To the Victors Go the Headlines

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday, and while they’re less glamorous than the Oscars or even the Cable ACE Awards, they still generate a tremendous amount of media hoopla. (The prizes are sponsored by CJR Daily’s parent’s parent’s parent, Columbia University). Since the attention is doled out by the same outlets that either won prizes or didn’t, the coverage becomes an exercise in self-promotion (or willful ignorance, depending on the judges’ decisions).

Unsurprisingly, the apparent news value that the five major dailies saw in the prize-winners was pretty much in direct proportion to how many awards they picked up.

The Los Angeles Times, which took home two prizes, gives front-page play to its article about its win (though even that couldn’t dislodge the paper’s ongoing coverage of the pope). The article’s lead helpfully reminds readers that “The award is the most coveted of America’s journalism prizes.”

The Wall Street Journal, which also won two prizes, shows substantially more humility, consigning its piece on the awards to page A2 (subscription required). The Journal’s article even gives perhaps more credit than due to its competitors, adding up and reporting the prizes won by Tribune Co. (owner of winners Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and Chicago Tribune).

The New York Times, which won one prize, is surprisingly sporting with the headline on its article: “Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal Each Win Two Pulitzer Prizes.” But the Times’ graciousness has its limits: The story runs on B7, the back of the Metro section.

The Washington Post didn’t win for anything that appeared in the paper, but associate editor and former managing editor Steve Coll did receive a prize for his book Ghost Wars. That bumps the story up to page one, and also merits a mention in a second article deeper in the paper about the non-journalism winners.

As for USA Today, which had no winners and therefore nothing to promote? The paper has a feature on page D4 about the novel that won the prize for fiction, and a sidebar with a list of all the winners.

And for our money, that may be the most honest coverage of all.

Bryan Keefer

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Bryan Keefer was CJR Daily’s deputy managing editor.