What is a Pulitzer Prize?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 May 2020
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A Pulitzer Prize is an American prize awarded for distinction in the arts. The Pulitzer Prizes are particularly associated with journalism, but prizes are also awarded in the fields of music and literature. A win is a great honor, especially for a newspaper, with the all time record for Pulitzer Prizes held by the New York Times, with 95 collective Pulitzers as of 2007. Incidentally, the pronunciation, according to Columbia University, is “pull it sir.”

The prizes are named for Joseph Pulitzer, a prominent late 19th and early 20th century journalist who revolutionized the New York World, a major New York City newspaper. Under Pulitzer, the paper became renowned for hard-hitting investigative journalism, and it also contributed to public service through a variety of public campaigns. One year after Pulitzer's death in 1911, the Columbia University School of Journalism was founded, and in 1917 the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded by a panel of judges drawn from this institution and “persons of distinction.” The Pulitzer board continues to include academics and scholars from Columbia University, as well as prestigious members of the news community.

There are 21 Pulitzer Prizes: one in music, six in literature, and 14 in journalism. The journalism prizes include awards for investigative reporting, editorial cartooning, breaking news photography, breaking news reporting, explanatory reporting, national reporting, criticism, international reporting, feature photography, editorial writing, commentary, local reporting, feature writing, and public service. Pulitzer Prize winning photographs in particular have often become extremely famous, chronicling important events in human history or portraying emotional scenes through the lens of a camera. In literature, Pulitzer Prizes are awarded in fiction, drama, poetry, history, biography, and general nonfiction.

The winner of a Pulitzer Prize receives a $10,000 US award along with a certificate acknowledging the achievement. The Public Service award is given to newspapers, not individuals, although a specific journalist may be recognized in the text of the citation, and the newspaper receives a Pulitzer medal cast in gold with an image of Pulitzer's face on one side, and a hand-operated printing press on the other.

Typically, newspapers nominate themselves for Pulitzer Prizes by submitting the relevant material along with an entry form. In order to qualify, the newspaper must be published in the United States at least once a week, but the journalist submitted for the prize need not be American. Competitors in the music and literature categories likewise submit their own entries, which include copies of the work that they are nominating.

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Post 2

For the literature prizes, I believe that the material must in some way relate to America and American life; beyond that, though, I don't think there are many restrictions on what the works must include, though it explains why very few fantasy or science fiction books win, since they are less likely to involve a world with America and Earth.

Post 1

The Pulitzer gold medal for public service bears the likeness of Benjamin Franklin, not Joseph Pulitzer. Also, it is now gold-plated silver, and is no longer "cast in gold." One good source for information on the Pulitzers is my 2008 book, "Pulitzer's Gold: Behind the Prize for Public Service Journalism." With regards, R. Harris

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