The Pulitzer Prize (//) is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature and musical composition within the United States. It was established in 1917 by provisions in the will of Joseph Pulitzer, who had made his fortune as a newspaper publisher and is administered by Columbia University. Prizes are awarded yearly in twenty-one categories. In twenty of the categories, each winner receives a certificate and a US$15,000 cash award (raised from $10,000 in 2017). The winner in the public service category is awarded a gold medal.
Entry and prize consideration
The Pulitzer Prize does not automatically consider all applicable works in the media, but only those that have specifically been entered. (There is a $75 entry fee, for each desired entry category.) Entries must fit in at least one of the specific prize categories, and cannot simply gain entrance for being literary or musical. Works can also only be entered in a maximum of two categories, regardless of their properties.
Each year, 102 jurors are selected by the Pulitzer Prize Board to serve on 20 separate juries for the 21 award categories; one jury makes recommendations for both photography awards. Most juries consist of five members, except for those for Public Service, Investigative Reporting, Explanatory Reporting, Feature writing and Commentary categories, which have seven members; however, all book juries have at least three members. For each award category, a jury makes three nominations. The board selects the winner by majority vote from the nominations or bypasses the nominations and selects a different entry following a 75 percent majority vote. The board can also vote to issue no award. The board and journalism jurors are not paid for their work; however, the jurors in letters, music, and drama receive a $2,000 honorarium for the year, and each chair receives $2,500.
Difference between entrants and nominated finalists
Anyone whose work has been submitted is called an entrant. The jury selects a group of nominated finalists and announces them, together with the winner for each category. However, some journalists and authors who were only submitted, but not nominated as finalists, still claim to be Pulitzer nominees in promotional material.
The Pulitzer board has cautioned entrants against claiming to be nominees. The Pulitzer Prize website's Frequently Asked Questions section describes their policy as follows: "Nominated Finalists are selected by the Nominating Juries for each category as finalists in the competition. The Pulitzer Prize Board generally selects the Pulitzer Prize Winners from the three nominated finalists in each category. The names of nominated finalists have been announced only since 1980. Work that has been submitted for Prize consideration but not chosen as either a nominated finalist or a winner is termed an entry or submission. No information on entrants is provided. Since 1980, when we began to announce nominated finalists, we have used the term 'nominee' for entrants who became finalists. We discourage someone saying he or she was 'nominated' for a Pulitzer simply because an entry was sent to us."
Bill Dedman of NBC News, the recipient of the 1989 investigative reporting prize, pointed out in 2012 that financial journalist Betty Liu was described as "Pulitzer Prize–Nominated" in her Bloomberg Television advertising and the jacket of her book, while National Review writer Jonah Goldberg made similar claims of "Pulitzer nomination" to promote his books. Dedman wrote, "To call that submission a Pulitzer 'nomination' is like saying that Adam Sandler is an Oscar nominee if Columbia Pictures enters That's My Boy in the Academy Awards. Many readers realize that the Oscars don't work that way—the studios don't pick the nominees. It's just a way of slipping 'Academy Awards' into a bio. The Pulitzers also don't work that way, but fewer people know that."
Nominally, the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service is awarded only to news organizations, not individuals. In rare instances, contributors to the entry are singled out in the citation in a manner analogous to individual winners. Journalism awards may be awarded to individuals or newspapers or newspaper staffs; infrequently, staff Prize citations also distinguish the work of prominent contributors.
Newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer gave money in his will to Columbia University to launch a journalism school and establish the Prize. It allocated $250,000 to the prize and scholarships. He specified "four awards in journalism, four in letters and drama, one in education, and four traveling scholarships." After his death on October 29, 1911, the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded June 4, 1917 (they are now announced in April). The Chicago Tribune under the control of Colonel Robert R. McCormick felt that the Pulitzer Prize was nothing more than a 'mutual admiration society' and not to be taken seriously; the paper refused to compete for the prize during McCormick's tenure up until 1961.
Awards are made in categories relating to journalism, arts, letters and fiction. Reports and photographs by United States–based newspapers, magazines and news organizations (including news websites) that "[publish] regularly" are eligible for the journalism prize. Beginning in 2007, "an assortment of online elements will be permitted in all journalism categories except for the competition's two photography categories, which will continue to restrict entries to still images." In December 2008, it was announced that for the first time content published in online-only news sources would be considered.
Although certain winners with magazine affiliations (most notably Moneta Sleet, Jr.) were allowed to enter the competition due to eligible partnerships or concurrent publication of their work in newspapers, the Pulitzer Prize Advisory Board and the Pulitzer Prize Board historically resisted the admission of magazines into the competition, resulting in the formation of the National Magazine Awards at the Columbia Journalism School in 1966.
In 2015, magazines were allowed to enter for the first time in two categories (Investigative Reporting and Feature Writing). By 2016, this provision had expanded to three additional categories (International Reporting, Criticism and Editorial Cartooning). That year, Kathryn Schulz (Feature Writing) and Emily Nussbaum (Criticism) of The New Yorker became the first magazine affiliates to receive the Prize under the expanded eligibility criterion.
In October 2016, magazine eligibility was extended to all journalism categories. Hitherto confined to the local reporting of breaking news, the Breaking News Reporting category was expanded to encompass all domestic breaking news events in 2017.
Definitions of Pulitzer Prize categories as presented in the December 2017 Plan of Award:
- Public Service – for a distinguished example of meritorious public service by a newspaper, magazine or news site through the use of its journalistic resources, including the use of stories, editorials, cartoons, photographs, graphics, videos, databases, multimedia or interactive presentations or other visual material. Often thought of as the grand prize, and mentioned first in listings of the journalism prizes, the Public Service award is only given to the winning news organization. Alone among the Pulitzer Prizes, it is awarded in the form of a gold medal.
- Breaking News Reporting – for a distinguished example of local, state or national reporting of breaking news that, as quickly as possible, captures events accurately as they occur, and, as time passes, illuminates, provides context and expands upon the initial coverage.
- Investigative Reporting – for a distinguished example of investigative reporting, using any available journalistic tool.
- Explanatory Reporting – for a distinguished example of explanatory reporting that illuminates a significant and complex subject, demonstrating mastery of the subject, lucid writing and clear presentation, using any available journalistic tool.
- Local Reporting – for a distinguished example of reporting on significant issues of local concern, demonstrating originality and community expertise, using any available journalistic tool.
- National Reporting – for a distinguished example of reporting on national affairs, using any available journalistic tool.
- International Reporting – for a distinguished example of reporting on international affairs, using any available journalistic tool.
- Feature Writing – for distinguished feature writing giving prime consideration to quality of writing, originality and concision, using any available journalistic tool.
- Commentary – for distinguished commentary, using any available journalistic tool.
- Criticism – for distinguished criticism, using any available journalistic tool.
- Editorial Writing – for distinguished editorial writing, the test of excellence being clearness of style, moral purpose, sound reasoning, and power to influence public opinion in what the writer conceives to be the right direction, using any available journalistic tool.
- Editorial Cartooning – for a distinguished cartoon or portfolio of cartoons, characterized by originality, editorial effectiveness, quality of drawing and pictorial effect, published as a still drawing, animation or both.
- Breaking News Photography, previously called Spot News Photography – for a distinguished example of breaking news photography in black and white or color, which may consist of a photograph or photographs.
- Feature Photography – for a distinguished example of feature photography in black and white or color, which may consist of a photograph or photographs.
There are six categories in letters and drama:
- Fiction – for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.
- Drama – for a distinguished play by an American playwright, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.
- History – for a distinguished and appropriately documented book on the history of the United States.
- Biography or Autobiography – for a distinguished biography, autobiography or memoir by an American author.
- Poetry – for a distinguished volume of original verse by an American poet.
- General Non-Fiction – for a distinguished and appropriately documented book of non-fiction by an American author that is not eligible for consideration in any other category.
There is one prize given for music:
- Pulitzer Prize for Music – for distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year.
In addition to the Prizes, Pulitzer Travelling Fellowships are awarded to four outstanding students of the Graduate School of Journalism as selected by the faculty.
Changes to categories
Over the years, awards have been discontinued either because the field of the award has been expanded to encompass other areas; the award has been renamed because the common terminology changed; or the award has become obsolete, such as the prizes for telegraphic reporting.
An example of a writing field that has been expanded was the former Pulitzer Prize for the Novel (awarded 1918–1947), which has been changed to the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, which also includes short stories, novellas, novelettes, and poetry, as well as novels.
The 19-member Pulitzer Prize Board convenes semi-annually, traditionally in the Joseph Pulitzer World Room at Columbia University's Pulitzer Hall. It comprises major editors, columnists and media executives in addition to six members drawn from academia and the arts, including the president of Columbia University, the dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the administrator of the Prizes, who serves as the Board's secretary. The administrator and the dean (who served on the Board from its inception until 1954 and beginning again in 1976) participate in the deliberations as ex officio members but cannot vote. Aside from the president and dean (who serve as permanent members for the duration of their respective appointments) and the administrator (who is re-elected annually), the Board elects its own members for a three-year term; members may serve a maximum of three terms. Members of the Board and the juries are selected with close attention "given to professional excellence and affiliation, as well as diversity in terms of gender, ethnic background, geographical distribution and size of news organization."
Former New York Times senior editor Dana Canedy, who contributed to the Times staff entry that received the 2001 National Reporting Prize, served as administrator from 2017 to 2020. Canedy was the first woman and first person of color to hold the position. Edward Kliment, a longtime deputy administrator, was appointed interim administrator in July 2020 when Canedy became senior vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster's flagship eponymous imprint. Past administrators include John Hohenberg (the youngest person to hold the position to date; 1954–1976), fellow Graduate School of Journalism professor Richard T. Baker (1976–1981), former Newsweek executive editor Robert Christopher (1981–1992), former New York Times managing editor Seymour Topping (1993–2002), former Milwaukee Journal editor Sig Gissler (2002–2014) and former Concord Monitor editor Mike Pride (the only former Board member to hold the position to date; 2014–2017). Prior to the installation of Hohenberg, the program was jointly administered by the dean of the Journalism School and officials in Columbia's central administration, most notably longtime provost Frank D. Fackenthal.
Following the retirement of Joseph Pulitzer Jr. (a grandson of the endower who served as permanent chair of the Board for 31 years) in 1986, the chair has typically rotated to the most senior member (or members, in the case of concurrent elections) on an annual basis.
Since 1975, the Board has made all prize decisions; prior to this point, the Board's recommendations were ratified by a majority vote of the trustees of Columbia University. Although the administrator's office and staff are housed alongside the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia's Pulitzer Hall and several administrators have held concurrent full-time or adjunct faculty appointments at the School of Journalism, the Board and administration have been operationally separate from the School since 1950.
- Call for revocation of journalist Walter Duranty's 1932 Pulitzer Prize.
- Call for revocation of journalist William L. Laurence's 1946 Pulitzer Prize.
- 1941 Novel Prize: The Advisory Board elected to overrule the jury and recommended For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. However, Columbia University president Nicholas Murray Butler implored the committee to reconsider, citing the potential association between the University and the novel's frank sexual content; instead, no award was given. Twelve years later, Hemingway was awarded the 1953 Fiction Prize for The Old Man and the Sea.
- 1962 Biography Prize: Citizen Hearst: A Biography of William Randolph Hearst by W. A. Swanberg was recommended by the jury and Advisory Board but overturned by the trustees of Columbia University (then charged with final ratification of the Prizes) because its subject, Hearst, was not an "eminent example of the biographer's art as specified in the prize definition."
- 1974 Fiction Prize: Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon was recommended by the three-member fiction jury but the Advisory Board overturned that decision and no award was given by the trustees.
- Shortly after receiving a Special Citation for Roots: The Saga of an American Family in the spring of 1977, Alex Haley was charged with plagiarism in separate lawsuits by Harold Courlander and Margaret Walker Alexander. Courlander, an anthropologist and novelist, charged that Roots was copied largely from his novel The African (1967). Walker claimed that Haley had plagiarized from her Civil War-era novel Jubilee (1966). Legal proceedings in each case were concluded late in 1978. Courlander's suit was settled out of court for $650,000 (equivalent to $2.5 million in 2019) and an acknowledgment from Haley that certain passages within Roots were copied from The African. Walker's case was dismissed by the court, which, in comparing the content of Roots with that of Jubilee, found that "no actionable similarities exist between the works."
- Forfeiture of Janet Cooke's 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for story fabrication.
- 1994 History Prize: Gerald Posner's Case Closed; Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, Lawrence Friedman's Crime and Punishment in American History and Joel Williamson's William Faulkner and Southern History were nominated unanimously for the award; however, no award was given. The decision not to give an award to one of the three books created a public controversy. One of the 19 members of the Pulitzer Board, John Dotson, said that all of the three nominated books were "flawed in some way." But another Board member, Edward Seaton, editor of the Manhattan Mercury, disagreed, saying it was "unfortunate" that no award had been given.
- 2010 Drama Prize: The Tony-winning musical Next to Normal received the award despite not having been among the jury-provided nominees.
- 2020 Feature Photography Prize: The citation to Channi Anand, Mukhtar Khan and Dar Yasin of the Associated Press caused controversy. It was taken by some as questioning "India's legitimacy over Kashmir" as it had used the word "independence" in regard to revocation of Article 370.
- 2020 International Reporting Prize: Russian journalist Roman Badanin, editor-in-chief of independent Russian media outlet Proekt (Project), said that at least two New York Times articles in the entry repeated findings of Proekt's articles published a few months before.
Criticism and studies
Some critics of the Pulitzer Prize have accused the organization of favoring those who support liberal causes or oppose conservative causes. Syndicated columnist L. Brent Bozell said that the Pulitzer Prize has a "liberal legacy", particularly in its prize for commentary. He pointed to a 31-year period in which only five conservatives won prizes for commentary. 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary Kathleen Parker wrote, "It's only because I'm a conservative basher that I'm now recognized." Alexander Theroux describes the Pulitzer Prize as " an eminently silly award, [that] has often been handed out as a result of pull and political log-rolling, and that to some of the biggest frauds and fools alike."
A 2012 academic study by journalism professors Yong Volz of the University of Missouri and Francis Lee of the Chinese University of Hong Kong found "that only 27% of Pulitzer winners since 1991 were females, while newsrooms are about 33% female." The researchers concluded female winners were more likely to have traditional academic experience, such as attendance at Ivy League schools, metropolitan upbringing, or employment with an elite publication such as the New York Times. The findings suggest a higher level of training and connectedness are required for a female applicant to be awarded the prize, compared to male counterparts.