Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Here’s hoping people don’t read more into Pulitzer prizes than they’re worth

First, let me state my congratulations to the three reporter-type people for the Chicago Sun-Times who took that newspaper’s first Pulitzer Prize in 22 years.

Their work documenting the details of a particularly violent weekend in Chicago (some 40 people shot, but none of the cases turning into a conviction in criminal court) offers up an understanding of a segment of our city that too many of us try to pretend doesn’t exist at all.

SO FOR THE fact that the Sun-Times will get professional credit for helping us to better understand our city, they deserve some credit. I only hope that people don’t take their Pulitzer for “Local News Reporting” doesn’t go to their heads.

Because I could see how some people would want to claim that this is evidence that the Sun-Times has managed to maintain a high quality despite all their budget cuts – as though all the resources (which even in their old days were few) of the past were somehow just wasted money.

The Sun-Times is a scrawny newspaper compared to the past that often fills its pages with copy taken from the suburban newspapers that their parent company also owns. Even many of those publications are mere shells of what they were a couple of decades ago (back when I graduated from college and began earning a living as a reporter-type person).

I look at the fact that three reporters for the Sun-Times can now claim to be Pulitzer Prize winners (while the Chicago Tribune got nothing this year, although there’s an odd story there too) as coming about despite the economic nonsense that has taken place at their newspaper – and at many other publications.

AND IT IS a half-way decent report worth reading even now, nearly a year after it was originally published.

The Tribune has endured just as many problems as the Sun-Times, although they have had their bankruptcy travails reported on at a national level.

So I can’t help but think that the Sun-Times Pulitzer prize somehow smarts at Tribune Tower – combined with the fact that the Los Angeles Times managed to take two Pulitzer prizes (including the one for public service reporting that is considered to be the most prominent).

The Tribune managed to get themselves named as a finalist for breaking news reporting, along with the Tennessean of Nashville and the Miami Herald (combined with its el Nuevo Herald Spanish language edition). But the bigwigs assembled by Columbia University to select the awards decided to pick no winner in that category.

SO WE’LL NEVER know if the Tribune’s accounts of the deaths of two Chicago firefighters who were killed while searching for squatters in an abandoned burning building were somehow worthy, or if the Haiti earthquake coverage coming from the Miami newspapers was somehow superior.

It will be one of those points debated by shrinking numbers of reporter-types over drinks for years to come.

Which is why the Tribune, not wanting to give the Sun-Times too much glory, chose the tactic of all newspapers that want to appear to be serious but didn’t win anything of their own to brag about.

The Tribune put together a story on Monday telling us of the Pulitzer prizes for various categories in the arts – and found that some of them were won by people with ties to Chicago.

SUCH AS THE prize for drama won by Bruce Norris. He’s a Northwestern University graduate and he has ties to the Steppenwolf Theatre. In fact, his Pulitzer-winning play “Clybourne Park,” is set in Chicago – although he chose to have it staged in New York and London before it will finally come to the Steppenwolf later this year.

The Tribune even informed us about how the Pulitzer winner for fiction was won by Chicago-born author Jennifer Egan.

In some ways, such coverage might be more honest and in line with what readers might care about. Letting us know about the winners of a top prize in the arts can be informative, while too much of Pulitzer Prize coverage evolves into a mess of self-congratulatory tripe.

Of course, that fact won’t stop me from my running joke whenever I write a particularly dreadful or convoluted piece of copy (telling whichever editor is relevant that I expect to get my Pulitzer for this piece).

WHO KNOWS? MAYBE there will be the day when the Pulitzer prizes will expand themselves to the point where various publications on the Internet will be in the running (rather than the limited categories that exist now). Maybe someday I’ll write a series of commentaries on this weblog that can qualify for the Pulitzer Prize either for “commentary” or “criticism.”

Then, maybe, I’ll be the one engaging in self-indulgent tripe about the prize, while others try to downplay it. At the very least, it would look good hanging on the wall next to my "Lisagor" award.

Ah, who’s kidding whom? Hinting that I’m going to win the Pulitzer someday makes me sound like those loons who seriously think the Chicago Cubs are going to win the pennant anytime soon.


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