This year’s Pulitzer Awards surprised Harvard affiliates for both their conservative choices and celebration of the cutting-edge.
The Pulitzer Prize Board gave no awards in the Fiction or Editorial Writing categories, but also presented recognition to digital media outlets—Huffington Post and Politico—for the first time.
Although three authors were considered for the award in Fiction Writing, including David Foster Wallace and Dennis Johnson, no one was chosen.
The last time a fiction award was not given was 35 years ago, in 1977. The decision to withhold the award this year might be a sign of the Pulitzer’s more conservative tendencies, according to Managing Editor of the Harvard Book Review Ted J. Gioia ’12.
“The Pulitzer Prize does not have a good record of rewarding experimental and avant-garde literature,” he said, adding his surprise that “two titans... of the modern fiction scene” were not recognized.
Gioia suggested that perhaps the Board found this year’s nominees “too edgy.”
A similar situation occurred in 1974 when Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” considered by some to be a seminal work in the fiction canon, was supported by the three-member Pulitzer Prize jury but was ultimately denied recognition.
“They reinvest meaning in the award by taking a pause,” he said.
On the other hand, awards to both the Huffington Post and Politico mark a foray into new territory and a recognition of the growing influence of digital media.
“Original journalism, whether it’s done in traditional media or not, still counts and it still matters, and I think the Pulitzer committee recognized that,” David Skok, Nieman Fellow and a Canadian journalist, said. “[The Pulitzer Committee] looked at the stories as based in the content. That’s a very uplifting and comforting thing for digital journalists around the world.”
Borrowing a term from Harvard Business School’s Clayton M. Christensen, Skok described the way journalism is working as a “disruption.”
He referenced the increasing fragmentation of the journalism industry as social media outlets increasingly gather, produce, and distribute information.
Although the Huffington Post has received criticism for overdoing exactly this kind of aggregation, Skok suggested that it was still becoming more widespread.
“It really just suggests that these bottom end of the market publications are moving up the market,” Skok said. “I wouldn’t generalize and say that the Huffington Post is an aggregator. They do original reporting and won the Pulitzer for original reporting.”
The Pulitzers are often called the Oscars of the journalism industry.
“I think as all of our industry continues to go through disruption, awards and accolades are nice, but the overall trend and sentiment is more important—the overall quality of investigative reporting,” Skok said. “The Pulitzer helps some publications get some exposure, but it’s not the be all end all.”
Other awardees included Harvard English professor Stephen Greenblatt who won the Pulitzer for Nonfiction.
“I’m thrilled for him,” Skok said. “Anytime a Harvard faculty (member) wins an award, it’s a celebration for the entire community.”
—Staff writer Laya Anasu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
—Staff writer Radhika Jain can be reached at email@example.com