Ohmigod, He Was Nominated For A Pulitzer Prize

I love reading how writers describe themselves in short bios on their books or columns or websites. It’s usually a profound window into how they view themselves and how they want you to see them.  (Here’s my self-description.)

A good proportion of people appear like fools by emphasizing their prizes (these things are usually more a reflection of the whims of the judges than excellence).

Even more foolish is when they emphasize how they were nominated for prizes.

Joshua Prager (Dennis Prager’s nephew) writes about himself at JoshuaPrager.com: "…was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize four times."

I emailed Josh:

I have no doubt you are a great writer and reporter but I wonder why writers such as yourself so often put in their self-description that they have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Please correct me if I am wrong, but can’t any journalist be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for any piece of crap writing? You simply have to have a form filled out and a fee paid and you’re nominated?

Am I missing something? Where is the distinction in being nominated?

Joshua Prager resigned from the Wall Street Journal this week. He wrote a lengthy resignation note to his colleagues, which has been published on Poynter. While he’s no Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, he’s interesting nevertheless because he’s so representative of his type (highly skilled craftsman whose work is no longer in demand). Here’s an excerpt:

…I knew that newspapers were dying daily, that the future of long-form journalism was at risk. And I knew how lucky I was to still have my job. But as my recent story on Raoul Wallenberg was cut from the three parts we’d agreed upon to two to one, I also knew that it was time for me to leave the paper, particularly once I learned that some in management had expressed the same opinion.

…Further, the worship of byline and word counts and all that is "urgent" has doubtless stifled the boundless creativity of the Journal staff. I hope the paper will address this problem. Implementing some version of the rule at 3M that lets employees spend 15 percent of their time on "projects of their own choosing" would benefit morale and yield wonderful stories.

The future of long-form journalism is not at risk. It will be published until the end of time, particularly in the form of books. The business model for newspapers, however, is broken. They can no longer afford to subsidize the long-form projects of most journalists, including Joshua Prager. That means there’s not much economic demand in the marketplace for this type of writing for newspapers.

I’ve yet to read the farewell comments of any journalist leaving a newspaper that comes to grips with this fact. They always obfuscate. They always view themselves and their colleagues in the rosiest of lights. If they wanted to act with integrity, they’d tell their publishers they’d be willing to work for wages that reflect the economic pay-off of their work. If they don’t want to break news, which pays the bills now at the Wall Street Journal, but instead pursue long-form journalism, they should be willing to take an appropriate pay cut, which would probably leave them with about 10% of their current wage. Or they should clearly state that their want their proclivities subsidized as their talents are not in enough demand in the marketplace to enable them to pay their bills.

I have to earn my living by doing a lot of things I don’t like. I don’t see that as a national tragedy and I don’t have much sympathy for the dramatic resignations of those who’ve been subsidized for so long.

Go pursue projects of your own choosing as I do, and find your own ways to pay the bills. The publisher is not the bad guy. They simply have to live in reality.

Joshua Prager emails me (I did not publish his initial response to me on Friday because I did not think he meant it for publication as it was written in all lower caps, I was wrong):

dear luke, why did you not have the decency to post my response to your email on your blog? (see below.) i have never been one to self-promote. and as regards the pulitzer nominations, i’d never mentioned them on my author bio until i left the journal this week. (my author bio had been quite simple. you can read it here: http://www.randomhouse.com/author/results.pperl?authorid=24439) although i’ve no idea, i don’t doubt what you say is correct about a person being able to self-nominate. what i do know is that at an esteemed paper like the journal, it is high praise to have an article nominated from among so much fine work. and after i left the paper, my nominations seemed an honor worth mentioning. you may disagree. but your mean-spiritedness is unnecessary and i’d appreciate it if you printed this whole note in response. thank you.

I asked Joshua why he included a commendation in his bio from disgraced plagiarist Doris Kearns Goodwin. He replied: “I still admire her.”

About Luke Ford

I’ve written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).

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