Writing & Editing
You won, why not brag about it?
By R. Michael Johnson
There is a newspaper in the midwest that won the Pulitzer Prize in the mid-1970s for its coverage of a natural disaster.
Granted, the paper's coverage of the disaster on the local front was outstanding, and did deserve recognition.
Since that time, the paper has been sold at least four times, has had at least a half-dozen publishers and at least as many editors. Nearly all - if not every one - of the longtime staff from 1974 is either retired or has passed away.
It was just a few years ago that the words, "A Pulitizer Prize Winning Newspaper" were finally taken off the flag and masthead of the paper.
Winning a prize is OK. It's laudable. However, bragging about it for more than 35 years - especially when there is no one left who actually made the prize possible - is kind of like touting the fact that your sister-in-law's brother's wife's cousin's grandmother's dog was once in the background during a broadcast of a Cincinnati Reds baseball game.
It's OK to be proud. It's OK to point out the fact that you have talent. It's OK to shout from the highest mountain, "I'm Number One!"
And, not for 35 years.
In a storage unit somewhere, there is a trunk. It is literally packed to the point of being over-full with plaques, framed certificates and even a trophy or two.
The awards range from Daily Newspaper Column of the Year for Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia to Best Spot News Coverage and Sports Photo of the Year.
Just for the heck of it, a few years ago, I measured, and the awards would completely cover one and one-half walls in my home office (if arranged the way my wife demands).
Yet, none of them are listed on my resume, and none are hanging on the wall.
The answer to that question is simple, yet complex.
First, while I am all about self promotion - as you have noticed by navigating this website - there's a fine line between self promotion and abject grandiosity.
To quote Al Neuharth, the founder of USAToday, "A little bit of P.T. Barnum will carry you a long way."
Key words in that sentence are "a little bit."
That's the easy, quick answer.
Now, the more complex answer also begins with a thought from Neuharth.
In his book, Confessions of an S.O.B., Neuharth
says that if a newspaper sets out to win a Pulitzer Prize, then they can win one.
And the prize will come at the expense readers.
I completely agree. The Pulitzer committee likes certain kinds of journalism. To win one, you have to provide the committee with the kind of reporting they want.
But, is providing a committee of journalism's elite with the fodder for awards really worth possibly alienating readers and your community?
In most cases - especially in today's world of continually decreasing budgets and staffs - if you go after the kinds of stories you need to win a major prize, you obviously have to ignore something else. Often times, that 'something else' is basic, grassroots reporting of local issues that interest and educate your readers.
The kinds of stories that we cover on a daily basis - school events, high school sports, city council meetings, local spot news - probably will never win major awards like the Pulitzer Prize.
My former weekly newspaper, the Bloomfield Free Press, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for a special section and series of articles I produced dealing with corruption in the local police department and town council.
The only reason the nomination was made was because several people in the community nominated me and the paper.
Had it been left all up to me, the nomination would not have been made - partially because I didn't think the work was Pulitzer-worthy, and also because I was just doing my job covering local issues that affected local people - including me.
My prize - a prize greater than even Joseph Pulitzer could bestow - came when someone at the local diner stopped me at lunch and thanked me for looking out for their interests.
The ultimate prize came with knowing that what we were doing was right and just.
There is no prize or award in the world that matters as much as your readers' respect.
In memory of
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