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Tom Frazier: An outside chance at the Pulitzer?

Tom Frazier
Tom Frazier

Ever wonder how the Pulitzer Prizes for Journalism are decided? How about the Scripps-Howard Foundation's National Journalism Awards or the Associated Press Managing Editors' Awards?

Probably not.

But I'm going to tell you anyway.

The Pulitzer, the granddaddy of the group, started in 1917 and have been going strong ever since. Rules and categories have changed over the years, but very slowly. Over the past two years, they have changed so that online news sites are now eligible.

Pulitzers currently have 14 journalism categories: meritorious public service, local reporting of breaking news, investigative reporting, explanatory reporting, reporting on significant issues of local concern, national affairs, international affairs, feature writing, commentary, criticism, editorial writing, cartoon or portfolio of cartoons, breaking news photography and feature photography.

There are also awards for books, music and plays.

Similar categories are used for the National Journalism Awards and the APMEs.

Applications are due for NJAs and Pulitzers on Jan. 30, 2010, and Feb. 1, 2010, respectively.

So what?

Anyone can submit nominations for the awards. You could nominate. All it takes is filling out the application forms, building a scrapbook-like presentation and a cover letter.

And, of course, a $50 handling fee.

If you are a reporter, editor or photographer, you can even nominate your own work.

The Sun-Star has never won a Pulitzer Prize, but has won -- just two years ago -- an APME award for public service. The award was for coverage of the Merced County district attorney.

Another McClatchy paper, the Miami Herald, was won 21 Pulitzer Prizes. The Herald has a newsroom with more than 140 reporters -- compared to the Sun-Star's four. The Herald has a circulation of more than 220,000 compared to the Sun-Star's 16,000.

Pulitzers are not circulation based, which means small paper, like the Sun-Star, compete against the giants in the business. Just based upon the numbers, it seems likely most of the awards will go to larger publications.

Pulitzer Prizes are managed by Columbia University through its Pulitzer Prize board. That board, which looks like a list of who's who in the newspaper industry and academia, was established in the will of Joseph Pulitzer.

The Board nominates jurors for each category, who review all applications and narrow them down to a list of three finalists. The board then selects the winners from the three recommended by the jurors.

For 2008 Pulitzers, presented in 2009, there were more than 2,400 books, plays, music compositions and journalism entries that competed for 21 prizes. There were 102 jurors involved in the process.

Anders Gyllenhaal, executive editor of The Miami Herald and president of the Pulitzer Board described last year's journalism selection process this way: "For the journalism prizes, the reading is compressed into three intense days. The country's leading editors and writers meet in early March, divide into groups for each of the 14 categories and sit down at a tables spread out through the Columbia Journalism School, facing more than a thousand entries, sometime piled so high it's hard to see across the tables. After three days, the pile is down to 10 or 15, then 5 or 6, and then just three."

Does the Sun-Star stand a chance of winning a Pulitzer Prize?

Perhaps.

Obviously, some categories won't be nominated since the Sun-Star doesn't really cover much nationally or internationally -- unless, of course, Corrine Reilly's and Mike Tharp's Baghdad bylines count for the Sun-Star.

And the Sun-Star doesn't have a cartoonist, a movie critic, book critic or food critic.

Editorials also seem murky since most Sun-Star editorials are not locally written. But more importantly -- they are not attributed to a writer. They are attributed to an Editorial Board. Pulitzer guidelines state, "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." It implies a single "writer."

Were there any Sun-Star news stories you think met any of the other categories.

Would readers like to do our own awards -- perhaps "Sunnies" for 2009?

Perhaps lightning will strike. After all, there are fewer newspapers now than ever -- less competition.

President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.

So maybe there really is an outside chance for a Pulitzer.

Tom Frazier writes Sun Dog and can be reached at sundog@promessage.com.

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