A Pulitzer Prize is an award regarded as the highest national honor for outstanding achievement in print journalism, literature, and musical composition; Pulitzer fellowships are also awarded. The Prizes were established by Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-American journalist and newspaper publisher, who left a gift of $500,000 to Columbia University upon his death in 1911; a portion of his bequest was used to found the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. Administered by Columbia University, Pulitzer prizes are awarded each year in twenty-one different categories pertaining to journalism, arts, and letters. Recipients of the awards in twenty categories receive a cash reward of $10,000; the winner of the Pulitzer in public service journalism, always a newspaper, receives a gold metal. Recipients are chosen by an independent Pulitzer Prize Board appointed by Columbia University. The first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded on June 4, 1917, and are now awarded each May.
Pulitzer established these prizes as his legacy, his effort to establish and maintain the highest standards in the profession to which he had given his whole life. Although for a while he had focused on increasing sales by any means possible, later in life Pulitzer had abandoned this approach, investing instead in quality journalism, particularly investigative reporting to reveal social problems. He thus sought to establish the school of journalism at Columbia University and the prizes that bear his name to ensure excellence in his profession.
The Pulitzer Prizes were established by the Hungarian-born American journalist, Joseph Pulitzer, who emerged as a prominent and skillful newspaper publisher in the latter half of the nineteenth century. During his career, Pulitzer was known for his relentless investigatory attacks on government corruption; he was also the publisher of both the New York World and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In forming his will in 1904, Pulitzer left a large endowment to Columbia University for the establishment of a School of Journalism. Part of this endowment was to be "applied to prizes or scholarships for the encouragement of public, service, public morals, American literature, and the advancement of education." He established four awards to be given by Columbia University for excellence in journalism, four awards to be given in letters and drama, one award for excellence in education, and four awards of traveling scholarships. In doing so, Pulitzer stated:
I am deeply interested in the progress and elevation of journalism, having spent my life in that profession, regarding it as a noble profession and one of unequaled importance for its influence upon the minds and morals of the people. I desire to assist in attracting to this profession young men of character and ability, also to help those already engaged in the profession to acquire the highest moral and intellectual training.
Pulitzer established an advisory board to instill and manage changes in the structure of the literary awards as society, and literary arts, progressed. He also empowered the board and its members to withhold any prize for which the entries were substandard. Following the death of Pulitzer in 1912, the Columbia School of Journalism was founded in 1913, followed by the awarding of the first Pulitzer Prizes in 1917. Members of the first Pulitzer advisory board included various newspaper publishers, the President of Columbia University, Columbia University scholars, and other persons of various distinctions. Sanctioned by the advisory board, posthumous changes to Pulitzer’s Prizes include the creation of awards in poetry, music and photography, and the expansion of the advisory board to include leading editors, news executives, and the dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
In 1997, upon the 150th anniversary of Pulitzer’s birth, the Pulitzer Prize Board exercised its discretion in recognizing excellence in online journalism. Beginning in 1999, the Board officially sanctioned online submissions as a supplement to the Public Service category. As of 2006, the Board officially recognized excellence in online achievements in fourteen of their journalism categories.
A similar amendment was allowed for in the field of music, first recognized in 1943, and intended solely for composers of classical music. Beginning in 1998, the Pulitzer Prize Board has recognized musical submissions of a broader range of American music, including jazz. In 1998, the Board also opted to posthumously award a Pulitzer Prize in music to George Gershwin on the 100th anniversary of his birth; a similar citation was awarded in 1999, to musician Duke Ellington. In 2006, the board again recognized a musician of prominence, awarding a posthumous citation to jazz composer Thelonious Monk.
Each year the Pulitzer Prize Board receives more than 2,000 submissions to be considered for just 21 awards. The awards are chosen by a board of 100 judges, serving on 20 separate juries, who work to make three nominations in each prize category. The entire process runs for one year. Jurors specializing in the drama prize, often just five members, attend numerous plays both in New York and in regional theaters to judge nominees. Music jurors, also numbering just five, meet throughout the year in New York to listen to recordings and study the scores of more than 150 pieces of music.
Voting board members serve a total of three terms of three years each; the induction of new members is voted upon by existing board members. Members of the Board receive no compensation, though jurors in letters, music, and drama are recognized for their year-long work by receiving small stipends of compensation.
After voting, jury nominations and award winners are held in strict confidence until the announcement of the prizes in May. Following a news conference held by the Prize administrator, the awards are announced precisely at three o’clock. Prize details are also listed on the Pulitzer Prize website. The announcement includes all winners of the Prizes, the two finalists in each category, and the names of the Board members and jurors, which were previously undisclosed to avoid lobbying.
The awards are presented to the winners at a small library luncheon in the presence of family members, professional associates, board members, and faculty members of the Columbia University School of Journalism. The board has repeatedly declined offers to transform the ceremony into an elaborate, televised event such as the ceremonies accompanying the Nobel Prizes in Stockholm and Oslo.
- Only published reports and photographs by United States-based newspaper or daily news organizations are eligible for a 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."
- Public Service
- The Public Service is awarded for a distinguished example of meritorious public service by a newspaper through the use of its journalistic resources, which may include editorials, cartoons, and photographs, as well as reporting. Often thought of as the grand prize, the Public Service award is given to a newspaper and not to an individual, though individuals are often mentioned for their contributions.
- Breaking News Reporting
- The Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting is awarded for a distinguished example of local reporting of breaking news. Originally the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting, Edition Time (1953-1963), this award became the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting in 1997. Former titles also include the Pulitzer Prize for Local General or Spot News Reporting (1964-1984), the Pulitzer Prize for General News Reporting (1985-1990), and the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Reporting (1991-1997).
- Investigative Reporting
- The Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting is awarded for a distinguished example of investigative reporting by an individual or team, presented as a single article or series. Former titles of this award include the Pulitzer Prize for Local Investigative Specialized Reporting (1964-1984), and the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting, No Edition Time, 1953-1963.
- Explanatory Reporting
- The Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting is awarded for a distinguished example of explanatory reporting that illuminates a significant and complex subject, demonstrating mastery of the subject, lucid writing, and clear presentation. This award was formerly titled the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism.
- Local Reporting
- The Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting is awarded for a distinguished example of local reporting that illuminates significant issues or concerns.
- National Reporting
- The Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting is awarded for a distinguished example of reporting on national affairs. This award was formerly titled the Pulitzer Prize for Telegraphic Reporting—National.
- International Reporting
- The Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting is awarded for a distinguished example of reporting on international affairs, including United Nations correspondence. This award was formerly known as the Pulitzer Prize for Telegraphic Reporting—International.
- Feature Writing
- The Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing is awarded for a distinguished example of feature writing giving prime consideration to high literary quality and originality.
- The Pulitzer Prize for Commentary is awarded to an individual for distinguished commentary.
- The Pulitzer Prize for Criticism is awarded to an individual for distinguished criticism.
- Editorial Writing
- The Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing is awarded for distinguished editorial writing, the test of excellence being clarity of style, moral purpose, sound reasoning, and power to influence public opinion in what the writer conceives to be the right direction.
- Editorial Cartooning
- The Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning is awarded for a distinguished cartoon or portfolio of cartoons published during the year, characterized by originality, editorial effectiveness, quality of drawing, and pictorial effect.
- Breaking News Photography
- The Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography, previously called the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography, is awarded for a distinguished example of breaking news photography in black and white or color, which may consist of a photograph or photographs, a sequence, or an album. In 1968 the Pulitzer Prize for Photography, was divided into the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography and a spot news category, which became the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography.
- Feature Photography
- The Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography is awarded for a distinguished example of feature photography in black and white or color, which may consist of a photograph or photographs, a sequence, or an album.
Letters and drama
- The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is awarded for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. The award was formerly known as the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel.
- The Pulitzer Prize for Drama is awarded for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.
- The Pulitzer Prize for History is awarded for a distinguished book on the history of the United States.
- Biography or Autobiography
- The Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography is awarded for a distinguished biography or autobiography by an American author.
- The Pulitzer Prize for Poetry is awarded for a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author.
- General Non-Fiction
- The Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction is awarded for a distinguished book of non-fiction by an American author that is not eligible for consideration in any other category.
The Pulitzer Prize for Music is awarded for a distinguished musical contribution by an American that had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year.
Citations and Fellowships
There have also been a number of Special Citations and Awards. In addition to the prizes, Pulitzer traveling fellowships are awarded to four outstanding students of the Graduate School of Journalism as selected by the faculty. These scholarships allow for the School’s top graduates to travel, report, and study abroad. One fellowship is awarded to a graduate specializing in drama, music, literary, film, or television criticism.
Various Pulitzer Prize recipients, among fiction, have included Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea, 1953), William Faulkner (A Fable, 1955, The Reivers, 1963), Harper Lee (To Kill a Mocking Bird, 1961), John Updike (Rabbit is Rich, 1982) and Alice Walker (The Color Purple, 1983). Among poetry, noteworthy recipients include Robert Frost (New Hampshire, 1924, Collected Poems, 1931, A Further Range, 1937, A Witness Tree, 1943), Gwendolyn Brooks (Annie Allen, 1950), and Theodore Roethke (The Waking, 1954). Numerous Pulitzer Prizes for Public Service have gone to The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times, though various regional newspapers have also received the award.
- The Pulitzer Prizes, History of the Prizes. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
- Pulitzer Prize, Pulitzer Board Widens Range of Online Journalism in Entries. Retrieved November 18, 2007.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Brennan, E. & E. Clarage. Who’s Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners. Phoeni, AZ: The Oryx Press, 1999. ISBN 1573561118
- Buell, Hal. Moments: The Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographs. New York, NY: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 2002. ISBN 1579122604
- Garlock, David. Pulitzer Prize Feature Stories: America’s Best Writing. Boston, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0813825458
- Lewis, Anthony. Written into History: Pulitzer Prize Reporting of the Twentieth Century from the New York Times. New York, NY: Times Books, 2002. ISBN 0805071784
All links retrieved December 2, 2022.
- Pulitzer Prize Website
- Winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2005-1917
- History of The Pulitzer Prizes
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