July 5, 2010

Who Wins Pulitzer Prizes?

Among the categories of Pulitzer prizes is “commentary.” The Pulitzer website doesn’t offer much of a description of what this category means: “For distinguished commentary, in print or online or both.” It is clear from the list of winners that this is the category for opinion journalism as I am defining it.

Two things come to mind as I look over the list of winners:

1. Nearly all of the winners worked for large news organizations.

2. Some of them — at least in their recent work — are properly defined as pundits rather than opinion journalists.

The Pulitzer Prize Board’s lack of a comprehensive definition of “commentary”  has the effect of allowing a wide range of entrants and winners — perhaps intended. There’s nothing I can find on the website that suggests punditry is forbidden. In fact, I see plenty of evidence that punditry is prize-worthy.

My purpose is not to argue with the Pulitzer Prize Board or to suggest they are wrong in either judging punditry alongside opinion journalism (under the catch-all “commentary”) or awarding prizes to punditry over opinion journalism. I’m simply highlighting this curious state of affairs because I intend to begin my search for best practices by examining some of the winners.

Who wins Pulitzer Prizes in commentary? Why do they win?

4 Responses

  1. Hi Andy, a somewhat off-topic Q (not off topic to your June posts, though) –
    In the spectrum of “quality opinion journalist” to “pundit”, where do you place “commentator”?

    (I ask because our local pundits now call themselves commentators, which they seem to think lets them off the hook, objectivity-wise.)

  2. acline 

    Anna… I’m going take a stab at an answer by making a claim that I assume the Pulitzer Board might make (how’s that for qualification?): Commentator is an umbrella term (re: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/commentator ), so pundits and opinion journalists are all commentators.

    Since the term pundit has something of a negative connotation today — partly fueled by my efforts, I hope 😉 — I assume its use by pundits of the cheesier kind is an attempt at euphemism and, thus, respectability.

    I would call myself a commentator, but not a pundit or an opinion journalist.

  3. Tim 

    I like the three categories but would argue that although you may on average be a commentator, any specific post might be punditry or opinion journalism.

  4. acline 

    Tim… Agreed.