A Critical Look At The WaPo Pulitzers
It's been a week or so since the winners of the 2010 Pulitzer Prizes were announced, and so the celebratory atmosphere in newsrooms has subsided into the dull calm of praying that some Steve Jobs geegaw will finally "save journalism," at least for the wealthy people who can afford Steve Jobs geegaws. Over at the Washington Post, ombudsman Andrew Alexander took a critical eye at whether or not his paper's big wins "matter." But not too critical!
Although The Post won more Pulitzers than any other newspaper, its prizes didn't boost circulation. No new readers cited the prizes when subscribing last week, said circulation vice president Gregg J. Fernandes. Online traffic didn't soar.
Nor will winning the most prestigious honor in American journalism mean giant advertising gains. The financial situation for The Post, which lost money last year, continues to improve but remains challenging.
Still, Alexander says that there are benefits. The Prizes, for example, "may help retain existing" subscribers. The paper is held "in higher regard when it wins Pulitzers." And, he says, a "conspicuous sense of pride could be seen returning to a staff that has endured a tumultuous year of organizational upheaval and the continued loss of some of the nation's most respected journalists to cost-cutting buyouts."
So, the quality the Prizes instill retain readers, bring higher regard, and boost staff morale. I can get behind that thesis. Or, rather, I could get behind this thesis, but unfortunately, I have to view it in context of the Post's actual Pulitzer winners.
Take Anthony Shadid! I like Anthony Shadid. I'd take pride in having him as a colleague. I'd definitely consider subscribing to his paper. Unfortunately, while he won the prize for the Washington Post, he now works for the New York Times. One of the editors who I am told played a large role in giving Shadid the freedom to do his stories at the Post is Phil Bennett. Bennett took leave of the paper in January 2009.
Gene Weingarten! As you know, I'm a huge fan of the powerful, provoking long-form piece that ran in the Washington Post Magazine that won him the Prize. Said Magazine no longer publishes such features, and Weingarten took one of those "cost-cutting buyouts." (No wonder Weingarten thought that the finest thing his colleagues could do to renew their passion for newsgathering was to pummel one another.)
(Also! Sad stories are no longer allowed in the Washington Post Magazine, which, you know, is some goddamn fearless journalism, right there! Read all about it! You'll especially enjoy publisher Katharine Weymouth's "hit list" of stories that she hated because they made her sad. You'll never guess whose story is on that list, but HINT: it won a major award for journalism a week or so ago!)
Kathleen Parker! Has she ever set foot inside the Washington Post newsroom before? Don't know! But she does go on teevee programs, like MSNBC's Morning Joe, where she recently quipped, "There, it's only because I'm a conservative basher that I'm now recognized after 23 years of toiling in the fields, right?" Well, it's a nice gesture, anyway, after she received thousands of emails excoriating her for having the temerity to mildly criticize Sarah Palin.
Of the four Pulitzer winners, only one is a fully-vested, currently employed, newsroom presence, the consistently excellent dance critic Sarah Kaufman. Hopefully, many of the Post's reporters have made her acquaintance!
Here's a curiosity! David E. Hoffman -- who won this year's General Non-Fiction Pulitzer for his book The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy -- is also a "contributing editor" at the Washington Post, but doesn't merit a mention from Alexander.
Strange, right? You'd think his award would help to retain subscribers, bring regard, and boost morale, too. But Hoffman left his post as the assistant managing editor of the Foreign Desk in June 2009, to be replaced by Doug Jehl from the New York Times. At the time of his departure, an internal WaPo memo suggested that Hoffman had "decided to move on," but the scuttlebutt is that he did not go as willingly as that memo suggests. Which would explain a lot!
Anyway, remember, it's okay to look on the bright side of things. But don't stare too long!