Following Monday’s news that no Pulitzer Prize will be awarded in the coveted Feature Writer category this year, angry journalists around the country did what angry journalists do best: aired their grievances on Twitter.
The Pulitzer Prize Board at New York’s Columbia University, which administers the awards, had considered three finalists in the category: Scott Farwell of the Dallas Morning News, for his profile of a child abuse survivor; Christopher Goffard of the Los Angeles Times, for his story about an ex-police officer's killing spree; and Mark Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for his detailed look at a group of first-year medical students. That no worthy contender could be found among them caused a stir with countless fellow journalists.
No Pulitzer winner for feature writing this year. C'mon.
â€” Hank Stuever (@hankstuever) April 14, 2014
â€” Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) April 14, 2014
No award for Feature Writing? Really? http://t.co/VON0BarDIB
â€” Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) April 14, 2014
Despite the outcry, Sig Gissler, an administrator for the Pulitzer Prize Board, said the lack of a winner shouldn’t reflect poorly on the nominees. “It’s not a statement on the quality of feature writing in America,” he said in a phone interview. “They were thoroughly discussed and carefully considered.”
The 17 voting members of the board select Pulitzer winners from nominees chosen by jury, but occasionally, none of the chosen nominees will secure the majority needed to win. If all 17 members vote, that means one of the three nominees would have to get nine votes. “You have to have a majority in order to win a prize,” Gissler said. “It’s always unfortunate, because we like to give out our prizes.”
Exactly why no nominee was deemed worthy will have to remain a mystery. Gissler said multiple factors go into the decision, but what happens at the voting table, stays at the voting table. “We don’t get into explaining what the deliberations entail,” he said.
The no-prize phenomenon is by no means unprecedented -- this is 63rd time in the Pulitzers’ history that no winner was awarded in a particular category. Nevertheless, the decision, when it happens, is often met with controversy. In 2012, the board did not name a Pulitzer winner for the fiction category. Among the nominees was the late David Foster Wallace, whose nominated work, “The Pale King,” was published posthumously. Fans were livid at the snub, and the New York Times even asked a group of literary experts to conduct their own revote.
The last time the Pulitzer Board failed to award a prize for feature writing was in 2004 (which, it should be noted, predated Twitter by two years). Nominees that year were the L.A. Times’ Robert Lee Hotz, who reported on the Columbia shuttle disaster; the Washington Post’s Anne Hull and Tamara Jones, who wrote about wounded soldiers returning from Iraq; and the Boston Globe’s Patricia Wen, who chronicled states’ efforts to terminate the rights of parents.
Colleagues of this year’s nominees -- Farwell, Goffard and Johnson -- sent numerous congratulatory tweets. (Despite the fact that none were named the winner, being a Pulitzer finalist is no small achievement.) Others, like Vanity Fair columnist Richard Lawson, simply seized the opportunity for a little more Twitter snark:
Pulitzer in feature writing goes to the US Airways tweet
â€” Richard Lawson (@rilaws) April 14, 2014
Click here for a full list of this year’s Pulitzer Prize winners.