The Newspaper Business: Still Confused About Itself

I’m taking in all the news about the 2009 Pulitzer Prize awards. Because the industry is at a perilous crossroads, I had a feeling that the announcements would be a rich source of quotes of the ironical variety, and indeed I was not disappointed:

“The watchdog still barks. The watchdog still bites,” [Pulitzer administrator] Gissler said. “Who would be doing this day to day if we didn’t have newspapers?”

Who, indeed? Although there’s a bit of a problem with this characterization: The NY Times’ award-winning story on the hooker scandal that brought down Eliot Spitzer? It didn’t appear first in the pages of the New York Times newspaper; it actually appeared on NYTimes.com, as the Nieman Journalism Lab blog points out. So why aren’t the Pulitzer folks praising the web when the story was published there first? Are the Pulitzers about journalism or “newspapers”? Is it about the best journalism or the best journalism backed by a business model?

Maybe we need a new award specifically for online journalism. Then when last newspaper closes down, we can officially replace the Pulitzers with that award.

Although at least one Pulitzer winner won’t be barking or biting anyone, since his paper laid him off three months ago:

While he is relishing the honor, Giblin admitted he wondered what it would have been like to find out he won from within the Tribune’s Mesa, Ariz., newsroom.

“It is kind of sad,” he said. “I wish I was still at the Tribune. I’d have a party with them right now.”