2002-06-29 / Columnists

From the G-Man by Gary G. Toms The Pulitzer: What A Racket!

From the G-Man by Gary G. Toms
The Pulitzer: What A Racket!

Someone recently asked me if the Pulitzer Prize was awarded to community newspapers. Surprisingly, they are, but there has only been one newspaper (a daily) that has ever won since its inception. What's even more surprising is that if you want to be considered for the most prestigious award in writing, you have to write for a paper like The New York Times, The Daily News or Newsday. You see, the organization, and others, like the New York Press Association, charge you an entrance fee to submit your work, and to have it reviewed by an esteemed panel. The smarter publishers and newspapers will always submit more entries to increase their chances of winning. Thus, fattening the organization's money chest and making the judging process questionable on many levels. Needless to say, I have a problem with the process.

I made mention of this situation a few months ago, when I wrote about my experience at the New York Press Association Spring Convention that was held at Saratoga Springs this year. Here again, was a case where you pumped money into an organization with the hopes that you will be given award consideration. People will interpret my attack as sour grapes over the fact that The Wave was shut out at the NYPA awards this year, but this is NOT about sour grapes. It's about addressing a problem that has existed for far too long.

As far as I'm concerned, the problem with NYPA, and with the Pulitzer, is that the writers who have been blessed with great talent, and show great potential, may be left out of the loop because they cannot afford to enter these contests, which overwhelmingly favor the bigger newspapers as a whole and their publishers. The publishing world, and mass media, will never get an opportunity to learn about the smaller writers or their work because the game has been set up to exclude them. How can a small time writer ever be expected to compete, or win, when they are going up against writers affiliated with publishing juggernauts like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal? While the Times or Journal can easily shell out $250-$500 for entries, community newspapers have very small budgets and cannot afford such expenditures

With the Pulitzer, there are so many categories involved that there is no doubt the organization is making a killing in entry fees. Why does this have to be the case? Why should the less affluent writers (and publications) be shunned from the process by greedy publishers who can afford to submit 60 samples from their writers with no problem? The criteria for Pulitzer Prize consideration are wrong, and the NYPA criteria for award consideration are wrong. Any awarding agency involved in similar practices is wrong.

It is time for these situations to be addressed, and I'm not about to shy away from speaking out on this issue. Too many coward writers and journalists refuse to take up this issue because they either have conformed to this prejudicial system or they are in fear of jeopardizing their chances of winning in the future, should their work be submitted. Since the Pulitzer and other awards organizations, have chosen to crap on community newspapers (which are the true newspapers in this country), I think that it's only fair to challenge their tainted system.

I could care less about their power or influence. This organization, and others like it, does not scare me. I mean it's not like I'm aiming to write for a major daily or magazine some day. You know what I mean?

Someone, at some point, is going to have to prove to me how this system is fair and just. Why can't writers be judged on the merit and power of their work, without having a price tag or huge conglomerate attached? Why do you have to roll with the big boys in order to play with the big boys? This practice only helps to perpetuate a system that will continue to cater to egotistical academics and red bow-tie wearing/caviar-sucking weasels instead of the little people who deserve a legitimate shot at the big prize. Unless you're a writer hooked up with a major newspaper, magazine or some other publishing entity, you're basically screwed out of any shot at a Pulitzer, and that just isn't right.

I'll bet the Pulitzer dorks are scrambling right now to write a memo that will read, "It'll be a cold day in hell before this G-man ever wins a Pulitzer!" I'm so crushed. Boo-hoo!

Can you imagine how many small time writers and newspapers, young and old, from many different backgrounds, are out there right now that are worthy of this grand prize? It's so sad to think that they will never come into prominence because they don't have the money or backing of a respected publication to enter a contest that may enable them to become a household name.

You really have to wonder what this "fee" deal is really all about. You also have to wonder why the major publications are given primary consideration when it comes to the Pulitzer. Is the deck stacked? It would appear so, and something should be done, across the board, to make the process more inclusive of all publications, big and small, and their writers.

Some probably wonder if I feel that I am jeopardizing my career as a writer by challenging the Pulitzer folks and others who dole out writing awards. Truth be told, I really don't care if I'm ever given consideration. While it's an honor to have one's work acknowledged, don't ever expect to see the G-man in an ascot and smoking jacket, puffing on a cherry wood pipe, and serving as the host of "Masterpiece Theatre." In other words, G-man and conformity don't go together. Besides, I HATE bow ties. They make me look like a doofus.

At this point in the game, I look at my career as a writer as though it was a Mastercard commercial: Pulitzer Prize entry fee - $50; champagne and victory party celebrating your win - $2,000; renting a Sade look-alike to accompany you for the evening - $400; writing a weekly column and being able to help people through The Wave - priceless!

See you next week.

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