In a newspaper that devotes a team of reporters to covering every nuance of the annual Academy Awards, why does the NYT so rarely offer its readers a shred of insight into the behind-the-scenes, decision-making process that leads to the Pulitzer Prize?
Today's "coverage" of the 2009 Pulitzer Prizes by media reporter Richard Perez-Pena follows a familar, self-serving pattern set by the NYT years ago: a straight recitation of the winners, and a self-serving quote from Washington Post editor Marcus Brauchli -- but no mention whatsoever of the competition itself, how the decisions were made, or who lost out on journalism's highest honor and why.
It's an embarrassing and ironic display of non-existent reporting on a story that honors reporting, and doesn't measure up to the minimum standards of the journalism profession -- let alone those set by the NYT in its annual prize pursuit.
A few things the NYT might have mentioned this year in its Pulitzer coverage:
--How seriously did the Pulitzer jury consider the candidacy of the National Enquirer, whose coverage of the John Edwards sex scandal attracted significant praise and attention?
--How did its own reporter, David Rohde, not win in International Reporting for a six-part series on being held captive by the Taliban widely seen as a shoo-in?
--How did a first-time novelist named Paul Harding manage to snag the fiction Pulitzer for an obscure book from a small independent publisher, "Tinkers," that the NYT didn't even bother to review?
--What might have been behind the third straight shutout of the Wall Street Journal, which hasn't won a prize since Rupert Murdoch bought the paper?
Perez-Pena doesn't even mention these questions, let alone answer them. He offers readers no insight into the internal workings of the Pulitzer juries or board. Nor does he bother to analyze the trends reflected in the choices -- the continued dominance of the prizes by the NYT and Washington Post, for example, or the tendency of the Pulitzers to honor the same journalists (Gene Weingarten and Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post) again and again.
Yes, the NYT and the Post are America's top papers, but the relative rarity of obscure winners in the prize's top categories year after year seems a notable phenomenon, too -- worth a sentence or two at least. We love Gene Weingarten's work, but is there really so little good feature writing in American journalism that he deserved it twice in the last three years?
But to explore the behind-the-scenes process -- and question even slightly the system behind one of its most coveted marketing tools -- might not best serve the interest of the NYT, which has overwhelmed the competition with 104 prizes in the Pulitzer Prize's 93-year history.
The NYT's blind eye to the real story behind the Pulitzer Prizes every year reflects, it seems to us, the paper's determination to put its prize prospects above its commitment to coverage of the institution that awards the honor. That's not good journalism.