Pulitzers Are Pointless

They're weightless 'footnotes,' not 'headlines': Jack Shafer
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 18, 2011 1:17 PM CDT
Jack Shafer: Pulitzer Prizes for Journalism Are Pointless
In this April 7, 2007 file photo, Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., holds up a previously won Pulitzer Prize medallion.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The Pulitzer Prizes for journalism are awarded today, but they don’t mean a thing, writes Jack Shafer. “I doubt that one newspaper reader in 10,000 could tell you a day after the Pulitzers are awarded who got the prize for explanatory reporting,” he notes in a 2004 piece, reprinted in Slate today. And that’s just fine: “In a perfect world, the prizes would be treated as footnotes rather than the stuff of headlines.”

That’s because, for one thing, “there's no real science or even fairness behind the picking of winners and losers.” Instead, prizes are distributed “according to a formula composed of one part log-rolling, two parts merit, three parts ‘we owe him one,’ and four parts random distribution.” One paper’s success in a given year doesn’t make it a better paper; it just means the stars were aligned for it. “Put it this way: If another trade association gave itself awards, would its winners get Page One play? Never.” (Read more Pulitzer Prize stories.)

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