where I am.''
-Doug Clifton, former Executive Editor of the Miami Herald, where he led The Herald to three Pulitzer Prizes, including a gold medal for Public Service, awarded to the paper for coverage of Hurricane Andrew. Mr. Clifton was also editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland from 1999 to 2007.
``It's possible that there's a feeling that we on the editorial pages aren't innovating fast enough in how we put our opinions out there or to the degree that other parts of the business are doing. (I would take issue with that, by the way. Necessity is the mother of invention, so we're all inventing new ways to be relevant, timely, and accessible.)
In general, I think it's great that the judges are looking beyond traditional big metropolitan dailies for the best journalism out there. In the end, it must be the work itself, and its impact, its 'degree of difficulty,' if you will, not just how it's delivered to the readers, that should take the prize.''
-Betsy Sullivan, Editorial Page Editor, The Plain Dealer
``It's becoming one [a lost art] Bill, yes indeed.''
-Howard French, former New York Times bureau chief for Central America and the Caribbean, West Africa, Japan and the Koreas, and China in Shanghai, currently an associate professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.
``A seismic shift, [reaction to Pulitzer winners] to be sure. Curious about editorial writing. A lost craft?''
-Dennis Ryerson, editor of the Indianapolis Star
The following are the years when no Pulitzer was awarded in different categories
Drama: 1917, 1919, 1942, 1944, 1947, 1951, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1986, 1997 and 2006.
Fiction: 1917, 1920, 1941, 1946, 1954, 1957, 1964, 1971, 1974, 1977 and 2012.
Music (First awarded in 1943): 1953, 1964, 1965 and 1981.
History: 1919, 1984 and 1994.
Editorial Writing: 1919, 1921, 1930, 1932, 1935, 1981, 1993, 2008 and 2012.
Public Service: 1917, 1920, 1925 and 1930.
Breaking News Reporting: 2011
Reporting: 1919, 1928; telegraphic reporting, 1943; national reporting, 1951.
International Reporting: 1977.
Feature Writing (First awarded in 1979): 2004
Cartoons (First awarded in 1922): 1923, 1936, 1960, 1965 and 1973.
Photography (First awarded in 1942): 1946.
Source: Office of Public Affairs, Columbia University