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Marketplace Scratch Pad

No Pulitzers for financial journalists

Scott Jagow Apr 20, 2009

The Pulitzer Prizes were awarded today, and even though the economy has been the dominant story in every paper for months, not one financial journalist won first prize. This was also the first year wholly online publishers could compete. And there were no winners there either.

It’s been my experience that journalism awards usually at least give one nod to coverage of the biggest story of the year, so the lack of awards for financial journalism surprises me. Clusterstock points out some of the financial stories that were finalists and some that were overlooked:

The big oversight is probably the lack of a prize or even a finalist hand-clap for Kate Kelly, whose stories in the Wall Street Journal about the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers have been so important to shaping the public understanding of those crucial deaths on Wall Street weekends last year. The Journal’s editorial board was also overlooked despite its withering coverage of Fannie Mae.

Last year, only one Pulitzer was given to a financial journalist, and that was in commentary to Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post. Clusterstock’s take on that:

We tend to think that this was a bit of punishment for the crazed backdating scandal hysteria, which took the Public Service Pulitzer–often considered the top prize–in 2007. That turned out to be the Non-Story Of the Century, and perhaps the Pulitzer committee decided to just avoid the whole field.

Two years in a row? When so many papers have devoted their resources to covering the economy? I know financial journalism has taken heat for not doing a better job leading up to the economic collapse. Some of that criticism is well-justified, even though there were some good stories along the way. But Pulitzer seems out of touch by ignoring it this year. Especially when you consider some of the winners:

The Detroit Free Press for uncovering lies by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick that included denial of a sexual relationship with an aide.

The New York Times for its coverage of a sex scandal that resulted in the resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Maybe financial journalists didn’t force enough people to be thrown in jail or resign. Or maybe stories about credit default swaps just can’t compete with a good sex scandal.

It’s not a big deal. I just thought it was a little surprising. But most of the journalists I know don’t do their jobs so they’ll win awards. And the audience only cares that good reporting and explanations about the economy show up in the paper or on the radio or online. They don’t care if somebody gets a plaque or a statue for it.

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