Don’t blame the jury.
That’s one lesson to take away from the announcement of today’s Pulitzer Prizes. Or non-prizes, as the case may be.
Though the Pulitzer board awarded two top distinctions in the category of investigative journalism, it came up with empty hands in one other category. From the Pulitzer 2012 roster:
Editorial Writing - No award
Harsh! But not unprecedentedly harsh. According to Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler, the board has opted for “no award” nine times in the history of the editorial writing category; for all categories, it has withheld recognition 62 times.
So what happened this year on the opining front? Did the country’s editorialists all just sit out 2011? No way, say the jurors for this particular category. “There were a lot of really good editorials,” says juror Bob Davis, editor of the Anniston Star. “Things that any one of us would be proud of.. . . It was inspiring to read all these great entries.”
And juror Beverly Weintraub, an editorial writer at the New York Daily News, says, “We were very satisfied with the recommendations to the board.”
As Weintraub suggests, these journo-jurors can take this whole Pulitzer thing only so far. They make recommendations for “nominated finalists” and then return to all their non-Pulitzer business. The vaunted Pulitzer Prize Board takes things from there, or doesn’t. Gissler says that in the case of the editorial-writing non-award, the crew handed in its “jury report,” which was derived from 44 editorial entries countrywide.
Yet none of the entries was able to “muster a majority vote” of the Pulitzer board, says Gissler. Then why not just award multiple winners, a la investigative category? “The board can do anything it wants to,” responded Gissler. “In investigative, the board felt that two prizes were appropriate. In editorial, none of the three achieved a majority. It’s not a message,” says the administrator, contradicting at least one commentator who’s drawing some conclusions. “It’s a situation.”
Right: A situation that makes all the nominated finalists feel lousy, and the non-nominated finalists even lousier.