Wednesday, April 19, 2006

And the Pulitzer Prize for Hypocrisy Goes To . . .

As a career newspaper guy, I was ambivalent about the Pulitzer Prizes for journalism.

Mind you, I wouldn't have turned one down. Reporting projects that I edited over the years were nominated for Pulitzers five times and I thought one was good enough to win. An insider told me that it almost made the cut as a finalist, but was too different for the judges to fully grasp its significance.


As it was, my newspaper did win two Pulitzers during my tenure and our sister paper another 15, so I have felt the elation and sipped the champagne even if the toasts weren't for me and my reporters.

My ambivalence about the journalism Pulitzers is more fundamental: How they are judged and awarded too often has more to do with scratching the backs of the award judges than the merits of the nominees' work. Translation: A lot of good stuff never gets honored because the papers are out of this elitist back-scratching loop.

In any event, here are two rather different views of this year's Pulitzers for journalism. One is from my buddy Will Bunch at Attytood, who bemoans the dearth of awards for local reporting. The other is from Joe Strupp at Editor & Publisher via Poynteronline, who asks:
Was it just a coincidence that five of the Washington Post's Pulitzer winners got together hours before official word of their victory was announced?
Of course not.

Here's another question: Why should anyone care?

Because, as noted above, the entire Pulitzer process is fraught with the kind of favoritism that many a prize winner has decried in their prize-winning stories. That is hypocritical.


I have no idea whether the Pulitzers for arts and letters are similarly rigged, but I happily note that:
Two magnificent books that I would highly recommend were finalists -- Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" (Biography) and George Packer's "The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq" (General Non-Fiction). As I tell everyone who will listen, Packer's book is far and away the best on the war.

Thelonious Monk received a well-deserved, if well postumous Special Citation not for his exquisite keyboard playing, but for his equally equisite but overlooked jazz compositions.

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