Newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer left money in his will to Columbia University to start a journalism school and establish the Pulitzer Prize
The first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded
Walter Duranty won the prize for his reporting on the Soviet Union for the New York Times
Author Alex Haley received a Pulitzer for his book Roots: The Saga of an American Family but later was sued for plagiarism and admitted his guilt
So You Want to Win a Pulitzer?
History of the Pulitzer Prize
In 1918, Joseph Pulitzer willed money to Columbia University to create a journalism school, and to establish awards in journalism, letters and drama, education, and traveling scholarships. Pulitzer was an American-Hungarian publisher of the St. Louis Dispatch and New York World. While the awards now recognize achievements in journalism, photography, literature and history, poetry, music, and drama, ironically, Pulitzer was the publisher to introduce and liberally use “yellow journalism”* to sell newspapers.
Pulitzer Prize Categories Change with the Times
As journalism and the arts have evolved, so have the Pulitzer categories. For example, there once was a prize for telegraphic reporting based on the telegram. The Novel category has been updated to the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and includes short stories, novellas, and fictional poetry, as well as novels. Currently there are 21 categories with one winner and two remaining finalists per category.
Who Picks the Prize Winners?
There is a 19-member board that includes rotating newspaper executives, executives, and academics. Great care is taken to “professional excellence and affiliation, as well as diversity in terms of gender, ethnic background, geographic distribution, and size of newspaper.” This board selects Nominating Jurors, who submit three nominations in each of the 21 categories. A winner can be an individual, group, or staff of a news organization. The Pulitzer Prize Board distinguishes between thousands of entrants and the winner and two finalists in each category. Just because you’re an entrant does not allow you to promote yourself as a Pulitzer Prize nominee.
Controversies and Criticisms
As with any prize awarded by people, there are always controversies leveled against the winners. In 1932, Walter Duranty won the prize for his reporting on the Soviet Union for the New York Times; later there was attempt to revoke his Pulitzer for “some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper.” In 1977, Alex Haley who received a special Pulitzer for Roots: The Saga of an American Family, was sued by two authors claiming he had plagiarized content from their books. He eventually admitted copying certain passages from Harold Courlander’s The African.
Criticism that the prize is too liberal has been leveled at the organization for years. Columnist L. Brent Bozell, found that in a 31-year period only five conservatives had won a prize for Commentary. Kathleen Parker, who won a Commentary prize in 2010, said, “It’s only because I’m a conservative basher that I’m now recognized.
What you Win and How You can Win
The prize announcement is made in the Spring of each year at exactly 3:00 p.m. from the Columbia School of Journalism. The prize for each category consists of a check for $10,000 and a certificate**. Five Pulitzers of $7,500 each are awarded to top Columbia graduates to enable them to study and report abroad.
Did You Know?
- Only American citizens are prize-eligible, unless the non-U.S. journalist publishes work in a U.S. weekly newspaper or its website.
- You can nominate yourself as long as you meet the requirements in your selected category.
- The judges do not have to pick a winner in each of 21 categories.
- The actual Pulitzer Gold Medal is only awarded to a newspaper that wins the Public Service category.
- In 1950, Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize – Poetry, “Annie Allen”.
- The only U.S. President to win a Pulitzer was John F. Kennedy for his 1957 book, Profiles in Courage.
- The correct pronunciation is “PULL it sir.”
* Pulitzer’s yellow journalism included sports, scandals, large illustrations with large text, unnamed sources, and self-promotion.
** And serious bragging rights.
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