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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Column: Earning the prize

When the Pulitzer Prizes were announced on Monday, two atypical winners received awards in the journalism category. ProPublica, an online investigative news organization, and Mark Fiore, an online cartoonist, won prizes in a category historically dominated by print media. What happened?

Journalism’s shift to new forms of media is no longer news. But contrary to what pundits might suggest, journalism itself isn’t witnessing its own demise as the Internet takes over media outlets. It’s witnessing a complete overhaul, and slackers will indeed get left behind.

And by honoring these two recipients, the Pulitzers are effectively recognizing online media’s significance in today’s world. The once-feared and unmapped realm of the Internet isn’t news to us anymore – newspapers and society alike should be accustomed to new demands of the changing industry by now.

People are starting to abandon their dependence on print media, and if they haven’t yet, they soon will. Take Apple’s iPad, for example. Though the iPad’s usefulness is still in a nascent stage, it is slowly moving the e-reader market away from its esoteric Kindle-dominated status and into the ubiquitous realm of its iPod and iPhone cousins. Once Apple releases more functional generations, the iPad and its competitors will certainly take control of print media market.

Figures like Fiore know this shift all too well.

“I hope I’m a pioneer and not an anomaly,” Fiore told NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Tuesday. “And I just think the significance of it is that it shows that people are actually starting to realize that all news doesn’t have to come across on paper.”

Fiore won a Pulitzer for his editorial cartoons, which are featured on SFGate.com. His work, which Pulitzer judges called a “high standard for an emerging form of commentary,” typically expresses liberal messages through short, sarcastic segments. It’s incredibly basic – SFGate.com’s player doesn’t let the viewer pause or stop during the cartoons, and Fiore’s work is nothing more than simple Flash animation.

But either way, Fiore’s work is poignant – which arguably earned Fiore his prize. Fiore, who nominated his own work for the prize, is not employed by SFGate.com and syndicates his work himself.

ProPublica, the other recipient, is a respected non-profit organization for news and investigative reporting, received the award for its story on ill-fated doctor decisions during Hurricane Katrina. It was also a finalist in two other categories.

Many old-school staff writers resent the movement toward these independent organizations, who often steal the thunder. These writers, comfortable with their salaries, health care coverage and retirement plans, don’t like seeing the outsourcing of their trade as their colleagues get the ax – often on a weekly basis. Others, laid-off and estranged, sometimes end up joining the organizations themselves.

This is true for the Los Angeles Times, who did not receive any Pulitzers this year. Their website, though recently revamped, pales in comparison to the websites of the New York Times or the Washington Post. Their staff faces dramatic cuts and layoffs on a regular basis, and it’s easy to imagine a tense feeling among those who still remain.

This shift is inevitable, and since it’s finally being recognized as valid, newspapers should pay attention to their celebrated competitors.

JUSTIN T. HO wishes major newspapers would adapt without tearing themselves apart with lay-offs and cuts, because he doesn’t want to be stuck with pundits that find communist symbols in their own stool. He also realizes he’s being terribly obvious. E-mail him at arts@theaggie.org.

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