Every year at this time, newsrooms buzz about something few reporters actually cover: Feb. 1 is the deadline to apply for a Pulitzer Prize.
So at the offices of every daily and weekly paper you pick up, reporters are searching intensely for articles from the preceding year that may be good enough to win American print journalism’s top honor. As a result, we look back over the past year and discover that, despite the daily ups and downs of the newspaper game, despite the frustrations, strain and heartache, our work throughout the year has largely been pointless.
Everything was written in a hurry. Corners were cut. We wrote one thing so a source would tell us about something else. And now, with the Internet, a new generation of reporters is wasting its talents in ways that would not have been possible 15 years ago.
But it doesn’t matter. Whether you write for the Boston Globe or the phone book, if your publication comes out at least once a week, you can still claim the dream of winning a Pulitzer – of gaining permanent respect from your peers and being able to wear a nightgown to your next employee review.
Just send the committee your articles, a $50 handling fee and a one- or two-page summary telling what your stories are about and what you went through to get them. It’s fun. It’s easy. You can do it while drinking. I’ve even gone ahead and imagined the summaries being written for honorable work last year from the following magazines:
Weekly World News
Title of the article: “Man’s head explodes in barber chair.”
Category of award: Meritorious public service
Why it deserves a Pulitzer: We modestly believe this story completely changed the way Americans get their hair cut. No longer do people visit the barber without wondering whether their heads – for absolutely no reason whatsoever – might burst like a white-hot cantaloupe. That’s why this story was the lead in our magazine the week it ran, getting top billing even over “Dead rock stars return on ghost plane,” “Faces of Howard Stern, Pamela Anderson and Satan appear in volcano Smoke” and “Woman with four legs opens dance studio.”
Title of article: “Bosses want workers to pay”
Category: Spot news
Why it deserves a Pulitzer: Our reporter was reading about the bankruptcy of United Airlines when he noticed (as he stated in the first line of the story) that it “highlights the destructive cost of free-market policies that lead to economic crises and destroy the lives of millions of working people.”
We scooped every other newspaper on this.
Cheese Market News
Title: “Land O’Lakes’ new Dairy Ease caters to lactose intolerant”
Category: Distinguished commentary
Why it deserves a Pulitzer: Self-explanatory.
Title: “Here’s what the cast of `Friends’ is up to these days.”
Category: Investigative reporting
Why it deserves a Pulitzer: After 11 months of research, a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act and several death threats, we established as publishable fact that Jennifer Aniston still looks stunning.
Every Paper I’ve Ever Worked For
Title: Kitten-a-thon turns heads
Category: Distinguished example of explanatory reporting
Why it deserves a Pulitzer: This entry started out as a press release from our local humane society, and more or less stayed that way. Nonetheless, the story took several weeks to assemble and was a personal triumph because the reporter was just then learning how to type.
(This was originally written in 2003, when I still actually worked for a newspaper.)