While the Pulitzer Prize now recognises excellence in online reporting, the relaxation of its rules does not take into account the dynamism of web journalism.
THE Oscars of the journalism world is the Pulitzer Prize which recognises excellence in newspaper journalism.
The Pulitzer Prize Board has held out against the online revolution for the longest time but, this week, it finally gave in and announced that it will consider material submitted by online-only publications when awarding the prestigious medal in all 14 journalism categories.
The Board stressed “that all entered material – whether online or in print – should come from US newspapers or news organisations that publish at least weekly, that are ‘primarily dedicated to original news reporting and coverage of ongoing stories’, and that ‘adhere to the highest journalistic principles’.”
This should eliminate most blogs, not because there aren’t blogs that are very good but because most blogs consist primarily of commentary rather than original reporting.
The Board does emphasise original news reporting. Here’s what it says about that: “Eligibility was expanded to encompass online sites that regularly engage in original reporting – using such techniques as interviewing, going out to observe things, reviewing public records, taking photos and videos – and publish the journalistic results of those efforts.”
It adds: “Sites and publications are not eligible if their content consists primarily of commentary on news events that have been covered by another organisation, of if they simply aggregate news coverage done by others.” This pretty much eliminates blogs.
But increasingly there are hybrid sites like the Huffington Post, which contains a mix of blogs, links and some original reporting. Would it be eligible?
What’s clearly not eligible are magazines and broadcast media sites. Since their creation in 1917, the Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded exclusively for newspaper journalism. “The growth of text-based online publications is in many ways, an extension of the newspaper tradition,” says the press release. “Moreover, magazines and broadcast media have long had their own contests.”
So what about purely online publications like Slate.com or Salon.com? Both do contain original reporting but are positioned as online magazines rather than
newspapers. As such, are they eligible?
Examples the Board gave of online-only papers that would qualify include the MinnPost, Voice of San Diego, St. Louis Beacon and Washington Independent – all of which do original reporting.
The inclusion of online only newspaper is a recognition of the fact that many people today – both digital natives and digital immigrants – get a lot of their news online.
It also comes at a time when many print newspapers are struggling. This week, Tribune Co, a major newspaper chain, declared bankruptcy. Last week, Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, retrenched more than 600 employees. Other major newspapers, including the mighty New York Times, have cut staff in the past year.
The latest development should encourage many newspapers to start taking advantage of the Internet as a distribution channel and a revenue generator.
Actually online content submitted by newspapers’ websites has been considered for the awards since 2006, but according to the release, “online-only newspapers were not allowed to submit entries, and entirely-online entries were permitted in only two categories, breaking news coverage and breaking-news photography”.
That’s changed now though. “This is an important step forward, reflecting our continued commitment to American newspapers as well as our willingness to adapt to the remarkable growth of online journalism,” says Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes.
“The new rules enlarge the Pulitzer tent and recognise more fully the role of the Web, while underscoring the enduring value of words and of serious reporting.”
The board’s change of heart about the Internet is a long time coming. The Pulitzer committee has shown over the years that it can reward small newspapers that produce good niche work. Pulitzers don’t just go to the New York Times and the Washington Post. That’s why it’s surprising how long it took them to grasp the importance of online journalism; but better late than never.
Still, teething problems are to be anticipated. For example the requirement that any submission must “depict its original publication on the web, not its subsequent update or alteration” is a very conservative ruling that does not take into account the dynamism of web journalism, where articles are facts are constantly updated, where corrections are made on the fly and where new links and even graphics are added.