It has been nearly a decade since I would spend the second Monday of each April in a newsroom or out in the field reporting, so the annual announcement of Pulitzer Prize winners for journalism has definitely taken on an outside-looking-in feel to it. This has become even more so as one newspaper after another implodes, my more famous peers retire, and the glory days when the paper that I worked for and our sister paper won nearly 20 Pulitzers between them seem increasingly like a dream.
In the interests of full disclosure, some five stories and projects that I edited were nominated for prizes. None won although one was a finalist. That noted, the announcement yesterday of the winners of the 93rd annual prizes seemed like an echo from a distant galaxy. And an anachronistic one at that for an industry that is struggling to survive.
This is because the award categories have remained the same for decades while newspaper journalism has undergone extraordinary changes in the new millennium as 24/7 television cable news, the Internet and blogs have chiseled away at newspapers' audience. This is not to say that the core values -- "the highest journalistic principles," as the Pulitzer board puts it -- have changed.
They have not, and while these values are under assault, they have become even more important than ever in an era when Fox News may have supplanted the New York Times as the most influential news media outlet, the Washington Post (which won four prizes yesterday, by golly) tacks to the right editorially as tries to stanch a hemorrhaging of readers, and a quality daily publication like The Christian Science Monitor is barely able to publish one day a week.
But there finally was evidence this year that the Pulitzer jury made an effort to move away from the prize's anachronistic past and embrace newer forms of journalism.
While I am delighted that Barbara Laker, a dear former colleague who won a Pulitzer for investigative reporting with Wendy Rudderman for exposing a rogue Philadelphia police narcotics squad, I am downright thrilled that she shared the prize with ProPublica, a new breed of online, non-profit news organizations, where reporter Sheri Fink took home honors for her story about the deadly choices faced at one New Orleans hospital in the days after Hurricane Katrina.
Oh, and Mark Fiore's flash-animated political cartoons won a prize, which certainly was a first.