Web-Only Newsrooms Entering Pulitzer Contest for First Time

By: Joe Strupp

If a St. Louis news outlet wins a Pulitzer Prize in April, it may well not be the Post-Dispatch, The Riverfront Times or any other print publication.

It just might be the online-only St. Louis Beacon.

“We are submitting what we think is our best work, one entry in two categories,” said Beacon Editor Margaret Freivogel. “It is about the mortgage crisis and explains what it is all about.”

The Beacon, launched just last year, is one of at least five Web-only news outlets that plan to take advantage of the new Pulitzer rules allowing online news sites to enter their work. Likely there are many others.

The new rule, announced late last year, stipulates that the sites must produce original work and “publish” at least weekly. They also cannot be connected to magazines or broadcast outlets.

“I have no idea how many will be coming from online-only, but some of them have contacted us,” said Sig Gissler, Pulitzer administrator. “Journalists tend to wait until the end, we will probably get a surge into the next couple of days.”

The deadline for submissions in the 14 journalism categories is Monday. The winners will be announced April 20.

“We are really excited about the opportunity to apply,” said Freivogel, who is also planning to serve on a jury. “It shows where great journalism is being done and where the future of journalism is headed.” She declined to comment on her jury service.

ProPublica, the non-profit news outlet that has produced several projects with other traditional media — as well as online — is planning to submit something, according to Managing Editor Stephen Engleberg. He said the final choice has not been made, but “we will have a few things to put in.”

He said it is just a natural progression that Web-only outlets would become involved in the Pulitzers: “The distinction is disappearing. The act of publishing is changing.”

Scott Lewis, CEO of Voice of San Diego, said his Web site, launched in 2005, is entering one report on two local redevelopment agencies in the local reporting category. “The application is either complete or on the way,” he said. “They have been working hard on it.”

Lewis said he understands if some traditional news outlets do not want online newsrooms to compete, but does not believe that will limit their chances. “I think we will be judged fairly and I think it will be exciting,” he added. “There is this view by some that online is somehow tainted, but I think we are destroying that myth.”

At MinnPost.com, Managing Editor Roger Buoen cited five entries from his Minnesota-based site’s work. Those include reports on segregated schools, the Franken-Coleman Senate election recount, female combat troops in Iraq, problems with the state attorney general’s office, and a MinnPost columnist.

“We are finishing up our entries today,” he said. “I have no idea how we will do. It is inevitable that they are going to have to adapt to the changing business.”

Another multiple submission is from the Center for Independent Media, which runs news Web sites in six states. Jeff Morley, national editorial director, said there will be three submissions from the Washington (D.C.) Independent; one each from the Minnesota Independent and Iowa Independent, and one that was a joint project involving all of the sites.

“It was on voter fraud, voter integrity, disqualifying voters,” he said about the joint entry.

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