April 15, 2014

International Business Times

When the Pulitzer board on Monday announced the 2014 recipients of journalism’s highest honor, a major category lacked a winner. No one had won for feature writing.

Since three finalists were chosen by the nominating jury for that category, why was one not selected by the board? Pulitzer Prizes administrator Sig Gissler told IBT’s Christopher Zara:

“It’s not a statement on the quality of feature writing in America,” he said in a phone interview. “They were thoroughly discussed and carefully considered.”

But that doesn’t explain the reason for the decision not to award the prize, and Gissler was not providing an answer: “We don’t get into explaining what the deliberations entail,” he said.

It takes a majority of the 17 voting board members to declare a winner, Gissler pointed out. With three nominations, clearly no single finalist drew the nine votes required to walk away with the prize. The lack of a recipient also suggests that none of finalists blew away the judges. Yet each of the nominations represented substantial work:

Scott Farwell of The Dallas Morning News tells of a woman’s struggle to live a normal life after years of child abuse

Christopher Goffard of the Los Angeles Times recounts an ex-police officer’s nine-day killing spree in Southern California

Mark Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describes a group of first-year medical students and their relationships in anatomy class.

Roy J. Harris Jr., who writes Poynter’s annual Pulitzer Preview, offered a comment that he said he shares with a wink: “I’ve never been nominated for a Pulitzer, and it’d be the highlight of my career if I WERE — whether I won or not. But I do cringe for the poor folks that make the finalist list, and when people ask ‘who’d you lose to,’ they have to respond, ‘Uh, nobody…. .'”

The board refrained from naming a winner in feature writing before, in 2004. Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark, a juror on previous nominating committees, wrote about the decision. After reading the nominations for that year, he concluded none rose to the standards of the Pulitzers.

Many other categories have gone without winners in prior years. No winner was named in 2011 for breaking news reporting, for example, nor in 2012 for editorial writing.

It may be little comfort to the three feature writing finalists, but there’s truth in the worn phrase just to be nominated is an honor. This year, in 14 journalism categories, 1,132 entries were submitted. To be plucked from a field that large, one representing the best in U.S. journalism, is no small accomplishment for any reporter.

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