Bad days at gawker.com, the prominent New York-based media-focused blogging site. Reporter Hamilton Nolan files on an unfortunate speech that Village Voice Media press lord Mike Lacey delivered a few days ago at an awards dinner in Phoenix: diners “were less than amused when (the white man) Lacey referred to his deceased friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning black journalist Tom Fitzpatrick, as ‘my nigger.'” No doubt they were, but Fitz’s many old friends in Chicago, where he won a Pulitzer in 1970 with the Sun-Times, will be surprised to hear that when he changed cities he changed races.
Mistakes happen. Inanity is never an accident. In his commentary on the Pulitzer Prizes that were announced Monday, gawker.com managing editor Nick Denton made the observation that “Pulitzer-chasing is most damaging because it distracts newspapers from their real challenge. Rather than impress colleagues with the seriousness of their reporting, US newspapers need to engage a readership that is drifting off to television and the internet.”
As if it’s either/or.
There’s a lot that might be said about the Pulitzers this year. Prizes were awarded in 11 writing categories in journalism and the Washington Post won six of them. The New York Times won a couple more, and was a finalist in three more categories. Maybe the Post, for all of its own cost-cutting woes, had a hell of a year. But if you want to argue that the Pulitzers are turning into a cozy old-boys club, or that so many papers have trimmed so much of their product that only a handful are even competitive any longer, the 2008 Pulitzers will help you make your case.
Denton tried to make his by invoking The Wire, which “made one of the last season’s villains an editor who boasted of his understanding of Pulitzer judges, because he had once been one.” Open and shut, I guess, and Denton noted that British papers are better than ours and don’t take their awards so seriously. Cause and effect, I guess.
The Tribune won a Pulitzer for investigative reporting into the slipshod regulation of toys and other children’s products. James Janega’s story on the award observed that the experience of business writer Michael Oneal, one member of the reporting team, illustrated the “juxtaposition of journalism and the nervousness that surrounds the industry.” Oneal covered the sale of the Tribune Company to Sam Zell, and Janega said he “described having to write stories one day bemoaning the future of journalism and newspapers and turning the next day to a series that he felt underscored the best newspapers had to offer.”
It must have been uncomfortable for Oneal having two big ideas in his head at the same time, but with all due respect to Denton, I doubt if it was impossible.