The Pulitzer Prizes were announced today, and as always are the crowning achievements of legacy media, kingmakers of reporters at The New York Times, L.A. Times, and even the blog ProPublica, and a few smaller newspapers.
But the breaking news here is that there was no breaking news there -- no award this year for the first time in the 95-year history of the prizes. It was not given. This is a stunning omission considering that news -- in 2010 the Gulf oil spill and Haiti earthquake to name two huge stories -- has never broken faster, with more details, more sources, a wider distribution, and faster updates.
As the limping Pulitzer web site proves today, reeling as it is hammered by people wishing to see the winners, online news is not the forte of the Pulitzer Board, which is peopled by aging professors and executive editors. Several bloggers and/or Twitter news hawks should be aboard. That should be changed now.
Pulitzer jurors explained that there were few entries and no consensus for the category, but that seems extremely out of touch. The Pulitzers carry enormous weight.
To drop the ball in this area, where news has changed the most, appears to be head-in-the-sand, clueless behavior that misses the biggest breaking story about news -- immediacy.
As entries in the breaking news category have dried up in legacy media, a flood of breaking news has been diverted to social media. Perhaps there is more quantity of breaking news reporting than quality in the age of Twitter. But the change that Twitter in particular has brought to news is something Joseph Pulitzer himself might have cheered. The publisher (pictured here) made his name in what was considered in the late 1800s to be "new journalism." And he helped develop "yellow journalism" that makes many tweets seem prim.
Here are five worthy recipients of the 2011 Pulitzer for Breaking News, although none in the cookie cutter mold the board no doubt would have preferred. These news-breakers never made it to jurors. They were never nominated by their news organizations -- because there are no legacy news organizations behind the fastest breaking news today. Perhaps that suggests that the public should be allowed to nominate in this category, or that the Columbia School Of Journalism, home of the Pulitzers, should look for great breaking news in social media and elsewhere.
Because the Pulitzers did not acknowledge breaking news efforts this year, let's broaden the net a bit, and look at some news breakers and makers from a new mold. Here are five from the past year:
Egypt's "Facebook girl," 27-year-old Esraa Abdel Fatah, untrained in media, who set up a Facebook group that drew 70,000 members, helped bring down a corrupt government, and caused her to be detained. Is she foreign? Yes. Was she part of the story? Yes. Does she have enough guts to deserve a shoutout? Undoubtedly. Egyptian babies are being named Facebook. Need further proof that it played a huge role in this story?
Twitter itself. From the Gulf oil spill to the Haiti earthquake, to the Japanese tsunami to the death of Liz Taylor, Twitter has been the main vehicle of immediacy as journalists and citizen journalists broke news in new ways. It may have changed journalism more than any technology since the camera. If Time Magazine can name the Apple computer its Man Of The Year, Twitter can win a Pulitzer.
- @breakingnews, the headline service on Twitter followed by 2.4 million. Get the alerts sent to your phone via texts, and you know what news is breaking as fast as anyone. Need to get a little more specific than Twitter? This is a staff that delivers news.
- Twitter's company response to the Japanese tsunami. Helping find victims, posting the latest news, and channeling donations, this dedicated page was right in the middle of the disaster.(Albeit from 2011.)
- Discovery Channel staffers tweeting about the siege of their own offices by gunmen. Coverage began even before the siege. Talk about reporting under pressure.