The media today: The Pulitzers celebrate next 100 years, with cocktails and a case for the free press

Launching the “next 100 years” of the Pulitzer Prizes, journalists gathered at Michael’s in midtown Manhattan last night to mingle and celebrate in advance of the awards, which will be presented at Columbia University on April 16. The festivities marked a departure for the usually staid awards committee, and leaders of the board spoke about the weight of the Pulitzer’s legacy, and their own responsibility to do more in advocating for the freedom of the press.

“For an entire century the Pulitzer Prizes…have had a wonderful impact not just on journalism and arts and letters, but, I would argue, on our democracy,” Washington Post columnist and Pulitzer Board Chairman Eugene Robinson said in his opening remarks. But, he continued, “this is a moment where journalism is under attack. The very concepts of fact and truth are under assault…by a concerted and constant and very serious attempt to discredit and disqualify the voices of the news media.” Robinson spoke of the need for the Pulitzers to do more than host an annual luncheon in which awards are handed out, but to be an active participant in defending journalism and educating the country about the work the committee celebrates.

Journalists and editors fraternizing at the restaurant included Ronan Farrow, Shani O. Hilton, Juan Williams, Diane Sawyer, Lee Bollinger, Choire Sicha, Lydia Polgreen, Nicholas Kristof, Bret Stephens, Mike Allen, David Fahrenthold, Raju Narisetti, Gabe Sherman, and Joe Pompeo. They, and others in attendance, were offered “Pulitzers,” in the form of a special cocktail designed for the event.

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The evening also served as a welcome to new Pulitzer Administrator Dana Canedy, a former Pulitzer winner and longtime editor at The New York Times. In her opening remarks, she championed “the importance of a strong vibrant independent press,” and promised the committee would recognize “real news of the highest order, executed, as it was intended, without fear or favor.”

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Canedy, who spoke to CJR last July, also touched on her role as the first woman and person of color to announce the Pulitzer Prizes. Later in the evening she expanded on what her elevation to that position signified, telling CJR, “I am not a unicorn and I should not be a sorority of one. There are lots of women and people of color who can perform at high levels, not just in this industry, but in industries across the country.” She wants to expand the scope of work recognized by the committee, which, according to CJR analysis, have begun to recognize the work of women, but have persistent levels of racial disparity: 84 percent of the prizes in the first 100 years of the Pulitzer went to white journalists and artists. Canedy says the Prizes must “diversify in every way. I want more conservative journalists and columnists, more hotshot young digital news organizations, more people using new technologies and platforms applying for Pulitzer Prizes. To the extent that we broaden our appeal, we do a service to journalism.”


Other notable stories

  • The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan focuses on conservative attacks on the character of Stoneman Douglas students as an example of “a spreading stain” in the media fabric, “in which conspiracy mongering from the likes of Infowars and…Gateway Pundit is adopted by some elements of the formerly mainstream right.”
  • Variety’s cover story features a look at ESPN, as new president Jimmy Pitaro takes the reins of a company still dominant in its field, but struggling through a period of controversies and falling subscription numbers. “ESPN has weathered any number of tempests in its nearly 40 years. But the perfect storm brewing in Bristol these days is bigger than any that Disney’s most valuable asset has ever faced,” Brian Steinberg writes.
  • For CJR, Jackie Spinner highlights the work of AP veteran John O’Connor in Illinois. As cutbacks at news outlets have diminished the number of reporters working the statehouse, O’Connor has soldiered on, using FOIA requests to expose corruption at nearly every level of the Illinois government.
  • Atlantic Editor in Chief Jeffrey Goldberg “knows that he hired a troll,” writes Slate’s Jordan Weissmann. “But he thinks readers should give him a second chance.” In a memo to staff, Goldberg defended his decision to bring on Kevin Williamson, formerly of National Review, whose racially insensitive and transphobic columns, as well as a tweet suggesting women who had abortions should be hanged, caused a backlash among The Atlantic’s readers.
  • For CJR, Stefania D’Ignoti writes that in Syria, journalism has become a more viable means of survival than pursuing the STEM careers they started. “The reality that Syrian residents [have] become the sole witnesses to the alleged war crimes and atrocities devastating their country” has pushed many to document the horrors of the civil war, D’Ignoti writes.

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.