Newspapers still king among 2015 Pulitzer winners – Capital New York
Every year, the Pulitzer Prizes, which celebrate excellence in journalism, letters, music and drama, draw a combination of criticism for their insularity and praise from the outliers they do acknowledge.
“All journalism prizes are arbitrary and self-aggrandizing, the product of insular thinking and administrative logrolling. But only Pulitzer winners expect the world to bow to the prize’s prestige and think owning one indemnifies them against criticism,” POLITICO senior writer Jack Shafer, an enemy of all industry prizes, writes in a screed against the “bogus” Pulitzers. Shafer characterizes the contest founded by newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, now in its 99th year, as arbitrary in its selection of winners. (The process of comparing one work of journalism to another is “about as scientific as an astrology reading,” he argues.)
As skeptical as journalists may be, they can’t help but absorb the validation of the Prizes when they receive them: consider how the Wall Street Journal—which won its first gold medal for reporting since Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought the newspaper—reacted to the end of its Pulitzer dry spell. The upper echelons of the paper had claimed not to value awards, pushing for more breaking news than investigative longform articles, but theJournal newsroom celebrated its victory yesterday with champagne, Murdoch joining the rest of the staff to hear editor in chief Gerard Baker address the paper from Japan over a speaker phone.
Announced on a wet, windy Monday at Columbia University’s Pulitzer Hall, the 2015 Pultizer Prizes largely stuck to tradition when it came to its winners and finalists: long-form investigative reporting from newspapers, mostly national outlets, but some local.
This was despite the addition this year of magazines to the list of eligible organizations, and with online operations having been eligible since 2008.
But newspapers weren’t the only organizations to be feted: the standout winner this year was Bloomberg News, which claimed its first prize ever for the Zachary Rider’s explanatory reporting on how U.S. corporations evade taxes and why lawmakers and regulators struggle to stop them. (In the years since 2008, when online news organizations first qualified for the contest, digital-only outlets InsideClimate News and the Huffington Post have also claimed prizes.)
“These are, for the most part, longtime newspapers,” Pulitzer administrator Mike Pride said of the 22 winners chosen by the 18-member Pulitzer board last week. “However I would say the digital components of their work is becoming more and more sophisticated, so what you’re seeing i think is newspapers know where the future is…and it shows in the results here…The use of all journalistic tools is something we’re looking for when we consider the prizes.”
This year, 2,900 journalism entries were whittled down to 64 finalists by panels of jurors back in February.
Notably absent in winner’s circle for feature writing and investigative reporting were weekly magazines, which were granted eligibility for the first time in those categories. The New Yorker did get a nod as a finalist in the feature writing category for Jennifer Gonnerman’s story detailing the three-year imprisonment of a young man at Rikers Island. Evan Osnos, a staff writer for the magazine, also was a finalist in the books category.
“This is glorious news,” New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote in an email to staff there Monday afternoon. “Thank you to everyone; thank you for the work you do in editing, fact-checking, proofing, developing art for, and working on such pieces in any way. We’ll be promoting all of this work online today and for the rest of the week.”
“I have to say…it’s a very hard thing to get through the eye of the needle and become a Pulitzer finalist, and we had very competitive magazine entries, so I don’t think I would look at and say, ‘We opened the prizes and nothing happened.’ Because something happened,” Pride said, after the winners and finalists were announced.
The New York Times, a perennial favorite, won three prizes: one in investigative reporting, for Eric Lipton’s series on articles showing how lobbyists can influence congressional leaders and state attorneys general in the favor of the wealth and connected; one for international reporting on the Ebola epidemic in Africa; and one for the feature photography of freelancer Daniel Berehulka, who captured the epidemic’s impact in West Africa. The list of finalists also include the late Times media columnist David Carr, who died in February.
The Los Angeles Times claimed two prizes, one in feature writing and one in criticism: the first was awarded to Diana Marcus for her portraits of lives affected by drought in California’s Central Valley; the second went to Mary McNamara for her humorous television criticism.
The Daily Breeze, a daily newspaper in Torrance, CA, and the Post and Courier, Charleston’s daily, also claimed their first-ever prizes in the local reporting and prestigious public serve categories respectively.
“What you’re seeing here is really good investigative reporting and even investigative reporting showing up in other categories—the local news reporting prize and other prizes,” Pride said of all the day’s prize winners. “That kind of looking into people who are good at what’s hidden by government and people in authority—I think that’s a theme that runs through a lot of the winners.”
Still, a Pulitzer does not a living make: as the New York Times’ Matt Flegenheimer revealed, one of the three journalists that contributed to the Daily Breeze‘s prize-winning investigation into corruption in a small, poor California school district left the paper last August to become a publicist for the U.S.C. Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California because, he said, despite receiving a raise “it still just wasn’t enough.”
Correction: an earlier version of this story misspelled Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker’s name.