Friday, January 22, 2010

Celebrating excellence?

If you go to the homepage of the Pulitzer Prizes, this is what greets you -- at least on Friday, January 22, at 7:36 a.m.

Journalism entry deadline is February 1, 2010

          The deadline for submitting entries in the 2010 Pulitzer Prize Journalism competition is February 1, 2010 (for postmark). Journalism published in an eligible newspaper or news site during 2009 may be submitted. Entry forms and guidelines can be downloaded from the How to enter page.
The Pulitzer Prizes, as I'm sure you know, reward excellence in newspaper journalism, literature, and musical composition. And if you click on the "eligible newspaper or news site" link, you will see that -- no surprise -- the Pulitzer people have again redefined what excellence in journalism is as reputable internet journalists continue to contribute more and more to our national conversation.

Okay. Next I'd like to take note that sadly, smarmily, John Edwards admitted he is the father of Rielle Hunter's baby.

Quickly getting back to rewarding excellence in newspaper journalism, I saw a Howard Kurtz story in yesterday's Washington Post announcing that "the executive editor [Barry Levine] of the National Enquirer . . .plans to enter his paper's work on the John Edwards scandal for a Pulitzer Prize."

The following is an excerpt from Mr. Kurtz' story:
While the Enquirer specializes in celebrity gossip, it has landed a series of exclusives that the rest of the press has wound up chasing. These range from its reporting on the O.J. Simpson case in the 1990s, to its 2001 disclosure that Jesse Jackson had fathered an out-of-wedlock child, to its 2003 report that Florida authorities were looking into prescription drug abuse by Rush Limbaugh.
Mainstream news organizations, unlike supermarket papers, do not pay for information. In the Edwards saga, Levine said, "the fact that we practice checkbook journalism, and we make no bones about it, certainly helped. But we've had every aspect of reporting, from pursuing financial documents to stakeouts to cultivating sources. Along the way, there were times when some sources came out of the woodwork and, for a tip fee, would lead us in another direction and help with the story."
This all raises so many unsettling questions in me? Can journalism that uses paid sources be considered "excellent"?  Is it journalistic snobbery or journalistic standards to find Barry Levine saying his paper deserves serious consideration for a Pulitzer just a tad uppity? Can a tabloid that breaks one legitimate news story side-by-side with many illegitimate news stories expect the legitimacy of that one legitimate story to remain untarnished by its journalistic company?

Oh dear.

I am a fan of a broad interpretation of the concept of excellence. I also like to think of myself as non-judgmental--of John Edwards, anyway. But I'm not so sure I can take the high road quite so firmly when I think of the National Enquirer deliberately pandering to Americans' prurient nosiness about John Edwards. You see, I firmly believe that the National Enquirer broke the John Edwards sex scandal story just to make money off feeding a part of us that just shouldn't (oh dear, that word is the essence of judgment, isn't it?) be fed--our penchant for tittle-tattle.

That the Enquirer's editor should then claim his paper deserves consideration for excellence in journalism, I just find a bit much.

That I feel this way, however, does not mean the National Enquirer doesn't deserve consideration for a Pulitzer. It did, after all, break the story that toppled a presidential contender.

Any thoughts?


  1. Well, I agree. The type of news focused on is as much a part of good journalism as anything else. What is worthy news? The public decides, but that doesn't mean that journalists can't still try to open and educate the minds of their readers rather than cater to their appetite for gossip. And yes, I think this SHOULD be part of the definition of good journalism.

    It's true that the Edwards story turned out to be important in getting him out of the presidential race early, but then I'm one who questions whether his personal life should have been relevant to his candidacy in the first place. But of course it WAS. People care deeply about the sex lives of their leaders and Edwards himself made his commitment to Elizabeth a central part of his platform. So who knows? Maybe our celebrity gossip addiction is really where it's at.

    I don't know much about the Pulitzer Prize Award committee -- who the people are that decide -- but it seems to me they needn't and perhaps shouldn't just echo popular opinion. Kind of like the Supreme Court shouldn't favor the rich and the powerful, but that, too, is apparently not the way things are going . . . .

  2. Sadly, many people assume that ALL media organizations pay for interviews. What was once the fodder for "tabloids" has been trending into the mainstream. Giving The National Enquirer a Pulitzer would just help push that trend. By the way, John Edwards lost in the 2008 primaries some time before most voters learned about his scandal, though his campaigning after knowing the Enquirer was onto it seems very irresponsible of him. --C.E.

  3. THe PUlitzer prize, it seems, would lose some credibility for awarding--and perhaps even for considering--journalism featured in the National Enquirer. Don't they frequently make things up? Anyone who publishes their "journalism" in a magazine that regularly has photoshopped images of alien babies can't expect to be taken seriously as a journalist! Next we'll be awarding The Onion for its journalism.