Times’ Pulitzers Create ‘Legend’ and Resentment

Seven Pulitzers. They didn’t expect that haul even within The New York Times.

“How many could they possibly give us?” a Times source wondered the week before the Pulitzers were awarded on

April 8. “Would

they go as high as five or six for one paper? They deliberately don’t

want to do that.”

But they did. History said the Pulitzer committee didn’t ever give more than three prizes to a

single newspaper-they liked to spread them around to papers large and small, the

theory went-but this was an extraordinary news year, redefined by the Sept.

11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent war in Afghanistan. And this year,

papers with the massive resources simply dominated.

Just six newspapers won 2002 Pulitzers, almost all of them big

boppers: In addition to The Times ‘ Ben-Hur -like

seven, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times each won two, and The Wall

Street Journal, Newsday and The Christian Science Monitor each won one. The Monitor is the only winner not in

the top 10 circulation papers in the country.

So it wasn’t surprising that, amid the ample praise from the competition

for The Times and its impressive year,

there were some questions as to whether the Pulitzer committee should have done

more to share the wealth. 

Dean Baquet, the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times , former New

York Times national editor and a Pulitzer juror this year, agreed that the New York Times entries warranted

awards, but said he saw a danger in concentrating so many awards in just a few

papers.

“This was the year of the big papers. The only papers that could

compete on Sept. 11 were the biggest papers,” Mr. Baquet said, fully aware that the

top-10 L.A. Times isn’t

exactly the Nantucket Beacon. “The

troublesome thing is the dominance of a handful of big papers. I think it’s

probably an aberration, but we should be worried.”

Rex Smith, the managing editor of the Albany Times Union as well as Pulitzer juror, said that when The Times kicks into high gear, his

100,000-circulation paper has little hope of going up against the resources

over on West 43rd Street. Mr. Smith said that while his entire editorial staff

is 140 people, The Times ‘

metro editor, Jonathon Landman, “has that many reporters at his disposal” just

for himself.

But even within The Times

itself, there was a ripple of concern that the paper’s remarkable performance

could discourage smaller papers from embarking on ambitious projects. “You

want the Bulletin in Bend, Ore., to

think that if they spend a lot of money on a series, that someone will notice,” the

source said.

And, of course, there are other papers in New York. The Post ‘s Andrea Peyser pilloried the Pulitzer committee

on April 9 for passing on the Hackensack, N.J., Record ‘s Iwo Jima–esque Ground Zero flag-raising photo in favor of a Times portfolio from Sept. 11. And the Daily News , which was widely praised

for its street-level work in the wake of Sept. 11, came up Pulit-empty after

being nominated for breaking news (won by The

Wall Street Journal ) and commentary

(won by Thomas Friedman at The Times. )

“We wouldn’t be human if we weren’t disappointed,” said News editor Ed Kosner. “But

everyone knows what superb and heroic work our staff did on Sept. 11 and

thereafter, and that’s a reward in itself.”

The Wall Street Journal won

in the breaking-news category for its Sept. 12 edition, but there, too, there

were raised eyebrows that in a year of extensive coverage from Pakistan and

Afghanistan, as well as groundbreaking coverage of the Enron bankruptcy, the

paper had received only that one nomination.

But Paul Steiger, the managing editor of The Journal, said he was

thrilled with his one Pulitzer. “It’s only recently that we’ve

even begun to win one or two on a fairly frequent basis. Each one carries a

thrill,”

Mr. Steiger said. ” The New York Times won

seven. We don’t begrudge them that.”

The Times was certainly

aware of how unique the paper’s Pulitzer performance was. To celebrate

the record haul on Monday afternoon, Times

publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and executive editor Howell Raines enlisted

a small army of the paper’s past heroes. Mr. Sulzberger’s father, Arthur Sulzberger Sr., was in

attendance, as were the paper’s last three executive editors: A.M.

Rosenthal, Max Frankel and Joe Lelyveld. There was also Arthur Gelb, who was

second-in-command to Mr. Rosenthal, and Bill Keller, the Times managing editor under Mr. Lelyveld and now an Op-Ed

columnist.

Mr. Raines, who took over as executive editor just prior to Sept.

11, acknowledged his forebears in the room, paying special note to his direct

predecessor, Mr. Lelyveld. “We all stand on their shoulders,” Mr.

Raines said.

Four of The Times ‘

seven Pulitzers were given simply to “the staff of The New York Times .” Mr. Raines emphasized the communality of

the awards. ” The Times ‘

awards reflect not just our efforts, but the strength we draw from The Times ‘

traditions, our mentors and our enduring standards,” he said. “So every

Times person here today is a

stakeholder in these awards and a trustee of the tradition represented by the Times people of all ages.”

The Times, like every

other organization has its feuds, grievances and tensions. But, for the moment,

these were largely swept aside by institutional pride. Mr. Rosenthal, a

divisive figure at The Time s, made

his first trip to the newsroom since he stopped writing his column for the

Op-Ed page. Mr. Frankel, whose differences with Mr. Rosenthal are the stuff of

another kind of Times legend, said, “The

reason we were there, the reason we applauded each other, was because of the

pride we feel in The Time s.” He

added, “There

is a continuity there of a staff built over many generations.”

The party continued on into the evening, with dancing later at

the nearby, velvety Laura Belle banquet hall, but a day later, it was the

emotion in the newsroom that the staffers past and present recalled the

most. 

“I started as a copy boy in 1944, and I’ve sensed emotion in

that room numerous times,” Mr. Gelb said. “But never as palpable as yesterday.”

A

merican Son ,

Richard Blow’s dishy book about working with John F. Kennedy Jr. at George magazine, won’t be

published until May 3, but Kennedy loyalists and cranky George staffers are all ready to pounce. There’s

just one problem for them: Henry Holt, the publisher of Mr. Blow’s

book, has made everyone who’s seen it sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Of course, Mr. Blow has a little history with confidentiality

pacts. Mr. Blow cited George ‘s

confidentiality pact, which prevented magazine staffers from dishing on

Kennedy, when he  sacked two

contributors who spoke to media outlets shortly after Kennedy’s

death in a plane crash off the coast of Cape Cod in July 1999. Then Mr. Blow

got bit himself, when he lost an earlier $750,000 book deal with Little, Brown

because of the same pact.

The confidentiality agreement for American Son , which was read to us by a magazine book editor,

prevents anyone who receives a galley from Holt from disclosing its contents to

anyone else before May 15. “I couldn’t make copies and then hand them out to

former George staffers,” said

the editor. 

The book editor also speculated that the agreement will prevent

anyone from slamming the book until after Mr. Blow completes a round of

publicity, which, along with an excerpt of the book in the May issue of Vanity Fair , will include an appearance

on NBC’s

Today show and a sit-down interview

with Barbara Walters for ABC’s 20/20 .

A spokesperson for Holt said that wasn’t the intent of the non-disclosure agreement at

all, insisting that the publisher was only protecting the exclusivity of Vanity Fair ‘s rights to the book in

its May issue. “We didn’t embargo this book, but because of the serial-rights deal with Vanity Fair , we had to treat it as

such,”

the spokesperson said.

A Vanity Fair

spokesperson acknowledged that the magazine did have a problem with Holt’s

initial plan to send out a lot of unfettered review copies of American Son when the Condé Nast

publication had paid for an excerpt. 

A spokesperson for Mr. Blow did not return a call for comment. In

any case, Mr. Blow shouldn’t expect an early review from The New York Times Book Review . Editor

Charles McGrath said he hadn’t seen the book because “I

will not sign non-disclosure agreements, period.”

-G.S.

With the April 9 edition of The Wall Street Journal -complete with color, new typefaces and

layout, and something called “The Personal Journal”-the

stuffy stalwart of American business journalism dipped its toe into the pastel

waters of modern newspaper marketing.

Invariably, some will consider the new-look Journal the newspaper equivalent of  Jennifer Grey, post–nose job: Sure, now it looks more like

everyone else, but dang, there was something sexy about the original.

“There are some veteran readers who want The Journal to be mysterious,” WSJ

managing editor Paul Steiger conceded. For those readers, he said, The Journal “was like organic

chemistry is for a doctor-you want everyone else to go through what you went through,

whether they need it or not.” 

Tweaking The Journal

was no easy task, of course. By Dow Jones chief executive Peter Kann’s own

estimates, the company spent four years and $225 million to do it. Moreover,

introducing a two-column breaking-news story posed its own problems on a page

that’s

been defined for so long by its “leder” stories in columns 1 and 6, and it’s “A-hed”

feature in the center of the page.  

“We didn’t know what to call it,” said Mike Miller, the paper’s

page 1 editor, of the new addition. “For a while we were calling it ‘Bob,’ just

because we couldn’t think of anything else. Finally [Money & Investing editor]

Larry Ingrassia started calling it the ‘extra story.’ That seems to have stuck.”

For the past three to four weeks, editors of The Journal had been treating their 11 a.m. meetings as dry runs.

Each day they asked: If this was the new Journal,

what would be our breaking-news story that day? What would be the illustration?

How would we play it?

On Monday, April 8, Mr. Steiger and Mr. Miller had a number of

options. There was I.B.M. falling short of estimates, and indications that news

might break on either Enron or Arthur Andersen. Both said they leaned towards

leading with an exclusive interview Gerald Seib had with President George W.

Bush, but its timing-5 p.m.-posed deadline problems.

“One thing about this administration,” Mr. Steiger said, “is

that they do things on time. The interview was supposed to run from 5 to 5:30

p.m., and they kept to that.”

As a result, Mr. Seib filed his piece by 6:15 p.m., in time for

the paper’s

first edition.

When asked about the added wrinkle of the new format, Mr. Miller

said: “I

like it, but it’s definitely more difficult. I guess sleep is a thing of the

past.”

-Sridhar

Pappu