For the first time in the 95-year history of the Pulitzers, no one won for breaking news coverage in writing. Isn’t that what newspapers are meant to do? Break news? And yet no clear majority could be raised among the judges to crown one of the three finalists the winner.
Is breaking news dead — killed by bands of citizen journalists with smartphones? In an already tumultuous news environment, the non-breaking news had journalists feeling a bit self conscious.
With most news these days seemingly broken on Twitter, it is imperative for news organizations to integrate a multimedia approach to journalism.
The Pulitzers were definitely looking for that, as could be seen in a change to the rules this year. “In the 94 years since the prize was created, text — and particularly ink-on-newsprint — was the primary way newspapers delivered information,” the committee wrote in a December announcement. The entries now should include “any available journalistic tool, including text reporting, videos, databases, multimedia or interactive presentations or any combination of those formats.”
The winner of the 2009 Pulitzer, the Seattle Times, set a precedent of mixing e-mail alerts, videos and stories to cover the killings of four police officers. Many newsrooms are working to integrate that kind of breaking coverage across platforms, but as the New York Observer pointed out, there are growing pains in the process — most notably evident in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who some news organizations mistakenly said had been killed during the Tucson attack.
Sig Gissler, an administrator for the Pulitzers, told the Poynter organization that news organizations’ insecurity about their coverage may also account for the lack of a winner. “I am sometimes told by editors that they are doubtful that they have covered a large enough disaster in their community to win, ” Gissler said. Only 37 stories were entered into the category this year.
Before newspapers call it a day and wave the white flag at Twitter, it should be noted that the Pulitzers have failed to find a winner 24 other times, in different categories. The chair of the nominating committee for breaking news, Gabriel Escobar, the metro editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, told the Associated Press: “This is one year, and it's defined by what happened in that year.”
Did the Pulitzer Prizes get it wrong? Who should have won?