Pulitzers provide a break from criticism

It has never garnered the coverage of the Oscars, Emmys, or even Tony Awards.

It has never garnered the coverage of the Oscars, Emmys, or even Tony Awards.

Yet, within media circles and newsrooms across the country - and perhaps the world - the announcement of the Pulitzer Prizes for journalism is still a highly anticipated event. This, media Web sites like Gawker and Editor & Publisher touted news of the winners within minutes of the announcement.

"The Pulitzers still have significant cachet," says Peter Himler, principal of Flatiron Communications. "At a time when audiences are questioning journalism, the Pulitzers are a third-party validation of quality journalism."

Certainly that third-party judgment carries some weight, and it often is enough to cancel out even fellow media criticism. For example, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times broke the domestic eavesdropping story in December, the Times was the target of criticism because the paper admitted it had held the story for a year at the request of the White House. Yet in spite of politics, Risen and Lichtblau won a national reporting Pulitzer for their work on that series of articles.

Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs, agrees that the Pulitzer still represents a "pedestal" for print media and an opportunity to break away from media criticism, if only for a brief time.

"They are the only opportunity the news media has every year to cover its successes," he says. "The media is fantastic at cannibalizing itself and hyping its flaws and mistakes. The Pulitzer is the good news story of the year."

And while mainstream media outlets have seen a decline in recent years in terms of credibility and readership, the Pulitzer still carries weight where it means the most: within the media itself.

"The outside world cachet of the Pulitzer has taken a hit as the mainstream media establishment has taken a hit, but people still respect the power of the award," Felling notes. "Inside media land, the Pulitzer is still the Mount Everest of the journalist world. The Pulitzers [illustrate] journalists rising to great heights despite budget constraints and a bottom-line mindset."

And because of that, the Pulitzers still represent an incredible marketing tool for not only the reporters who win them, but the papers, as well. Not only did many of the papers that won prizes feature announcements on the home pages of their Web sites, some - like the Rocky Mountain News in Denver - provided readers with links to the stories and/or photographs that won.

Diane McNulty, executive director of community affairs and media relations for The New York Times, which won a total of three awards this year, notes that there are several different audiences for the communications department's outreach in touting the paper's Pulitzer Prizes.

The paper took out a house ad in the print edition to notify its readers and worked tirelessly to field interview requests from other media outlets. This year's awards bring the total to 94 - more than any other news organization, a point McNulty says is stressed to outside audiences. "It just speaks to the quality of the paper," she adds.

But sometimes the most important audience of all is the newspaper's staff. At the Times, as in other newsrooms around the country, the announcement of the paper's three winners was made with a celebratory champagne toast from the publisher and editor-in-chief.

And for papers that have struggled over the past year owing to business woes or other circumstances, a Pulitzer can bring a renewed sense of hope to the newsroom.

In Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans and Biloxi, MS, Pulitzers awarded to the Times-Picayune and Sun Herald were undoubtedly met with an enthusiasm and satisfaction worth more than the Pulitzer itself.

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