4 takeaways from the 2016 Pulitzer Prizes

April 18, 2016
Image: Courtesy of The Office of the Pulitzer Prizes; Treatment: CJR

Forget BuzzFeed’s watermelon. The more apt commentary on media today came in the form of Monday’s Pulitzer Prize announcements, streamed to the masses through Facebook Live.

Many news organizations have been built on and broken by Facebook’s algorithm in recent years, and now those same outlets have cut out the unforgiving middleman and begun publishing directly onto the social network. Look no further than BuzzFeed’s rubber band-aided execution of a watermelon this month, which drew 800,000 concurrent viewers on Facebook Live, to see the platform’s reach. Such an audience for mindless—though, in some ways, also genius—internet #content is equal parts awesome and demoralizing.

There’s wariness in some corners of the industry that publishers are willfully relinquishing their means of publication. It’s impossible to say whether this sort of partnership with outside platforms will amount to something of a Faustian bargain. Nevertheless, it’s ironically fitting that the Pulitzer announcement also found its way onto Facebook users’ timelines. The stream drew nearly 10,000 viewers at one point—not watermelon numbers, but certainly a step forward for making the world-renowned brand more accessible to those not on Media Twitter or the Columbia University campus. Perhaps next year the school can add exploding fruit to the live-streamed festivities.

Here are three more takeaways from Monday’s Prize announcements, the complete rundown of which can be found here


Beginning of an era

Last year was the first in which magazines could vie for Pulitzers, and The New Yorker on Monday became the first to actually bring home an award—two, to be exact. TV critic Emily Nussbaum earned the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, while Kathryn Schulz’s piece on California’s Cascadia faultline took the award for Feature Writing. Godspeed to anyone who tries to challenge The New Yorker in that latter category going forward.


The Tampa Bay Times punches above its weight

The paper’s top-shelf work on a segregated school system got the nod for Local Reporting and was a finalist in the Public Service category. That investigation has already inspired a slate of policy changes, illustrating the potential for civic good in local accountability work. The Times and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune together drew the Investigative Reporting award, meanwhile, for their collaborative efforts to probe Florida mental hospitals. The Times proved once again why it has a sterling track record in enterprise reporting. 


No place like home 

Regional and local newspapers dominated the Breaking News category: The Los Angeles Times won for its coverage of the San Bernardino terrorist attacks and aftermath; The Baltimore Sun was a finalist for coverage of the Freddie Gray killing and protests; and the Post and Courier was also a runner-up for its response to the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. In each case, the stories grew much larger than the horrible events that triggered them. The newspapers’ performances show the importance of community knowledge within media institutions, especially during fast-moving breaking news situations. It’s one of the few areas in which local outlets have a leg up on the national news organizations that come parachuting in.


Full list of winners

Public Service – Associated Press

Breaking News Reporting – Los Angeles Times Staff

Investigative Reporting – Leonora LaPeter Anton and Anthony Cormier of the Tampa Bay Times and Michael Braga of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune 

Explanatory Reporting – T. Christian Miller of ProPublica and Ken Armstrong of The Marshall Project

Local Reporting – Michael LaForgia, Cara Fitzpatrick, and Lisa Gartner of the Tampa Bay Times

National Reporting – The Washington Post Staff

International Reporting – Alissa J. Rubin of The New York Times

Feature Writing – Kathryn Schulz of The New Yorker

Commentary – Farah Stockman of The Boston Globe

Criticism – Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker 

Editorial Writing – John Hackworth of Sun Newspapers, Charlotte Harbor, Florida

Editorial Cartooning – Jack Ohman of The Sacramento Bee

Breaking News Photography

Feature Photography – Jessica Rinaldi of The Boston Globe

David Uberti is a writer in New York. He was previously a media reporter for Gizmodo Media Group and a staff writer for CJR. Follow him on Twitter @DavidUberti.