On Monday at 3 p.m., an annual ritual will play out. Staffers in newsrooms around the country will tune in to the Pulitzer Prize live stream, awaiting formal notification of their recognition. Newly crowned victors will then face a number of questions, such as: Do I respond to all my congratulatory emails? What do I say in my newsroom speech? Should I buy new clothing for the Pulitzer luncheon? Should I drink all night?
And then: Do I update my Twitter bio?
Don’t underestimate that last one. To judge from an extensive review of the Twitter-bio-Pulitzer media ecosystem, the challenge of short-handing journalistic glory has triggered a fair bit of brainstorming. Part of the problem is brevity: The Twitter bio accommodates 160 characters, so there’s room for only so many distinctions, hobbies, titles. As one expert notes, “Twitter bios that use the word ‘guru’ tend to have 100 more followers than the average Twitter account. And while you shouldn’t necessarily just use the word ‘guru,’ the lesson to learn here is to identify yourself authoritatively."
In media, there’s no authority quite like the Pulitzer Prizes. Launched in 1917, they’re the mic-dropping credential in journalism, the sort of distinction that garners first-sentence mention in book jackets, obits and anywhere else where the winner wishes to project accomplishment. Don’t trust the Erik Wemple Blog on this matter; trust the Twitter bio of the New York Times’s Keith Bradsher:
“Pulitzer, etc.,” huh? Could that possibly mean that Bradsher has won other, presumably lesser journalism prizes? It makes sense, considering that not a single Twitter bio features this boast: “SPJ Mark of Excellence Award in Breaking News Reporting, Large School Division, etc.” Here’s a look at the many other awards Bradsher has swept up over his career:
He won the Asia Society’s Osborn Elliott Award  and the Overseas Press Club’s Malcolm Forbes Award in , for coverage of clean energy in China. He won the George Polk Award for national reporting for his coverage of sport utility vehicles in 1997 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize [in 1998]. Public Affairs published his book on S.U.V.'s, High and Mighty, in 2002 and it won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Award.
Those are apparently some of Bradsher’s “etc.” awards. How do the custodians of those awards feel about being lumped into the vast neuter pluraldom of journalism awards? “I would say, if anything, that at least we’re in good company,” said Sara Beth Joren, publicist for the New York Public Library.
“Oh no, that’s okay. That’s okay,” said Overseas Press Club of America Executive Director Patricia Kranz, who quickly questioned whether she was speaking on the record — yes — and expressed no interest in further discussion about journalism-award hierarchies. Bradsher himself provides this perspective on the honors: “The work that won the other prizes was every bit as important as the work that won the Pulitzer -- like my work on the dangers of sport utility vehicles, which won a Polk in 1998, and my work on China’s subsidized push to dominate renewable energy, which won an Osborn Elliott Prize and an Overseas Press Club Award in 2009," writes Bradsher in an email.
"But for better or for worse, the Pulitzers are still the most widely known.”
Some Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists feel a compulsion to show the world that they can take this award in stride, that their feet are still on the ground. No better place to announce such equanimity than a Twitter bio, complete with canine reference:
The Pulitzer Prizes are a quirky beast. The particularly prestigious public service award, for instance, isn’t extended to journalists by name; it goes to news organizations. Nor do the Pulitzers crown editors with awards. Accordingly: Editors can either take great caution with how they abridge their careers:
Or go with a more expansive approach:
In search of a verdict on how editors must word their proximity to these prizes, the Erik Wemple Blog rung up Pulitzer Prize Administrator Dana Canedy. “We don’t have a specific Pulitzer Prize for editing, if that’s what you’re asking me,” says Canedy, adding that it would be hard to address specific cases without reviewing them. “We don’t have hard-and-fast rules for that kind of a reference,” she notes. “Certainly when teams win, people are very liberal and generous with respect to how they describe themselves with regard to the winning work.”
Excessive self-generosity in this regard is unlikely to be met with a call from the Pulitzer Prize board. “We don’t police it unless it’s something so egregious that if it’s something that’s called to our attention, we will address it,” says Canedy.
As for his formulation, Rich says he understands why the Pulitzers don’t recognize editors -- there are often too many of them with fingerprints on winning projects. Even so: “I don’t think anyone would view any editor who oversaw a Pulitzer-winning project - be it myself, Marty Baron or Dean Baquet - as anything less than Pulitzer-winning editors,” writes Rich, who expresses pride in the 2017 public-service Pulitzer that the New York Daily News, under his leadership, shared with ProPublica on New York Police Department eviction abuses. “In my case, I was happy to have Sarah Ryley have the spotlight. She deserved it. It was her story and she did the bulk of the phenomenal work that won the award. I think most editors would feel the same way.”
In the world of Twitter bios, there’s a lot not to police, too. Which is to say that many Pulitzer winners don’t bother mentioning their awards in their Twitter bios. Bob Woodward’s work alongside Carl Bernstein on the Watergate scandal earned The Post the public service award in 1973, and Woodward grabbed a big chunk of a 2002 national reporting Pulitzer for stories about the war on terrorism. Though he mentions the honors in book-promo materials, his Twitter bio omits them.
“I mean, I don’t know," says Woodward, whose assistant manages his Twitter account. “I look at it every now and then and she checks with me before she sends things out. I don’t really know what the bio is.”
David Fahrenthold, who won a 2017 Pulitzer for a series of stories vacating Donald Trump’s claims of charity, has thought through his non-Pulitzer Twitter bio: “Who needs to know that?” asks Fahrenthold. “I think if I told them I was a Pulitzer Prize winner, it wouldn’t make them more interested if my tweets were boring. You gotta earn it every day in this business, Erik [Wemple Blog].”
You sure do. After all, there’s a big audience out there hungering for Pulitzer-level journalism, as noted in one clever Twitter bio: