The Pulitzer Prize Board “on rare occasions” bestows something known as a “Special Award” on an “individual of particular merit.” The board last issued such a distinction in the journalism field in 1996, to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen for serving as “a voice and conscience of his city.” Dept. of Media hereby nominates Washington Post feature writer Anne Hull for Special Award consideration.
Hull’s qualification? She recently became a Pulitzer finalist for the sixth time, for a series of stories on the turmoil of being young and gay in the United States. Her first three finalist designations came while working at the St. Petersburg Times; her latest three have come in consecutive years—2003, 2004, and 2005—and recognize her work at the Post.
It’s tempting to call Hull the Susan Lucci of journalism, but Lucci in 1999 ended her streak of Emmy futility by winning her coveted Outstanding Lead Actress award. Hull has become journalism’s icon for sustained, unrewarded excellence. According to the Pulitzer bosses, no one has come this close so many times. “This office cannot think of anybody who’s had more than six since we started [releasing the names of finalists] in 1980,” says Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes.
Hull declines to comment on her extraordinary run of runner-ups, but her colleagues have some thoughts on the matter. “Anne is obviously one of the most talented, original feature writers in the country,” says former Managing Editor Steve Coll via e-mail. “Juries of her peers—working editors—keep nominating her as a finalist over scores of competing entries year after year, so it’s not just us who think so. I just don’t know how to explain the board’s apparent skepticism about her work.”
David Maraniss, Hull’s editor, says, “She deserves at least one. The fact that she hasn’t won is heartbreaking to me.”
While Hull’s Post crew may be heartbroken over her winless record, there are thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of journalists, poets, historians, and thinkers who have gotten career mileage out of the Pulitzer’s cold shoulder. These folks aren’t too hard to find—they’re commonly designated in press releases or event listings as “Pulitzer nominees.”
James Olson, a historian at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, is one of them. A few years back, the university newspaper announced, “Pulitzer nominee to sign copies of book,” a plug for Olson’s opus, Bathsheba’s Breast: Women, Cancer, and History. Olson says the credential derives from a letter he received from his publisher, the Johns Hopkins University Press. “It said, ‘Congratulations, we’ve put you in for the Pulitzer Prize for Bathsheba’s Breast,’” recalls Olson.
Margaret Galambos, awards coordinator for the press, says Olson’s book was chosen among 20-odd books for the publisher’s nod.
And therein lies the rub. The “terminology” section of the Pulitzer Web site acknowledges no such term as “Pulitzer nominee.” There’s only the self-explanatory “winner” and “nominated finalist,” Hull’s domain. Pulitzer folks do have a name for people like Olson, though.
“We call those people ‘entrants’ and try to reserve the term nominee for the finalists….Anybody could send something in with the $50 handling charge,” says Gissler. “I encourage people to maintain the distinction between an entrant and a nominated finalist. I’m sure there are people who call themselves nominees and have just sent in the entry. They’re nominees in a very limited sense of the term.”
Actually, there’s nothing limited about the term “Pulitzer nominee.” It’s everywhere, especially in university press releases and listings for lectures and the like. The term excites any organization that wants to hype its new hire or guest lecturer.
For example, when Western Carolina University announced its new John A. Parris Jr. and Dorothy Luxton Parris Distinguished Professor in Appalachian Cultural Studies, here’s how it headlined the press release: “PULITZER NOMINEE RON RASH NAMED WCU’S PARRIS PROFESSOR.”
Rash’s “nomination” comes courtesy of Iris Press, a company in Oak Ridge, Tenn., that produces about four books a year, according to Robert Cumming, Iris’ publisher. How many does Iris pass along to the Pulitzers? “Some years we send almost all of them,” says Cumming.
Says Rash of the nod from Iris: “It’s certainly an honor. Obviously, it’s even better if you’re a finalist or a winner.”
Sure, but “nominee” is so flexible. Florida poet Lola Haskins says that publishing houses have submitted her work for Pulitzer consideration several times. She says that using the unsanctioned credential helps draw crowds for poetry readings. “It is absolutely true: To the general public, if you say you’re a Pulitzer nominee, you draw a larger audience,” says Haskins. “Once we get [them] there, we hope to reward them.”
With each year, the universe of people who feel entitled to the nominee designation creeps up by an indeterminate number. Gissler reports that this year, the Pulitzers received 2,550 entries across all categories, a number consistent with previous years. An elite few will lay claim to finalist designations, another subset will refuse to let the word “Pulitzer” appear on their résumés, and some will leverage the fact that their editors saw fit to send their work to the Pulitzer judges.
Pamela Schaeffer got three nods from the brass at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the ’80s, a distinction of which she’s justifiably proud. And just like that, Schaeffer became a “three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.” A few years back, Schaeffer left journalism and now works as director of communications for the Society of the Sacred Heart (U.S. Province). Her Pulitzer credentials helped facilitate the move. “I just went and asked [the woman who] weeded out the résumés—I asked if this made any difference, and she said, ‘Absolutely.’”
A Real Curveball
The Post and the Washington Times have done a superb job of cheerleading the launch of the Washington Nationals. But nothing quite compares with this bit of boosterism from the Washington Examiner. It comes in the form of an online poll, and here it is, verbatim:
The Nationals home opener is here and the team is looking good. Worth all the trouble and expense?
No doubt about it. This is worth all the sweat, deals and debt.
It’s a great show but over the years ahead, it will prove to be a lot less than hoped for all around.
No one can tell the future. Let’s enjoy what we have, Major League Baseball in Washington.
As of mid-afternoon on April 14, Choice No. 1 led the field with 43 percent of the vote, followed by Choice No. 2 with 30 percent and Choice No. 3 with 27 percent. Total vote count: 40.
Philip Anschutz, Ad Rep
The Washington Examiner is a free paper, and it’s not exactly bursting with ads. Choice advertising real estate in the paper—such as the back page—sometimes carries Examiner house ads.
Yet Examiner Editor in Chief John Wilpers insists no one’s freaking out about the bottom line at the 2-and-a-half-month-old publication. “There has never been a discussion of when we must hit profitability,” said Wilpers last week at the convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Such are the luxuries furnished by $5 billion. That’s roughly the net worth of the Examiner’s owner, Denver mogul Philip Anschutz. According to Wilpers, “Anschutz’s commitment is unlimited.” And how: Anschutz would like to take his newspaper franchise to the nearly 70 U.S. cities where he’s applied to trademark the Examiner name.
Furthermore, the billionaire is actually making ad pitches for the Washington Examiner. “Anschutz is out selling himself,” said Wilpers. “The guy has proven he’ll stick to things through thick and thin.”—Erik Wemple