Yesterday, Columbia University announced the winners of the 2012 Pulitzer Prizes for journalism, letters, drama, and music—and among the distinguished few were online news organizations The Huffington Post and Politico, according to a Columbia press release.
The reputable Pulitzer Prizes, established by newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer in his will and administrated by Columbia University since 1917, are “perceived as a major incentive for high-quality journalism,” according to the website.
These are the first Pulitzer wins for both The Huffington Post and Politico. A complete list of winners is available on the Pulitzer website.
David Wood, senior military correspondent for The Huffington Post, received a prize for National Reporting for his “Beyond the Battlefield” series, which highlighted “the physical and emotional challenges facing American soldiers severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan during a decade of war,” the release said.
In an interview with Poynter, Wood said the award was a validation of digital journalism as a significant reporting platform.
“It’s an affirmation of what Arianna [Huffington] said: ‘You can do great journalism from any platform,’” he told Poynter. “The [strategies] I used then were exactly the ones I used in this story — to think about your subject, to ask good questions, to be a continuously good listener and to go deep.”
Wood, who formerly worked for Time Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and The Baltimore Sun and joined HuffPo only last year, interviewed dozens of wounded soldiers for the series, Poynter reported.
Matt Weurker of Politico also earned a prize for Editorial Cartooning, “for his consistently fresh, funny cartoons, especially memorable for lampooning the partisan conflict that engulfed Washington,” the Columbia press release said. Weurker was previously a Pulitzer finalist in 2009 and 2012. His winning cartoons covered topics such as the Occupy Wall Street movement and the debt crisis.
As Wood suggested, the prestige of the Pulitzer Prizes may bring with it increased respect for online journalism platforms. The awarding of American journalism’s highest honor suggests that significant, meaningful reporting and editorial criticism can be practiced on any digital medium, despite claims to the contrary.
This year’s Pulitzer Prizes also brought attention to the high quality of investigative journalism still being written at traditional newspapers, both national and local. Highlights include the Associated Press, who won an Investigative Reporting prize for a series on the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslim communities since 9/11, and Sarah Ganim, one of the youngest Pulitzer recipients who won for her local coverage of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal at Penn State University, the press release said.
Oddly, though, the Pulitzer Prize Board chose not to award a prize for the categories of Editorial Writing and Fiction, though there were numerous nominees in both categories. According to The Washington Post, Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler said the board could not come to a majority vote in these cases, and that in the past the board chose not to give awards a total of 62 times.
“The board can do anything it wants to,” Gissler told The Post. “In editorial, none of the three achieved a majority. It’s not a message. It’s a situation.”
According to the Pulitzer website, however, The Plan of Award, which determines how prizes are awarded, 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.”
Whether this year’s snubbed nominees met the “standard of excellence” in the eyes of the board is unclear.
While most people still view the Pulitzer as the top journalism prize, Gawker took a harsher position on the awards in a January article, claiming that the board’s restrictive definitions of what qualifies as a newspaper, which exclude magazine journalism, keep the prize firmly ensconced in print newspapers.
“Indeed, the whole notion of an award aimed at newspapers seems bizarrely constricted and artificial in the age of digital publishing,” the article said. “The prizes were opened to "news sites" in addition to print outlets in 2009, but the whole enterprise is still suffused with print culture and the attendant weird stodginess about who's in the club and who isn't.”
Perhaps the recent wins by The Huffington Post and Politico will usher in a new era of Pulitzer winners — an online revolution of strong, investigative content.