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Google Road Kill: Will the Pulitzer Prize Live to Be 100?

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The Pulitzer Prize for Journalism won't live to be 100 years old. On the 92nd anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize, prizewinners and publishers are fiddling while the newspaper industry is burning.

Today, though, we come not to bury the newspaper industry but to praise it.

Let us not blame Google for the death of American journalism.

For Google is an honorable company; so they all, are honorable companies. Here's another Search Engine war game the engines have won.

No one describes the Pyrrhic victory of Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL better than SES London and SES New York keynote speaker Nick Carr in his post, "News after the newspaper."

Carr observes there's no such thing as an Internet newspaper, and no economic model to support the transition from print to online in The Great Unbundling in Encyclopedia Britannica's weeklong forum on Newspapers and the Net.

The question: Do we care? Clay Shirky argues against nostalgia and viewing news and newspapers as scrapbooks. Journalists, editors and publishers need to face the music. In What Newspapers and Journalism Need Now: Experimentation, Not Nostalgia, he leads with, "Nick Carr is right. Now what?"

The answer: change now or ask the bugler to play "Taps" for the newspaper industry.

I'm not sure whether Clay is entirely serious when he says publishers will be lobbying for federal support on national security grounds within two years. But he's absolutely right that journalism must change at a faster rate than publishers (and shareholders) can stomach.

Deliverance of Journalism

Some – not Carr or Shirky – feel the newspaper industry has long been like the characters in the movie Deliverance: somewhat incestuous, hopelessly inbred, and prone to violence. If not in newsrooms then this seems to be the case in coverage (2008 Pulitzer for local reporting of breaking news awarded to The Washington Post staff for "its exceptional, multi-faceted coverage of the deadly shooting rampage at Virginia Tech.")

Besides, what other cultural phenomena besides Deliverance, strip mining and journalism can credit success to committing crimes against nature involving trees?

As do the characters in Deliverance, the Pulitzer Prize Board seems to feel some degree of shame and a great deal of fear these days.

Please don't embarrass us by naming us as Pulitzer finalists

The first death knell of the Pulitzers is the archaic practice of nominating Journalism finalists, but deeming them unworthy of the paltry $10,000 prize. To wit, the one category where newspapers should excel had no winner this year: Editorial Writing.

The Pulitzer Prize states, "If in any year all the competitors in any category shall fall below the standard of excellence fixed by The Pulitzer Prize Board, the amount of such prize or prizes may be withheld."

That's like saying, "Congratulations winners, you're the biggest losers."

That smacks of elitism, not a trait well-loved on the Web, where the wisdom of the crowd rules. Sure the Pulitzer needs to have standards, but not one single editorial board produced outstanding work during the entire year leading up to the Presidential primaries?

The Pulitzer awards "distinguished editorial writing, the test of excellence being clearness of style, moral purpose, sound reasoning, and power to influence public opinion in what the writer conceives to be the right direction, in print or in print and online."

So what should the reading public – online or offline – conclude? What did the Pulitzer find deficient: editorials that lacked moral purpose? Editorials sound of mind and body but lacking sound reasoning?

Or was it simply the admission that newspapers no longer have the power to influence public opinion.

No Award was awarded to the following winners of the dubious Pulitzer achievement award: "Nominated as finalists in this category were: Maureen Downey of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for her compelling editorials on the harsh sentences that teenagers can receive for consensual sex in Georgia."

The fatal flaw: obviously lacking in moral purpose.

Then there was Rodger Jones of The Dallas Morning News for "his relentless editorials that led to mandating roll-call votes on all statewide legislation in Texas." Clearly Jones must have been relentlessly deficient in "clearness of style" or some other fatal grammatical flaw.

The Wisconsin State Journal Staff was named a finalist for its "persistent, high-spirited campaign against abuses in the governor's veto power." The Pulitzer Board must have realized the WSJ staff – though in high spirits – "influenced the public in what the writer conceives to be" the wrong direction.

The kiss of USPS death

In case you thought the Pulitzer Board was dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th Century, think again. Don't believe me? Check the Sig file:

"Entries must be submitted in writing and addressed to the Administrator of The Pulitzer Prize Board, Mr. Sig Gissler, 709 Journalism, 2950 Broadway, Mail Code 3865, Columbia University, New York, N.Y. 10027. Entry forms can be found on the Pulitzer Web site www.pulitzer.org."

In the Pulitzer dictionary, digital is just a finger

On Nov. 27, 2006, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced that newspapers would – for the first time – be eligible to submit "a full array of online material, such as databases, interactive graphics, and streaming video, in nearly all of its journalism categories."

To enter the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, newspapers still needed a written cover letter. A zip file wins zip. Facsimiles of newspaper stories are not allowed.

"The entry's summary letter should describe the online material being submitted and the entry should include a legible representation of the material, such as screen shots. If online material is submitted, a description of its contents should be included in the entry's summary letter. The material must also be available on an active URL that shows original publication on the newspaper's Web site."

As in a court case where the defendant faces execution by lethal injection, newspapers are encouraged to submit an exhibit.

"Each entry must be accompanied by an exhibit of news stories, editorials, photographs, cartoons or online elements as published, with the paper's name and the date. The exhibit should be in the form of a scrapbook or binder measuring no more than 12 X 17 inches."

How silly of us: here we were thinking the whole time Scrapbook was a Firefox extension.

Will scrapbooks be buried with the Pulitzer Prize? After all, the good is oft interred with the bones of the dead and dying.

So, let it be.


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