No Editorial Writing Pulitzer? One Entrant Still Wants Explanation

By: Patrick McNally

Columbia University finally cashed my check. Almost five months after I sent in my submission and entry fee to the Pulitzer Prize Board, the Ivy League institution that sponsors the competition decided that it was high time for me to justify my bank statement.

It certainly didn’t take long for me to receive confirmation that my entry in the Editorial Writing category had been received. That e-mail arrived just days after I had posted my packet away. The e-mail kindly informed me that not only had my entry been received, but it had been filled out to all specifications.

In all honesty, I did not expect to win, or even to place, when the prizes were announced this past April 7. I edit a weekly newspaper, and in that capacity for a little over two years. It’s not a small product by any means, but going up against what I assume was a large contingent of daily editorial writers, I compared the situation to swimming with the sharks.

But after winning a couple of editorial writing awards in 2007, I figured that it couldn’t hurt to at least throw my hat into the ring. Besides, crazier things have happened.

So I eagerly awaited the announcement, to see what lucky person or persons could call the Pulitzer their own. The winner in the Editorial Writing category was stunning. After sorting through all of the entries, the board did indeed pick an unfamiliar winner. Perhaps you’ve heard of him: Nobody.

That’s correct. The Pulitzer Board read pages of what was surely fine editorial commentary, and could not pick a winner.

Oh, they named finalists. Maureen Downey of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was picked for editorials on sentences sometimes given to teenagers for consensual sex in Georgia. Rodger Jones of The Dallas Morning News was recognized for his editorials, which led to mandating roll-call votes on all statewide legislation in Texas. The staff of the Wisconsin State Journal was named as a finalist for their campaign against abuses in the governor’s veto power.

But still, none of these three were deemed worthy enough to win this year’s Pulitzer Prize, or the $10,000 that goes along with the recognition.

Why? A better explanation might have been given than, well, no explanation. Surely one of the three deserving finalists deserved to be picked for the top prize. Ten grand isn’t a lot of cash, but I’m sure that one of the finalists could have used it to pay off a college loan, finance a family vacation, or attempt some home remodeling.

Then again, why am I worrying about people that I don’t even know? Why couldn’t the prize and the money have been given to me? I paid my entry fee. I sent my clips. And the prize money would have been used to stimulate the economy with a really great trip to Disney World.

I wonder what is going on with that $10,000. I hope that the Pulitzer Board didn’t take the cash to throw a really great party, at least without inviting me. It’s probably just sitting in an innocuous bank account, just waiting to be claimed by an editorial writer deemed to be worthy — just not this year.

There are many award competitions for journalism at the city, state and national level. But none compare to winning the Pulitzer Prize. It passes the ultimate test, as the only award guaranteed to be mentioned in the headline or your obituary. And not one of the three finalists deserved this?

For all of the writers who entered the competition, the Pulitzer Board should come forward with an explanation as to why nobody was deemed deserving for the Editorial Writing Prize. It would be interesting to know what is expected, so we all know for future entries.

Yes, this experience hasn’t soured me on the prospect of entering the Pulitzer competition next year. Maybe I’ll even enter this little diatribe, in the Commentary category. All I ask is that they don’t sit on the check.

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