Sig Gissler On Pulitzers, Online Journalism: Prizes No Solution To ‘All the Problems Facing the Newspaper Industry’

Yesterday, Pulitzer Prize administrator and Columbia School of Journalism professor Sig Gissler hosted a podcast on BlogTalkRadio discussing the “Pulitzer Prizes and the Changing Newspaper Landscape.” This was the first year that the Pulitzers recognized digital journalism and much of Gissler’s talk focused on this change. Ironically, given the focus on new media, the podcast was troubled by technical difficulties that interrupted part of the show.
Gissler says he was impressed with the quality of the work submitted to the Pulitzers from online news organizations, but he also said that, in his opinion, the best digital journalism still comes from traditional outlets:

“Interestingly, most of the material that was sent in by the online-only news organizations were tech text stories and most of the more advanced digital journalism is really being done by traditional newspapers. I think it’s because they’ve got more resources to do it. I’ve talked to some of the online-only news organizations and they say one of their challenges is that they have very small staffs and they have to feed that beast every day. You know, getting those stories posted cuts down on their ability to do audio slideshows and interactive graphics and things like that.”

Newspapers may be doing great work online, but we wonder whether that’s good news given the dire economic situation in print media. This year, The New York Times won an impressive five Pulitzers, but the news of the prizes came out on the same day as their disastrous Q1 earnings report. We asked Gissler if he thought the financial problems plaguing outlets that traditionally dominate the Pulitzers makes the prizes less relevant than they’ve been in the past. His response?

For his part, Gissler believes honoring the year’s best reporting is independent of figuring out how to monetize quality content:

“I think the relevance of the prizes are still there. I mean, they honor great work and they validate the people who watch the newspapers material on Web sites and buy the newspapers in print products. I think it validates the loyalty of their audience when they win prizes, but you know, prizes and the quality of journalism are one thing and the business model for the future is another challenge. They’re not unrelated, but I don’t think anybody that I know of feels that by awarding prizes you’re going to resolve all the problems facing the newspaper industry.”

In addition, Gissler noted that: “Journalism as we know it is definitely moving into a new era… It’s challenging in some ways, it’s frightening I suppose, but it’s also very exhilarating.”