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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

Online journalism shines in 2012 Pulitzer picks

The Huffington Post and Politico join the ranks of online-only (or online-mostly) Pulitzer winners.

As far as awards go, the Pulitzer Prizes are the traditional standard of journalistic excellence. But this year’s winners, just announced, show that the judges continue to have an eye for new sources of quality journalism.

While newspapers like The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times celebrate their wins on Monday, online-native sites Politico and the Huffington Post are also breaking out the bubbly. They won for editorial cartooning and national reporting, respectively. (Politico has a print edition, of course, but it’s hard to argue that it’s anything but webby in its metabolism — and in terms of where its audience is.)

Of the 14 Pulitzer Prizes that were awarded for journalism, nine went to traditional newspapers. Of the five others, two went to HuffPo and Politico; one went to Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger; and two went to venerable wire services AP and AFP. (It was AFP’s first; it was AP’s 50th. The 14 journalism Pulitzers came in 13 categories; no one won for editorial writing, and two awards were given for investigative reporting.)

(UPDATE: One other online laurel we overlooked: The Denver Post’s Craig F. Walker won the Pulitzer for feature photography for work that appeared in an online-only series last December.)

The Huffington Post’s and Politico’s wins, in particular, feel like victories for their editorial models. While different from one another, both are fueled by aggressive web-native approaches — HuffPo built much of its audience on aggregation and free content from bloggers, and Politico’s fast pace aims to “win the morning” (and the afternoon, and probably the overnight shift too). But those strategies don’t have to be in conflict with doing the kind of quality work that can win Pulitzers — in HuffPo’s case, an eight-month, 10-part series on returning war veterans.

After decades of having a comparatively narrow frame for potential entrants — television, magazines, and radio were kept out, for instance — the Pulitzers been open to online-only sites since 2009. With ProPublica becoming the first online news organization to win a Pulitzer for investigative reporting back in 2010. That same year, independent cartoonist Mark Fiore won the prize for drawings of his published on SFGate.com. ProPublica won another Pulitzer in 2011.

This year, Pulitzer officials note that digital content “played a role in seven winning entries: Public Service, Breaking News Reporting, Investigative Reporting, Explanatory Reporting, National Reporting, Editorial Cartooning and Breaking News Photography.”

Digital content was a particular emphasis in the breaking news category this year, with the call for entries that emphasize speed and real-time reporting that, “as quickly as possible, captures events accurately as they occur, and, as times passes, illuminates, provides context and expands upon the initial coverage.” The Tuscaloosa News picked up the prize in that category for “coverage of a deadly tornado, using social media as well as traditional reporting to provide real-time updates, help locate missing people and produce in-depth print accounts even after power disruption forced the paper to publish at another plant 50 miles away.”

Click here for the complete list of prize winners.

Disclosure: Nieman Foundation curator Ann Marie Lipinski is co-chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board. Nieman Journalism Lab director Joshua Benton sat on the breaking news jury.

                                   
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