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Online News Organizations Compete For Pulitzers

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Online News Organizations Compete For Pulitzers

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Online News Organizations Compete For Pulitzers

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Later today, Columbia University will announce the winners of the 2009 Pulitzer Prizes. This year for the first time the prizes include online news organizations. They're competing in all 14 journalism categories. Some of the biggest names in the online business though didn't bother to apply. NPR's David Gura reports.

DAVID GURA: In 2007, Josh Marshall, the editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo, an online news and opinion site, was the first person to identify and reveal the full scope of the politicization of the Justice Department under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez.

For his work on the story, Marshall won a George Polk Award. At the time, some people said he should have won a Pulitzer Prize - perhaps the highest honor in American print journalism. But back then, because of where he works and because of the medium in which he works, Marshall wasn't eligible. Sig Gissler is the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes. He says that times have changed.

Mr. SIG GISSLER (Pulitzer Prize Administrator): We expanded the online aspect of the competition and made it open to online-only news organizations, provided they were primarily dedicated to original news reporting and the coverage of ongoing events.

GURA: Those are important stipulations. To be eligible for a Pulitzer Prize, a site must show that original news reporting outweighs aggregated content from other news sites. Gissler says that the onus is on the news organization to make the case that it meets the standard.

Ms. JOAN WALSH (Salon.com): I felt like somebody had a formula someplace that they weren't entirely sharing with me, and it just felt like more trouble than it was worth at that point.

GURA: Joan Walsh is the editor-in-chief of Salon.com. Although she applauds the Pulitzer board for recognizing the contributions of online news organizations, she doesn't think the guidelines were clear enough.

Ultimately, Salon.com didn't apply for a Pulitzer. Neither did Slate.com. The chairman and editor-in-chief of the Slate Group wasn't sure it qualified. And Josh Marshall says Talking Points Memo didn't submit anything either.

So who did? Well, at least two nonprofit sites — the St. Louis Beacon and MinnPost.com. Susan Albright is an editor of MinnPost.com, which is based in Minnesota.

Ms. SUSAN ALBRIGHT (Editor, MinnPost.com): We do cover some national and international stories, but they usually have a Minnesota angle of some kind. We sent, for example, John Camp to Iraq last January, along with a photographer and videographer, and they spent a good bit of time there, writing news about Minnesotans who are there. So we do news, but we do it in a different way.

GURA: Susan Albright, who has served as a Pulitzer juror twice, submitted that series by John Camp for a Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. She says the prize would mean a lot to her small staff of reporters and freelancers based in Minneapolis.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: To have the knowledge that your own peers saw your work as the best in a certain category I think is very important. And I think it would be terrific. I mean for an online news site to win something like that would be great.

GURA: Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, says that the Pulitzer Board will continue to, in his words, monitor the impact of the Internet.

Mr. GISSLER: The Pulitzer Prizes are a living organism, and we take into account what's happening in the world of journalism, in the world of news media, and we'll, I'm sure, continue to do that.

GURA: Two weeks ago, Joan Walsh says she talked to Sig Gissler and he addressed some of her questions.

Ms. WALSH: We absolutely will apply next year.

GURA: The winners of this year's Pulitzer Prizes will be announced this afternoon.

David Gura, NPR News, Washington.

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