Pulitzer chief warns on foreign reporting

Tue, May 22, 2012, 01:00

A NEWS aggregation site better known for its pictures of puppies than hard-nosed journalism was honoured at the 96th annual Pulitzer Prize award-giving lunch held at Columbia University in New York yesterday.

The Huffington Post won the National Reporting prize for a series of feature articles on issues facing disabled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was the first year that an online-only media organisation won a prize, after the board governing the Pulitzers changed the rules to allow for that in 2009.

The win for the seven-year-old “Huff Po”, as it is known – which also conducts some of its own reporting and has hired some high-profile veteran reporters in recent years – raised some eyebrows when this year’s prizewinners were first announced in April.

Even US president Barack Obama made a thinly veiled joke about the type of material the Huffington Post is best known for during his recent speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

“There is no one else out there linking to the kinds of hard-hitting journalism that Huff Po is linking to every single day,” he said, adding, “And you don’t pay them – it’s a great business model.”

Others believed the move was overdue, however.

“It was remarkable because it was so unremarkable,” said Ryan Blethen, former editorial page editor and now director of new product strategies at the Seattle Times. “The internet goes into the planning for anything we do at the Seattle Times. It made sense to me.”

Co-chairman of the Pulitzer Prize Board, the well-known New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, was the keynote speaker at yesterday’s event.

A former Middle East Correspondent and three-time Pulitzer winner, Friedman told the 240 assembled guests that drastic cutbacks affecting foreign news reporting needed to be addressed.

“The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post have won a lot of prizes for international reporting in recent years. I predict they will win a lot more in the years to come because other news organisations have drastically cut back on their foreign reporting,” he said.

The Pulitzers are the top prize in American print media – a tradition started in 1917 after pioneering editor Joseph Pulitzer willed a $2 million fortune to Columbia University to establish a school of journalism (which celebrated its centenary this year).