Discussing The Pulitzer Prizes p. 58

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By: Joseph Deitch

Pulitzer Board decides no new categories will be added at
present time; plans call for stricter enforcement of the
limit on number of exhibits filed with each entry sp.

THE PULITZER PRIZE board has decided that no new categories will be added at the present time, according to Seymour Topping, administrator of the prizes.
Topping said that the board will continue to monitor the situation and would add categories to the competition as it deems necessary.
The board also instituted a requirement which states that any significant challenge to the accuracy or fairness of an entry, such as published letters, corrections, responses and retractions, must be included in the package.
Topping said this situation had come up in the past particularly with investigative stories.
“This doesn’t mean that challenges are necessarily valid,” he noted. “But we feel that the juries and board should have the fullest possible information along with the regular materials that make up an entry.”
Topping said the board also plans to require newspapers submitting entries to strictly adhere to the limit on the number of exhibits entered. He said in recent years there has been a tendency of newspapers to exceed the permitted number of exhibits entered.
Exhibits in the public service and photography categories are limited to 20 articles or pictures. The limit in the other journalism categories is 10 articles, editorials or cartoons, except for feature writing, which is limited to three articles of more than 1,500 words or fewer.
“In the future, we are going to hold newspapers more strictly to the required number of exhibits or components of their entries,” Topping said.
Topping, who had twice served as a Pulitzer juror, was named administrator of the prizes in February 1993.
He is, by any criteria, one of the most distinguished foreign correspondents of our time. He has been on assignment throughout the Middle East and in Africa, Australia, Central America, China, Cuba, Europe, Pakistan, New Zealand, the Soviet Union and Vietnam.
He was foreign editor and managing editor of the New York Times and was responsible for quality at the Times’ 31 regional newspapers in 11 states. He is a recent past president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and is chairman of the American committee of the International Press Institute.
His worldwide experience and commitment to the highest journalistic standards ? “it’s a ruling passion with him,” a colleague said ? led to his appointment as administrator.
It may not be apparent, but the Pulitzer Prizes have been improving and shaping U.S. journalism since they were established 77 years ago, according to Topping.
“There has, indeed, been a steady improvement in the quality of Pulitzer submissions over the years,” he said. “And this is a reflection of what is happening in American journalism. There have been historic opportunities for journalists to excel: World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and very notable investigative events, including the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.”
The Pulitzer Prizes have been called America’s most prestigious awards. Shouldn’t they be announced with a little more hoopla?
Topping said there’s a long tradition attached to the prizes that there will be no hoopla or hype.
“We do not encourage publicity, although prize winners do give them wide hometown publicity,” he said.
Tabloid journalism, its products sold in supermarkets and on newsstands, is a fact of life. They sometimes step in where regular newspapers fear to tread. Should there be a Pulitzer category for these papers?
Topping cast a dubious eye at his interviewer.
“We do not have a category for that type of publication” was all that he had to say on the subject.
It’s been alleged that winning a Pulitzer Prize is a “crapshoot” ? a mere roll of the dice.
Topping stared hard out of his office window and shook his head.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he declared. “That is a complete distortion of the intent of the Pulitzer Prizes, of the procedures followed in making the awards and of the role of our distinguished jurors and of the Pulitzer board.”
Well, what does happen in the rooms where the judging takes place?
“What happens is that we have some 65 jurors assembled, usually at the end of March. There are 13 juries to judge 14 categories. The photography jury judges two categories ? spot and feature photos. A jury consists of five journalists chosen by myself as a administrator of the prizes and approved by the Pulitzer board.
“The jurors then gather in rooms in the journalism building . . . . They find the submissions stacked on tables and spend three days deliberating. At the end of that time, they submit three nominations for each category without stating preferences. But jurors may give their opinions in writing.
“Opinions and recommendations are submitted to the Pulitzer board, which makes the final decisions on what awards will be given to whom.
“Immediately after the juries submit their recommendations, the nominated works are reproduced by my office and sent to each board member to review.
“Members attend a two-day board meeting in the journalism building to discuss the awards and make decisions. They are also authorized and empowered to go outside of the nominations if they feel there is work they are familiar with that deserves an award. Or they can decide there will be no award in a category.”
Besides running the Pulitzer Prizes, Topping will teach two courses at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism starting in the fall. One will cover regional and ethnic conflict and the other, to be given next spring, is on the post-Cold War world.
?( Deitch is a free-lance writer) [Caption]
?( Seymour Topping) [Photo]

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