New ‘Online’ Factor Played Key Role in Some Pulitzer Picks

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By: Joe Strupp

At least five of the winning Pulitzer Prize entries this year included an online component, Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler said Monday after the prizes were announced. In the first year that Web elements were allowed to be entered in every category, he called that significant.

“It played a significant role,” Gissler noted during comments after the announcement press conference at Columbia University. “About 10% of all entries had some online component.” With 1,324 entries among the journalism categories, that means more than 130 of them had a portion taken from the newspaper’s Web site. At least one included blog journalism.

Winning entries that included online elements were in Public Service, where the Times-Picayune of New Orleans and the Sun Herald of Biloxi, Miss. shared the prize for Hurricane Katrina coverage; Breaking News, also won by the Times-Picayune for Katrina coverage; Breaking News Photography, in which the Dallas Morning News won for Katrina as well; and Feature Photography to the Rocky Mountain News of Denver for a series on funerals for returning marines from Iraq.

The fact that the Times-Picayune did not publish a print edition for several days after the hurricane indicates the use of online material was a major factor in their Pulitzer success. The paper’s Web site, during that period and for weeks, became a vital gathering point for all those impacted by the disaster.

“It helped them, definitely,” Gissler said about the impact of an online submission. “It is very useful if you get destroyed by a hurricane, or anything else.” He also noted that the online option allowed newspapers to increase the scope of their photography work because the space for Web photos is essentially unlimited compared to print space.

“Online material also showed up in many cases as supplemental material,” Gissler said. “It was an important factor in several other finalists.” He noted the use of Web elements in both Breaking News finalists that did not win. Those were the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s coverage of a local courthouse shooting and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s reporting on Hurricane Wilma.

Prior to this year, online elements were only allowed in the Public Service category, which began using them in 1999. Previously, Web items could be entered as supplemental material to better help judges see what impact the other material had, but not as an official part of the entry.

In late 2005, however, the Pulitzer Board announced that Web items could be included in the official Pulitzer submissions for all categories. In Public Service, which previously averaged about 12 online entries each year, the number grew to 18 this time, Gissler said.

In addition, 15% of the entries in breaking news included Web components, while at least 33% of feature photography entries had them and 25% of breaking news photography included them.

“We made the rule change fairly late in the year, that may have had an impact,” Gissler said of the percentage of online elements involved. “We expect things to grow as the years go on. We will probably fine-tune the rules in the years that come.”

While online elements are allowed, they are limited to only still photographs and written material, Gissler said. No podcasts, chats, or audio and video elements. “There are others to consider down the road,” Gissler noted. “We will be making other change as circumstances change.”

Gissler noted that blogs could technically be entered as part of any writing category, but said none of the finalist or winners this year include them. He said one entry in commentary offered some blogging along with columns, but did not recall the name of the newspaper. “You could put in five columns and five blog entries and that would be a legitimate entry in, say, commentary,” he said.

He added that no separate online category has been created because the board wanted to emphasize the inclusion of Web material in every category. “It is part of an array of options that are available everyday online,” he said.

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