PULITZER WINNER: As Papers Cut Biz Sections, Award Goes To Business Columnist For First Time

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

At a time when increasing numbers of daily newspapers are folding their separate business sections, Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post says he hopes his Pulitzer Prize for commentary — the first ever awarded to a column devoted strictly to business — will help regain respect for those who write about the economy.

“Obviously, I’m thrilled as anyone would be to win the Pulitzer Prize, but there’s a special thrill that this would go to a columnist focusing on the economy and business,” Pearlstein said Monday night. “Perhaps this will give more recognition to those who write about finance and investing.”

He says the rationalizations that newspapers are offering for cutting back the business newshole, or concentrating only on local business, are “nonsensical.”

“I frankly don’t understand this,” Pearlstein said. “There is no indication that people are less interested in finance and investing than they used to be — in fact, if anything, it’s the opposite.”

Many of the columns submitted for the Pulitzer forecast the current credit crisis, something Pearlstein has been warning about as far back as 2006.

In its story on the six Pulitzers it won in this year’s competition, the Post reprinted part of an August 11 column that accurately predicted the current economic reality: “This is a financial, economic and political time bomb that is likely to force families out of their homes; dump millions of houses and condos onto an already glutted market; and result in massive losses for mortgage lenders, hedge funds, banks, insurance companies and pension funds that hold securities backed by, or somehow tied to, these troubled mortgages.”

Pearlstein sees no quick solution to the credit crunch.

“We’re not finished with it by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “Wall Street is saying by the end of this year, we’ll be back on track. That’s ridiculously optimistic.”

But Pearlstein is somewhat more optimistic about the long-term prospects of another troubled industry — newspapers.

“Providers of news will do well because there’s a demand for news,” he said. “Long-term, there will probably be fewer (newspapers), and the business model will be different. I suspect people will pay for content more now then they have. News is not that cheap to produce, and somebody will have to pay for it. I suspect readers of quality news will pay for it.”

Buckle up, though — Pearlstein also predicts it might take as long a decade for the newspaper industry to find the right formula for long-term success.

Pearlstein, who has been a television news reporter and congressional staffer, began his newspaper career with reporting jobs in New Hampshire at the Concord Monitor and Foster’s Daily Democrat.

He also launched a monthly magazine of liberal opinion, The Boston Observer, which Pearlstein said with a laugh might undercut some of his criticism of newspaper management. “The only publication I started went out of business, so I guess I have no standing to criticize,” he said.

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