The Hungarian born American, Joseph Pulitzer, was a fierce character in the journalism world in the latter years of the 19th century. His skilfulness and prowess in newspaper publishing pretty much distinguished him from the rest of his peers in the same profession. He was also considered a visionary. He was among the first people who saw a need for journalists to obtain training at the university level; and this he put into action. During his years, Pulitzer managed to amass a fortune from newspaper publishing which led him to start off a fund.
In 1904, Pulitzer drafted his will to set aside $2 million for the creation of a graduate school for Journalism in Columbia University and to allow for prizes to be given out to extraordinary individuals in the journalism industry. The Journalism school was established in 1912, a year after his death and the famous Pulitzer Prize followed suit in 1917, to be administered by the Columbia University.
Today the Pulitzer Prize awards writers and journalists alike in twenty one categories –and choices made by the Pulitzer board are announced by the President of Columbia University yearly during April. This year marked a century of the Pulitzer Prize with 100 years in awards since inception. Over the years the awards have been celebrated and marred with controversy equally as well. This is probably because the Pulitzer board usually debates amongst themselves on whom to award the prizes and they neither engage in publicly debating their decisions or defending them; a trait that they adopted with a policy of secrecy, which they’ve stood by over the years.
Notable controversies that have hit the Pulitzer Prize over the years include the awarding of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” in 1953, a lesser work than “For Whom the Bell Tolls” that was denied an award in 1941. Critics saw this as a nod to Ernest Hemingway’s work in the profession rather than a direct award on his work. In 1980, Janet Cooke wrote an article in the Washington post about an 8 year old boy addicted to cocaine from the tender age of 5. It was an interesting and thought provoking article that gained acclaim from all corners and even a Pulitzer award, except for one small detail; the entire story was a fabrication. Janet Cooke resigned from the Post and had her prize taken away.
Fast forward to today, the award is still held up high among the journalism profession. The 2016 awards culminated with an award on the AP for publishing an investigative piece on slaves which allowed for the rescue of more than 2000 slaves. It also recognized the work of the Washington Post in creating the Fatal Force in their enterprise segment. This refers to a database detailing the number of people killed by police in the United States in 2015. Other outstanding awards were by the New York magazine which had never received an award before but went on to win two, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work on the musical “Hamilton” and Joby Warrick’s book, “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS”.
100 years of the Pulitzer awards has been a great show of writers’ milestones and their achievements in the public sector. The award is more than just a prize but a show of the immense contribution writers give to the society while telling their stories.