The Odd Pulitzers

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Big congratulations to all of the Pulitzer winners this year. As always, they seem worthy.

You can argue about whether this series or that cartoonist should have won instead but it’s hard to look at the winners and not think them worthy of the distinction bestowed on them.

I would think TPM readers would particularly love, as they should, David Barstow’s piece on the military message machine.

Taken as a whole, though, the prizes seem a little odd. First, it’s kind of weird that more of the prizes didn’t focus on the 2008 campaign and the financial crisis which were kind of, oh, big last year.

The Investigative, Explanatory, Public Service and Breaking News prizes–the heart of the order for the domestic coverage–all went to journalists who covered topics other than the financial crisis and the seminal election. Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post won in commentary for work that dealt with the election and the crisis but still, that’s not the big main news prizes.

As best I can tell the closest the committee came to praising reporting of the financial crisis was making my old friend, Chuck Lane of the Washington Post, a finalist in editorial writing for his work on the financial crisis. Well deserved, I saw, and not just because I’m a Chuck fan. And Paul Krugman was a finalist in Commentary. But I’m a little surprised no Joe Nocera of the New York Times or Kate Kelly or Wall Street Journal which only picked up an award for Douglas Blackmon’s book on Jim Crow. It feels a little like 1942 and the committee didn’t really think World War II was that big a deal.

The indifference to the financial crisis was true of the National Magazine Award nominations earlier this year. Fortune, Forbes and Conde Nast Portfolio, where I’m a contributing editor, got no nominations. Business Week got a couple but the only one it got for print was an investigative piece about cholesterol drugs.

I suppose one could argue that the coverage of the financial crisis was so terrible that the prize committees did the right thing. But I think that’s a tough case to make. Obviously, in the run up to the crisis, there could have been more and better coverage but there was plenty of good coverage even then and once the collapse began it’d be hard to argue that Andrew Ross Sorkin or others didn’t have important things to say.

Another thought: A friend notes that the five awards for the New York Times, while well deserved, also has the feel of a conscious attempt to promote the gray lady when she’s ailing. The Times needs it and it’s the central newspaper in American life so should we be surprised, the friend notes, that the Times did so well? I kind of agree but they also had a very good year.

Finally, the Times coverage of the Spitzer sex scandal won for Breaking News. They did a great job. Special kudos to my pal, Nick Confessore who reports out of Albany and is another alumnus of The Washington Monthly. Still, for those who follow these things there is humor here. Another friend, a former Pulitzer winner, jokes that sex scandals are the new natural disasters. In the old days, a paper could get it’s Break News Pulitzer with a fire or a shooting or a hurricane. Now, a tawdry romp is the stuff of Pulitzer dreams and every editor of a dying paper must be hoping for a good hooker scandal even more than usual.

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