THE PULITZER PRIZE by Douglas J. Bates


The Inside Story of America's Most Prestigious Award
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 In a thought-provoking, if uneven, exposÇ, Bates, former general news editor of The Seattle Times, uses the stories of three Pulitzer candidates to dissect the Pulitzer mystique. Blessed with a demographer's dream in his three subjects here- -a Jewish female, an Irish-Catholic male, and a female Protestant child of privilege (all worthy candidates for the 1990 prize in specialized reporting)--Bates intersperses chapters detailing the making of a prize-winning journalist with the saga of the prizes themselves. What sort of man was Pulitzer, and how have the Columbia Univ. Graduate School of Journalism and the prizes established in his will variously honored and besmirched his legacy? The well-documented point is that ``just as the Pulitzer honors these journalists, they in turn ennoble the prize.'' Bates argues that the prizes, encouragement of excellence aside, remain mired in ethical dilemmas: honoring investigative journalism while insisting on strict secrecy; allowing news executives to judge literature, drama, and music; maintaining a cronyism that may perpetuate an eastern, white, male bias. A spirited advocate for change, Bates favors such reforms as a more open judging process and an end to the disconsonant music award. Unfortunately, the arguments are consistently undercut by his ponderous prose (does he have to explain that the ``butterflies'' in the home of an anxious finalist were merely ``figurative''?), redundancy (it's helpful to learn the correct pronunciation of PULL-it-sir, but why tell us twice?), and lack of subtlety (Bates never stops underlining the nifty ethnic diversity of his subjects). He also makes little attempt to explain his methodology, aside from his lurking outside the board room during final deliberations and mailing out questionnaires. Nevertheless, the reader comes away caring about the protagonists and being concerned for the future of American journalism. A frequently illuminating study that should prove useful to neophyte reporters--but hardly Pulitzer Prize material. (Eight pages of photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1991
ISBN: 1-55972-070-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Birch Lane Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1991