A trivial, in the scheme of things, yet unfortunate side-effect of last year's Boston bombing was that the 2013 Pulitzer winners -- announced literally at the exact moment of the attack -- didn't get very much attention for their work. This year, there's actual time to savor the victors -- oddly enough, as newsrooms shrink, it seems like the Pulitzers are more important than ever, as a reminder that amazing work is still done in such a brutal environment for publishing.
The news this year is all good.
Good: Philly represents!...as Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron (at top) finally gets her Pulitzer after three spins of the wheel as a finalist in the criticism category. I've only met Inga a couple of times but like most readers I feel like I know her through her work. It's hard to travel through Philadelphia these days without seeing a project that Inga's written about...and feeling better informed.
Good. The award to the Guardian (um, aren't they British?..hence, the headline) and the Washington Post for their stories on over-the-top and probably unconstitutional government spying, as leaked by Edward Snowden, was just, and well-deserved. The award was in the category of public service (thus, a medal that goes to the news orgs and not the reporters including Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and the Post's Barton Gellman) which was also spot on -- revealing what governments don't want the public to know is probably the greatest public service that journalists do.
Good. The news of the Pulitzers is also a good way to catch up with some great work in other places that you might have missed. While it was a public service to reveal what the NSA is up to, the writing of the Washington Post's Eli Saslow on living on food stamps is just as much a public service. Here's a short excerpt of Saslow's winning work:
Feeding a family on zero income always had required ingenuity; she took the lights out of their refrigerator to save money on the electric bill and locked snack foods in a plastic tub in her bedroom to ration them throughout the month. In September, when she first heard rumors of an impending cut, she had taken Tiara to sign up for a food stamp card of her own, thereby increasing the family's take. Here was one surprising result of a government reduction: one new recipient added to the rolls. "A daughter looking out for her mother," was how Raphael had explained it, bragging to friends, but Tiara was less enthused. She chose not to carry the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card in her wallet, believing from personal experience that people who entered into the system tended to rely on it forever. "I'm not wanting to sign over my independence for good," she said.
Well done! The best antidote to the crisis of journalism is...going out and doing journalism.
UPDATE: I wrote this before I realized that my friend and former colleague Dan Fagin won the Pulitzer for general non-fiction for his excellent tome (with a local Jersey angle) Toms River...even better!