Few entries, no consensus, no Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting

The Pulitzer Prize jury that reviewed the Breaking News Reporting category recommended three finalists to the Pulitzer Board. But for the first time ever, no entry won the category that recognizes local coverage of breaking news events.

This decision to give no news organization the honor for breaking news was especially surprising since this awards period included the earthquake in Haiti and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Until the winners were announced Monday afternoon, the Pulitzer jurors who judged the Breaking News category were unaware that the Board had not chosen any of the recommended finalists.

"I heard about it at 3:10 this afternoon," said juror J. Todd Foster, executive editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Jurors sign confidentiality agreements not to discuss the contest deliberations and none of the jurors I contacted would say what they thought of the Board's choice not to grant an award.

"While it is the first time that we did not have a winner in this category, it is the 25th time the Board has not awarded a Prize in a category," said Sig Gissler, Pulitzer Prize administrator.

The Pulitzer Board named three finalists:

"Nominated as finalists in this category were: Chicago Tribune Staff for its coverage of the deaths of two Chicago firefighters who were killed while searching for squatters in an abandoned burning building, The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, a joint staff entry, for their coverage of a devastating earthquake in Haiti, often working under extreme conditions, and the Staff of The Tennessean, Nashville, for its coverage of the most devastating flood in Middle Tennessee history."

The Pulitzer rules emphasize speed and accuracy in Breaking News coverage. New rules instituted this year say the judges should consider stories that use "any available journalistic tool, including text reporting, videos, databases, multimedia or interactive presentations or any combination of those formats, in print or online or both."

Last year's winner for Breaking News Reporting was The Seattle Times, which used Twitter, Google Wave, Dipity and other digital tools to cover the shooting deaths of four police officers.

Of all of the Pulitzer categories, breaking news coverage attracts the fewest entries, only 37 in this year's contest, Gissler said. That is down from 41 in 2010, 35 entries in 2009, 47 in 2008 and 52 in 2007.

"I am sometimes told by editors that they are doubtful that they have covered a large enough disaster in their community to win, " Gissler said.

Gissler added that even though there have been significant breaking news events in the last year, judges weigh their decisions based on the quality of individual entries. "In order to win, an entry must get a majority vote," he said.

There are 16 voting board members, but sometimes not all members vote because they must recuse themselves if there is a conflict of interest.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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