A common trait among Pulitzer projects is that they are ambitious, require extensive reporting and careful writing, carry some significance beyond the normal gathering of news, and/or have some kind of impact on the real world, like, as I’ve written, fixing Walter Reed. Basically, this is work that takes a long time to do and requires some length in which to do it. And just because a project has all those elements obviously doesn’t mean it’s going to win anything. Public-service projects have to be a routine and done for their own sake.
Murdoch made it painfully clear that story length was a target even before he bought the paper.
And whaddya know, Bruce?
That’s published WSJ stories greater than 2,500 words. For more on that, read here.
It’s been well-reported what he thinks about the public-service aspect of journalism, which in some quarters is also known as, “the point.” His biographer/medium, Michael Wolff, reports, ad nauseam, on Murdoch’s view: “The entire rationale of modern, objective, arm’s-length, editor-driven journalism—the quasi-religious nature of which had blossomed in no small way as a response to him—he regarded as artifice if not an outright sham.” Wolff had 50 hours of interviews with Murdoch, by the way, so he’s not guessing here.
Sarah Ellison, too, reported at length on Murdoch’s hostility to the idea that there is any kind of higher purpose to journalism, as well as his firmly held belief that reporters’ spending time on a story is some sort of affectation. Speaking of The New York Times, he said:
One of the great frailties, I think, of that paper, is that is seems to me their journalists are pandering to powers in Manhattan. You know [pausing for dramatic effect] reporters are not writers in residence.
That line is funny all year long, except the second Monday in April.
And there was Robert Thomson’s ominous “joke” upon taking over the paper that some Journal stories had the “gestation period of a llama” (that is, nearly a year).
I’m guessing here, but the Walmart bribery story was almost certainly in domesticated ruminant mammal territory. But if you want to win the lottery, you need to buy a ticket, and those aren’t cheap.
Then comes the “URGENT” memo informing Journal staffers that their performance would be judged “significant part” on how many scoops they could break for the wires.
A breaking corporate, economic or political news story is of crucial value to our Newswires subscribers, who are being relentlessly wooed by less worthy competitors. Even a headstart of a few seconds is priceless for a commodities trader or a bond dealer …
Then comes the soon-to-be-infamous “SCOOPS” memo from earlier this year:
Nothing we do as a news organization is more important than maintaining a steady flow of scoops. Exclusives are at the very heart of our journalism and of what readers expect of us. As Gerry [Baker, Thomson’s successor, given a champagne baptism by KRM himself] noted in his New Year’s note, “Scoops are the only guarantee of survival” in a highly competitive news arena.
And a week into the New Year, we want to underscore the need for a renewed, and ongoing, push for scoops. They are vital for distinguishing virtually everything we do…
And so on.
Pulitzers are not the point.
This is about creating a healthy news culture with the public interest at its core and having everything else radiate out from that.
Do that, and the Pulitzers will take care of themselves. And even if they don’t, so what?