Monday, April 20, 2009

Pulitzers, a humbling experience for Internet journalists

The Pulitzer Prizes announced today honored the usual suspects (such as the New York Times) and some unusual ones (the Detroit Free Press).

This year's prizes hailed not only the best American writing but also the medium of the Internet by allowing, for the first time, "online-only publications primarily devoted to original news reporting" to compete in all 14 prize categories.

In Sig Gissler's words, that made the prizes a "living organism."

Lisa Respers France writes for CNN:

Robert M. Steele, the Eugene S. Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Professor of Journalism at DePauw University in Indiana, said . . . . opening the Pulitzer Prizes to online publications "gives further weight to the role that digital journalism plays in this era."

"In some ways, it's increased legitimacy for new forms of delivering journalism," Steele said. "It also heightens the discussion about the distinction between basic information and substantive journalism. Just because somebody throws something online doesn't mean it is journalism."

Surprisingly, despite the 65 entries accepted from 37 online-only outlets, not a single online-only publication won a Pulitzer.

Not one online-only publication was even a finalist.

Why not? Whoa, before we engage in fallacious generalization about mediocrity or about the role of citizen reporters, let's consider a possibility.

The best online outlets (think Talking Points Memo, Salon, Slate) simply did not apply for a Pulitzer.

That could well be the reason none won.

As Ms. France reports:
David Plotz, editor of Slate, said his site did not apply for the Pulitzers despite what he believes was his publication's exceptional political, technology and business coverage.

"We are not a hard-news site, and we don't do the kinds of stories and projects that have traditionally been awarded," Plotz said.

Plotz said the recognition for online journalism is more than warranted.

"It's an overdue acknowledgement that some of the best journalism in the world and in America is being created not for print publication but for places that live entirely on the Web," he said.

So there.

Only last December, Arizona State professor Dan Gillmor had offered the Pulitzer Prize Board three annotated tips to identify the best Internet journalism.

In retrospect, it seems Mr. Gillmor's effort may have been moot.

Also see: Journalism comes full circle with civic/citizen movement
And: Is the Web a poor medium of local news?
And: "The Internet weakens the press' authority"
And: "It's all about the content. It's not about the medium"
And: Scholars call for tax credit for buying newspapers
: Should the newspaper industry get a bailout?

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