Pulitzers and the Web

Online journalism is increasingly playing a role in the Pulitzer Prizes.

The Pulitzers first allowed Web elements to be submitted starting in 1999, when they opened up the Public Service category.

In 2005, a journalist at a weekly newspaper won a Pulitzer for a story he broke on the web (more details here).

In 2006, the Pulitzer Board modified the rules to allow online components to be included as part of submissions in all 14 journalism categories.

I asked Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, a few questions about how the Web factored into this year’s decisions. Here are his answers, followed by links to the online components included with winning entries.

Jon Dube: To what degree did online work factor into the decisions of the judges this year?

Sig Gissler: I cannot get into deliberations, which are confidential.

However, 15-20% of the entries had significant online elements — nearly half of Public Service, about a fourth of Breaking News, Investigative and Explanatory, about 15% of Local Reporting, about a third of Feature Photography.

Online was present to some degree in winning entries — such as Public Service, Breaking News, National, Feature (that little video) and Feature Photography. In Explanatory, it was supplemental.

Now that the Pulitzers have accepted online elements as part of entries for several years, what are your observations on the state of online journalism and how it’s evolving?

Gissler: It’s growing.

Entrants are getting better at integrating single, unified elements into Pulitzer entries, instead of dropping in a kind of digital glob (we say entire Web sites should not be submitted as part of the core entry).

We will continue to refine our procedures and monitor the whole field.

What lessons have you learned about online journalism from observing the online work included in the Pulitzer entries over the past few years?

Gissler: We’re on the right track. Our competition is for the blended newspaper, part online, part in print.

This reflects where the industry is and where it is continuing to head.

Online components of winning Pulitzer entries:

Public Service: The Washington Post for the work of Dana Priest, Anne Hull and photographer Michel du Cille in exposing mistreatment of wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital, evoking a national outcry and producing reforms by federal officials.

Breaking News: The Washington Post Staff for its exceptional, multi-faceted coverage of the deadly shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, telling the developing story in print and online.

National: Jo Becker and Barton Gellman of The Washington Post for their lucid exploration of Vice President Dick Cheney and his powerful yet sometimes disguised influence on national policy.

Feature: Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post for his chronicling of a world-class violinist who, as an experiment, played beautiful music in a subway station filled with unheeding commuters.

Feature Photography: Preston Gannaway of the Concord (N.H.) Monitor for her intimate chronicle of a family coping with a parent’s terminal illness.

Explanatory: Amy Harmon of The New York Times for her striking examination of the dilemmas and ethical issues that accompany DNA testing, using human stories to sharpen her reports.



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Jonathan Dube is the President of the Online News Association, the Director of Digital Media for CBC News, a columnist for Poynter.org and the publisher of CyberJournalist.net. He can be reached at editor(at)cyberjournalist.net.

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