This week’s essential reads: If you’re pressed for time, the key pieces this week were The New York Times’ Margaret Sullivan on the value of the Pulitzers, sociology professor Zeynep Tufekci on the role of the Internet in protests and government in Turkey and elsewhere, and journalism professor Duy Linh Tu‘s video report on the state of news video.
Do the Pulitzers still matter?: The Pulitzer Prizes were awarded this week, and they were accompanied by a bit more drama than usual. The big headline was The Guardian and The Washington Post’s shared public service award for their reporting on U.S. National Security Agency surveillance through documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Snowden called the awards “a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government,” and Barton Gellman, who led the Post’s coverage, praised executive editor Martin Baron’s leadership.
Coming into this week’s announcement, questions about the Pulitzers had centered on whether the board would award a prize to such a politically controversial story, an issue explored by Agence France-Presse and Poynter’s Roy Harris Jr. Afterward, NYU’s Jay Rosen remarked on the distinctly international and networked nature of the Snowden story, which allowed it to make a judiciously organized global impact. “In its entirety the Snowden story system is a hard thing to hang a prize on. But we know what some of its principles are,” he wrote.
The other major story arising from this year’s prizes came from the conflict between the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News over who should get credit for their collaborative project on medical benefits for coal miners with black lung. After CPI’s Chris Hamby was awarded the investigative reporting Pulitzer for the story, ABC News president Ben Sherwood sent a letter to CPI executive director Bill Buzenberg asking the organization to share its Pulitzer with ABC News. Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler denied ABC’s request, and a nasty back-and-forth between ABC and CPI ensued in which Buzenberg contended that Hamby in fact saved ABC from its “serious factual inaccuracies” and “a continued lack of understanding of basic, key concepts.” Hamby, meanwhile, jumped to BuzzFeed to join the growing investigative desk there.
The Pulitzer board also made news by giving no award in the feature writing category. Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark posited a few theories of why no award might have been given, including judging fatigue and genre confusion. At the Columbia Journalism Review, Bill Grueskin explained why The New York Times’ celebrated “Dasani” feature might have been shut out of the feature writing category, while Ryan Chittum defended the story.
Times public editor (and former Pulitzer board member) Margaret Sullivan made the case for the prizes’ continued relevance, arguing that while they do lead to too-long prize-bait stories, “the Pulitzers encourage journalists and news organizations to strive to do their best; the prizes provide a benchmark, a focal point and an inspiration for outstanding work.” FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver looked at the data and concluded that Pulitzer-winning newspapers continue to have more readers than non-winners, but Pulitzers aren’t necessarily helping them retain readers.
Vox and The Intercept deflect criticism: After the mixed initial reviews for the new explanatory journalism site Vox last week, co-founders Ezra Klein and Melissa Bell talked to New York magazine and The Guardian, respectively, about some of the early criticism. Salon’s Elias Isquith looked at Vox’s (and fellow journalism upstart FiveThirtyEight’s) conflicted relationship with journalistic objectivity, and The Economist juxtaposed Vox’s explanatory aims with Klein’s initial piece explaining that simply adding information doesn’t actually help people’s political understanding, praising Klein for having “the audacity to launch a new publication presumably meant to shore up American democracy through access to better information with a lengthy meditation on the pointlessness of doing just that.”
Another new news site, First Look Media’s The Intercept, also came under fire this week from Pando Daily for its silence, going almost 10 days without publishing an article. New Intercept editor-in-chief John Cook responded by explaining that he’s been working to get the site prepared to be a “full-bore news operation” rather than one solely devoted to a single (very important) story. He also answered questions from readers about the site’s future in the post’s comments section; Nieman Lab and Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram collected some of the highlights.
Each of those three organizations — Vox, FiveThirtyEight, First Look — has been criticized for its lack of diversity, and at the Columbia Journalism Review, Ann Friedman highlighted 16 women whose digital startups deserve the kind of praise those three have gotten. Digiday’s Lucia Moses wondered why these new ventures have been getting so much blowback, and at The Guardian, Emily Bell said that while we haven’t figured out a sustainable model for journalism to replace the traditional one, First Look has been thoughtful in considering what a new news organization should look like.
A new daily paper in L.A.: Freedom Communications, owners of the Orange County Register in southern California, launched the Los Angeles Register this week. The new daily newspaper, which has a newsroom staff of about 40, is the latest of the substantial investment that publisher Aaron Kushner has poured into the Register since buying Freedom in 2012. The Associated Press’ Ryan Nakashima detailed Kushner’s print-centric strategy behind the new Register.Kushner described the new paper’s political perspective to Southern California Public Radio as “very much pro-business, right of center.” LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick said the paper may be able to scoop up enough conservative readers looking to pay for a new local newspaper to make the venture worth it, though they won’t have much institutional reputation to rest on. The Lab’s Ken Doctor analyzed the business side of the launch, noting that the new Register may be more about staking out some turf in the not-fully-tapped L.A. market than producing a large-scale rival to the Los Angeles Times. “Yes, print advertising is in decline — but if you can be one of the last two big print publishers in that big a market, there’s a lot of business,” he wrote.
Twitter brings its data sales in-house: Twitter bought the social data company Gnip this week, bringing in-house one of only a few companies that had access to Twitter’s “firehose” of complete tweet data to repackage and resell it to other clients. As ReadWrite’s Selena Larson pointed out, Twitter is cutting out the middleman and selling its data directly. Quartz’s Leo Mirani noted that Gnip is bringing in a declining share of Twitter’s revenue, but said Twitter’s had a history of buying successful partners, and Gnip gives Twitter a chance to grow its data-licensing business.
Likewise, Mike Isaac of Recode said the Gnip purchase is a sign that Twitter is finally starting to take its data licensing seriously as a revenue stream. Fortune’s Erin Griffith predicted that the deal might lead to less openness in the social data business: Gnip also provides data for several other social networks, which might now cut it off, and Twitter may now cut off Gnip’s competitors from its own data.
Reading roundup: A few other stories to check out this week:— The Chicago Sun-Times announced that it’s temporarily killing comments with plans to build a new commenting system, and Digiday’s Ricardo Bilton wrote about other news organizations’ moves away from comment sections. The Lab’s Joshua Benton noted that the reason may not just be low-quality comments, but that in a news organization built around social sharing, asking readers to comment may simply be too much. Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram argued that rather than kill comments or outsource the conversation to social media, news organizations should try to improve them. Doctoral student Jeff Swift gave some tips on what makes comment sections work.
— A new report found that 44 percent of Twitter accounts have never sent a tweet. Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram said Twitter needs to find out how to make itself more accessible for a broader set of users, though Forbes’ Mark Rogowsky said the problem isn’t a low ratio of active users (which he said shouldn’t be considered low at all), but Twitter’s continued attempts to ape Facebook.— Finally, there were several longer pieces worth reading this week: Journalism professor Nikki Usher’s report on changing newsroom spaces for changing forms of digital journalism, sociology professor Zeynep Tufekci’s piece on the protests in Turkey and the ambiguous role of the Internet in politics and activism, Ken Doctor’s analysis at the Lab from late last week on billionaire newspaper owners and the unchaining of U.S. journalism, and a Tow Center video report led by Duy Linh Tu on the state of news video.