Here on vacation in Hungary, I read of festivities celebrating the man described as “arguably the most accomplished Hungarian export to America in that country’s history.” (It’s unclear but unimportant which country’s history is being surveyed.) Given the competition — Bela Bartok, George Cukor, Edward Teller, among many others — who could that luminary be?
Joseph Pulitzer was born 160 years ago on April 10 in Mako, Hungary, and Andras Csillag, the American studies professor being quoted in the English-language Budapest Sun, argues that Pulitzer’s dailies in Saint Louis and New York revolutionized American journalism (that might be a little strong) and that “he was the originator of the Pulitzer Prizes and the founder — at Columbia University — of the first school of journalism in the U.S.” Again, Csillag, an authority on Pulitzer, might be going a little overboard. Pulitzer’s will established Columbia’s graduate school of journalism in 1912 (and the prizes in 1917), and by then an undergraduate J school was going strong at the University of Missouri.
But if I’m finicky about facts, it’s the principles championed by Pulitzer’s school and by Pulitzer’s prizes that have made me finicky — me and a million other journalists. Moreover, those prizes have made journalists do the kind of inventive, arduous, economically unjustifiable reporting that nothing can fully explain but vanity. So why not Pulitzer? He made democracy stronger. All Teller gave us was the H bomb. The Sun article identified Csillag as the keynote speaker at a birthday ceremony at the Pulitzer family home; there was another one scheduled for a Mako boarding school, Pulitzer Josef Kollegium. The day’s big news was the creation of an award modeled after the Pulitzers that student journalists across the country will compete for. According to the Sun, Csillag said a “rough translation” of the award’s name is Young Hungarian Scribblers Prize. That sounds just right. Lucky were the handful of American newspapers where older scribblers were honored this month, allowing the champagne-doused newsrooms to forget for an afternoon how depressed everyone is.