Monday, April 17, 2006

How to Win a Pulitzer Prize

If you just have to win a journalism prize, then the Pulitzer’s the one. In a profession notorious for self-celebration and circular pud-pulling---in that mainstream journalism is almost but not quite as bad as its bastid cousin, the whatchamacallit, the blogosphere---the Pulitzer means something. There’s no need to tart up a story trumpeting your paper’s triumph with carefully vetted verbiage from the editor acknowledging his staff’s hard work and talent, such as readers are subjected to when their local newsprint service provider scores an Honorable Mention in the Real Good Writin’ contest. A Pulitzer speaks for itself.

So we were glad to learn of the two Pulitzers handed Monday to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and one to the Sun-Herald of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, for the papers’ Katrina reportage. The story of how the Times-Picayune remained afloat (online) in the days immediately after the hurricane and flooding is already semi-legendary in the news biz (thanks in part to the paper’s own myth-tending), but even more impressive was the way the Picayune reasserted its essentiality to a broken community, the way few if any monopoly newspapers are willing or able to do anymore (and just think how much better what’s left of New Orleans would have been served had there been one or two more daily newspapers fighting to stay alive post-Katrina; we’re thinking here of the long-gone green-sheeted States-Item of our young adulthood, which brought us Doonesbury, great investigative reporting on Edwin Edwards, and the only endorsement of George McGovern south of Atlanta---all for just a dime).

We’ve occasionally peeked in at the Times-Picayune in the months since Katrina and found it indispensable to our humble efforts to understand and keep abreast of the most disconcerting public event of our lifetime (stranger, to us, than Sept. 11). We’re previously cited the fine work of the columnist Chris Rose, a finalist in the Pulizer commentary category won by the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof (and Rose wuz robbed!), but we’ve found much to admire almost anywhere we turned in the paper's wall-to-wall post-Katrina coverage, including this seemingly routine (but not really) political story that we read Saturday on the big (only, really) issue in the upcoming mayor’s race.

Maybe it’s just that everything---the journalism, the politics, etc.---seems more engaging after your city’s been devastated. It's possible that the food even tastes better.

Meanwhile, as one of our correspondents pointed out to us, the local Hearst product in Houston stretched its Pulitzer-less streak to 105 or so years, despite the reportedly obsessive efforts of its newsroom leadership to nail one (and at the expense, some critics might say, of turning out a consistently informative and interesting local product).

Oh, well. Perhaps they should join hands and pray for a Category 5 hurricane at the next editors’ retreat.

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