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Pulitzers: Believe in Your Work and You Might Get Lucky

Posted by absolutelyape on September 11, 2008

Although winning a Pulitzer is the ideal for most journalists, the six Pulitzer winners speaking at RJI this afternoon said their success wasn’t based on a concentration for the prize – it was based on believing in their project and in many cases, a lucky break for recognition.

“Lucky?” you might say – they worked their butts off on a story, how is that considered luck, rather than skill? Well, Jacqui Banaszynski told the Centennial attendees that she happened to be in the right circle of people to get her work recognized.

Other Pulitzer winners (more particularly, those working in the investigative unit at The Washington Post) attributed their Prize-winning to resources.

Steve Fainaru, an embedded reporter in Iraq for the Wash Post, reported on the corruption and violence among American contractors long before the Iraqi civilian story in Baghdad got attention. He was only able to chase the issue so diligently and for so much time because The Washington Post could afford the resources to keep him there. He estimates it cost the Post around $50,000 to send him and then keep him there.

All the winners acknowledged these physical (money) resources, but also the benefits of a supportive newsroom.

“When a lot of people think of the Pulitzer, they think it’s an award for the individual,” said one panelist. “It’s important to remember that the Pulitzer is awarded to an entire newsroom, there are staffs working on these projects.”

The most important aspect of this talk for students was, I think, the emphasis on chasing a story for the story’s sake, not for the chances of obtaining a Pulitzer Prize. In a way, it’s somewhat of a relief to hear winners admit the “luck” factor of the Prize – there are countless reports that are important but have gone unrecognized by the Prize. And that’s ok. If the Prize were the only measure of journalistic greatness, this would contradict the principal duties of the profession, wouldn’t it? And it render the metric of excellence highly political.

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