About That Pulitzer Shutout

There’s been lots of buzz today about the Pulitzers giving financial reporting a big fat zero. Audit impresario Dean Starkman wrote about that earlier today and he included a (far-from-exhaustive) list he and I compiled of the best financial journalism of 2008.

It’s worth noting that it’s not right to say that business reporters scratched with the Pulitzer jury. The Las Vegas Sun and its reporter Alexandra Berzon won a well-deserved public-service Pulitzer—the big one—for what the board called “courageous reporting” on the dark side of the city’s development boom. Berzon’s dogged reports helped push doddering regulators to crack down on construction companies, who were cutting corners to rake in the cash during the boom.

That beat out The New York Times’s excellent “Reckoning” series—which I thought had the best chance of any financial reporting to win—which came in second (with the St. Petersburg Times) in the public-service contest. But there ain’t no silver medals at the Pulitzers.

Lest you think we at The Audit are just wild-eyed critics, we’re not the only ones to see an implicit message in the goose egg laid by the financial press.

Here’s Roy Harris, a longtime Wall Street Journal reporter and editor and current CFO senior editor, who wrote a book on the Pulitzer Prizes last year:

In my view, it suggested that the board may have thought NO publication quite did a Pulitzer-level job of preparing the public for what hit us in September.

And here’s the Financial Times’s top editor Lionel Barber, not speaking of Pulitzers but of press performance more generally:

“[It’s] fair to say there was an alarming suspension of critical faculties among financial and business journalists during the credit bubble”

Portfolio’s Jeff Bercovici reports that admirable admission, plus Barber’s list of how the press got it wrong:

…by failing to see the dangers in unregulated derivatives; by missing the risks in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s government-backed structure; by not raising alarms about the over-leveraging of banks; by not appreciating the relationship between the banking system and the economy; and by focusing too much on the here-and-now rather than the what’s-to-come.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t first-rate and important financial reporting last year. Of course there was. See some of The Audit’s favorites here. And please, send us great journalism that we—and the Pulitzer board—missed last year and miss in the future.

(h/t Chris Roush)

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.