Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Pulitzers: Kudos Give Way To Reality In The Newsroom

Amid the popping of champagne corks, hugs, and high-fives in some newsrooms that produced winning Pulitzer Prize entries was the sobering reality that a news organization that could nurture great work would also take steps to ensure that such lofty journalistic heights would never be scaled again.
Exhibits A and B come from the Tribune Co., whose Newsday and Los Angeles Times won Pulitzers, which is nothing unusual for either paper.
Newsday shared the award for international reporting for Dele Olojede's four-part series on the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide 10 years later. A worthy honor for a reporter who often shone because he was cut loose to do enterprise reporting across continents. But to bask in the kudos that flowed his way for the Pulitzer, Olojede had to make a special trip. You see, he was among the reporters and editors who took a buyout last year, not long after his series was published.
Newsday was cutting bodies to trim costs and let Olojede -- who had become Newsday's foreign editor -- walk. Not everyone who wanted the buyout bucks was as fortunate. Safe to say, it may not have been the way that Olojede wanted to leave the paper he joined as an intern out of Columbia J-School in 1988.
Would Newsday have barred the door if Olojede had won the prize earlier? Hard to say. Tribune's lately been run from its HQ free of sentiment.
The L.A. Times has learned this the hard way. It won the Public Service prize -- the Big Kahuna for the Pulitzers -- and the other half of the International award, for reporting from Russia by Kim Murphy.
The Times, which has won 37 Pulitzers, has suffered for its drops in circulation. The gang in Chicago continues to nip, tuck, squeeze and wheedle savings out of its largest property. So far, the product we see hasn't frayed even if it's in danger of showing signs of wear.
It is telling in the Times' Pulitzer article that it mentioned "Reporters and editors gave a loud and extended ovation to Publisher John P. Puerner, who has been seen as a champion of the newspaper's editorial operations in an era of cost-cutting. Puerner announced last month that he would take a "self-imposed career break" at the end of May, to be replaced by his protege, Jeffrey M. Johnson."
Being good is not good enough. Pulitzer Prizes don't sell papers. That's the problem. And a shame.

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